I have expressed my appreciation for waterfalls in previous posts, and we are fortunate to live in an area of the country where creeks, lakes, and waterfalls are abundant. Even better, many of these features are freely accessible at state parks, national forests, and recreational areas. One of the most popular waterfalls close to our home is Panther Creek Falls, located a few miles south of Tallulah Gorge in northeast Georgia. This waterfall is located in the Panther Creek Recreation Area at the end of a 3.5-mile moderate walk along Panther Creek. The National Forest parking area is located on old U.S. Highway 441 north of Clarkesville.
Panther Creek Falls Trail is 5.5 miles long and follows Panther Creek through stands of hemlock and white pine along steep, rocky bluffs of the creek. The trails passes a series of cascades as well as Panther Creek Falls. It terminates where Davidson Creek joins Panther Creek. When my younger son and I explored the trail last February, we decided to take the 3.5-mile hike to the falls and return to the parking area for a 7-mile excursion. We had plenty of company on that mild winter day, with other hikers and campers all along the path. The trail is noted for its beautiful variety of wildflowers and ferns. The stream offers excellent opportunities for trout fishermen too. Some rock scrambling is required, and there are some steep sections, but much of the hike is relatively flat. Erosion has caused several trail sections to drop sharply and suddenly to the creek below, demanding extra caution. I was amazed at how many families with small children were there when we hiked the trail — some were even carrying strollers with them!
I was so enamored with the trail that I took my wife back at a later date, and while we only hiked in and out about a mile or so, she could appreciate the beauty of the forest and the creek without seeing the falls. A large, shallow pool forms at the base of the falls, which is a wonderful destination for families and hiking groups. The setting is beautiful, surrounded by hills covered in trees and laurel. For those who like seclusion and privacy when they commune with nature, this recreation area is probably not a good choice. In the warmer parts of the year, I’m sure it gets quite crowded.
The naming of the creek is a source of curiosity for me. I have not read anything official that links the name to animals that may have inhabited the area in the past. According to some sources, a subspecies of the puma, the Florida panther, survives in a small, isolated and precarious population at the rapidly urbanizing southern tip of Florida. However, these animals were once widespread, even inhabiting portions of Georgia. Another subspecies, the eastern puma (also known as cougar or mountain lion) may have once occupied regions of north Georgia. Although in recent years there have been claims of sightings in north Georgia and South Carolina, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the eastern puma extinct and removed it from the list of protected wildlife and plants under the Endangered Species Act. Regardless of nomenclature of the falls, this trail offers a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy the natural resources that are so abundant in the hills and mountains of north Georgia. We will definitely return.