Quick 24 hour winter trip report from down south.
In my opinion, the Panther Creek hike offers one of the best “bangs for the buck” if you are looking for a 24 hour trip emanating from Atlanta. I used to go a couple of times each summer growing up in the ATL in the 90's, but hadn’t been in 8 years or so. It would be good to get back. E and I left at around noon on Saturday, and made our way to the trail head on Historic 441 by 1:30pm. The trail into the falls is a little less than 4 miles, so we would take our time and still bang it out in well under 2 hours.
The middle section on the trail to Panther Creek Falls:
Some background on the trail: The first part of the trail goes through woods with the river sometimes 100-200 feet below you. After descending a bit, the trail opens up and crosses a few bridges. There is one big group site near the river, but other than that, a lot of the woods in this area seem untouched. The last part of the trail undulates along side the river, culminating in a quick ascension to the top of the falls. At the top of the falls, you can walk out onto numerous rocks that look over the lower falls.
The upper falls area:
As E and I descend onto the soft sandy base of the falls, we were greeted with beauty as well as the solitude. Here’s the deal: Panther Creek is a great hike with a sick waterfall at the end, but it is usually crowded because it’s no secret. So how do you avoid the crowd? Go on a night when the lows were forecasted into the teens, 30’s for the highs. No rain. Perfect down weather. We had the whole beach to ourselves. Someone even left us a half bottle of ice cold vodka to drink. It could also be used as an antiseptic or fire accelerant, of course, but would be best served as an aperitif to our packed-in whisky and cider.
E lounging on the beach by the lower falls (temp, 29):
We took some luxuries on this trip, and enjoyed cowboy steaks over hot coals while slurping down rice and ramen. The site was just as perfect as I had remembered it. It's pretty special in that you can camp at the base of the falls and surrounding area. If you’ve ever tried to light a fire here before (in the clearly marked fire pits), you know that wood is hard to come by. It was going to be a cold night, and fire would be very nice, so we had to hike up, out of the basin and literally throw dead trees back down to our site. I was amazed how every time, they would break into perfect sized logs as they crashed down on the rocks near our fire pit. The fire gods were looking out for us I suppose. After dinner, we power-lounged in our chairs by the fire and laughed until E retired to his hammock (what a beast), while I zipped up my newly modified Golite Utopia2 (bearpaw tents sewed in some bug mesh on the bottom of the sides and added a mesh door). It was easy to sleep, deep in down, listening to the never-ending waterfall. For breakfast. We re-started the fire and made a big ole pot of oatmeal with freeze-dried strawberries and bananas before we broke down camp and leisurely hiked the 4 miles back to the car. Then 1.5 hours back to ATL. That night it snowed 5 inches in ATL and schools were cancelled for the next 5 days due to crazy iced roads.
Our site next to the river, down from the lower falls:
Temps went down to about 17 degrees, but I stayed warm with:
Patagonia wool 2 baselayer
Patagonia R1 1/4 zip Midlayer
Montbell Alpine Light Parka Outerlayer
Dri Ducks Jacket (flying ember protection for down jacket, actually got a little hole in the driducks but montbell stayed safe!)
Patagonia Cap 3 bottoms
Montbell UL Down Inner Pants
REI 4-way stretch Running Pants (worn hiking and around camp/fire to protect down pants, didn’t sleep in em)
ID Hot Socks
Wild Ones Happy Feet Primaloft Bootis (worn around camp, didn’t use to sleep)
Mountain Hardware Windstopper gloves
Sierra Design Nitro Sleeping Bag.
From our campsite looking back towards the falls: