Underrated is an Understatement...
I've lived in the South my entire life. I grew up in South Carolina, worked at summer camps in North Carolina, went to college in Tennessee, and moved for work to Georgia. I've driven countless hours back and forth in all the southern states, hiked all over the Blue Ridge Mountains, rock climbed a dozen faces in Chattanooga, and kayaked more streams, rivers, and canals than I care to admit. I felt like I knew every trail, every mountain pass, and every decent waterfall in the Southeast. Well, I was dead wrong. I found grassy balds that rivaled the Icelandic inlands, I found mountain hikes that rivaled the foggy passes of the Canadian Rockies, and discovered waterfalls that I thought only existed in the PNW. Seems hard to believe, I know, so here's 11 photos from the trip to convince you to visit the mountain towns of Cashiers, Dillsboro, and Sylva in Jackson County, NC.
Panthertown Valley in Cashiers, NC
Panthertown Valley is a hidden gem of hiking trails around some of the most insane views of sheer cliffs in the Southeast. It's often referred to as the "Yosemite of the East" (a phrase I mocked until I actually visited) and it's name is no accident, the smooth cliffs look like they were hewn out of landslides ages old. Forest trails like the one pictured above are common down in the valley with a striking mixture of fall colors and green grass all along the trails.
Panthertown Valley also is littered with waterfalls and streams that you can hear when you're hiking the trails. Schoolhouse Falls is tucked away on a 4 mile roundtrip hike down into the valley. It's impossible to walk by it, you can hear its thundering roar from a quarter mile away letting you know it's close by. Greenland Creek Falls equally as visually striking, but is a double waterfall that sneaks up on you while hiking through deep, thick underbrush which clears to throw open an insanely gorgeous view of the falls. The small blue lagoon that the falls create was a great way to cool off after this hike, I highly recommend a dip!
Whiteside Mountain in Cashiers, NC
Whiteside Mountain is simply the best mountainside hike in the Southeast, hands down. I hiked it on a particularly foggy morning which often cleared in small segments to deliver unbelievable views of the valleys and ridges below. It's not a hard hike, a couple miles at most, but the differing amounts of views you get of both the mountains and valleys is worth every step.
High Falls at Lake Glenville
When I first saw this waterfall, I was in shock...for two reasons.
#1) It's by far and away the best waterfall hike in South, there is absolutely no comparison.
#2) I was the only one there.
I still can't believe it. High Falls is a hidden gem, an though its so clichè to say that, I don't do it flippantly. If you live within 4 hours of this one, do it. You won't be disappointed. Waterfalls like these are nearly impossible to find in the southern states. Pack a lunch, hike the short 1 mile down to the falls, explore for however long you want, and hike up. It's the best "bang for your buck" waterfall hike I've come across.
Black Balsam Knob
This hike brings back deep personal emotions for me personally. I hiked and camped here with a friend who has since passed away into glory, and every time I come back, I think it's more beautiful than the time I did before. This time was no exception. Completely underdressed for the weather, I froze my ass off waiting for sunset (hint: bring warm clothes) and it was 100% worth it. The view you get from Black Balsam Knob is an unparrelled panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There's nothing like it anywhere in the world.
The bottom line is that if you haven't visited the mountain towns in Jackson County, you should. They hold hidden treasures even I didn't know existed until this past week. The waterfalls are outstanding, the mountain hikes are simply mind-blowing, and the people, restaurants (especially Canyon Kitchen) and attractions are all top-notch. I cannot think of a better place to spend a week in the South. Go visit. Go explore.