North of Lake Toxaway lies the scenic Panthertown Valley. I’d been wary of visiting the area because the trail map looked like spaghetti, and I’d heard trails aren’t well-marked. While I can’t speak for the rest of the trail maze, School House Falls proved easy to find and a fantastic not-too-hidden paradise.

The hike was described as moderately easy 2.5-mile round-trip hike. Having already researched, we were prepared with directions, but it was reassuring seeing them posted again at the trailhead at the Cold Mountain Road (Eastern) entrance. There was a complete map, plus printed literature with photos and directions to popular waterfalls in the valley. Check out for the most recent version of trail maps. Currently, the most recent map recommended is

Coincidentally, they were easy to remember. Cross a bridge and turn left, then cross another bridge and turn left again. However, we still followed the advice of several websites and saved a copy of the map on my phone, remembering to switch to Airplane Mode to keep my battery going strong.

The first turn was obvious because the right clearly went to private property. I was pleasantly surprised that the second turn was well-marked with a brown U.S. Forest Service sign as Little Green Trail 485. Even though our first visit was in the off-season, we encountered plenty of fellow hikers, who comforted us that we were headed in the right direction.

The scene was totally satisfying for the effort. We arrived at the edge of a broad, shallow pool with a white, frothy cascade at the far end. Though not tall, the breadth of the falls were substantial, and we found it a lovely little place.

We hopped stones across the pool to reach the far side of the pool. There, my husband and I felt safe allowing the kids to creep back behind the falls into a narrow cavern between the rock face and the cascade. Overall, we stayed mostly dry, except catching some water in our shoes. Next time, we’ll visit in warm weather with towels and sandals.

The day we visited, it was a hot spot for dog lovers, with friendly canines splashing gleefully off-leash, without conflict between packs of different furry friends. We could imagine this place sees a lot more traffic in the peak of summer.

The walk back was a long, gradual uphill climb. An old logging road zig-zags along the mountainside. They aren’t steep, but they’re long. To reduce our walking in soggy socks, we took a shortcut up the cliffside and skipped a “V” of the trail. I can’t recommend it, though, because that silly decision left me with a sore knee for a few days. Luckily, I was the only casualty, although my kids squawked a little trying to avoid some brambles.

The Friends of the Panthertown Valley is an active volunteer group who has worked on trail improvements in recent years, such as clearer markings. Their Facebook page lists times of group hikes, which we couldn’t fit into our schedule, but we hope to explore more of the valley soon.

Next on my to-do list for the area are Wilderness Falls and Granny Burrell Falls – two popular destinations in the valley that can be visited on the same hike. However, those falls are better visited from the eastern entrance near Cashiers, so that trek had to wait for another day (and dry shoes).

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