Hike to the beautiful cascades of Schoolhouse Falls on this short but scenic adventure, exploring the stunning Panthertown Valley near Cashiers.
LOCATION:Panthertown Valley in the Nantahala National Forest
OFFICIAL MAP: USFS Panthertown Valley Trail Map
Nestled in a scenic stream valley framed by a lush forest and leafy rhododendron, Schoolhouse Falls tumbles from a large, curved rock outcrop into a still, cool pool below. It’s undoubtedly the most popular of Panthertown Valley’s scenic waterfalls, thanks to the relatively moderate hike to the falls and the stunning scenic beauty of the surrounding terrain. The hike, an under-three-mile adventure, drops from the valley’s eastern trailhead at Cold Mountain Gap, descending steadily through a hardwood forest to the pebble-lined bed of Greenland Creek. After crossing the creek, the route follows the Little Green Trail southbound to this stunning waterfall. The expansive, rocky pool below the falls makes for a perfect spot to take in the waterfall’s beauty.
The valley is a gorgeous stretch of the Nantahala National Forest near Cashiers, NC, and it is well-loved for its tumbling falls and rugged terrain. It’s often called the unofficial ‘Yosemite of the East,’ due to its steep-sided valley walls and its plethora of falls. And while the mountains here don’t quite match the scale of its cousin on the West Coast, this valley’s beauty is definitely stunning and well worth a visit. If you go, be sure to pack a paper map, like the official US Forest Service map, as the valley’s trails are plentiful, winding, and can be confusing. And as always, be sure to pack plenty of water and hiking essentials; check out our hiking gear list for some packing inspiration.
Schoolhouse Falls: the hike
This adventure follows the most direct route to the falls, departing from the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead east of Cashiers (view maps and driving directions). From the trailhead, the hike follows the Panthertown Valley Trail to the northwest, marked with pink trail blazes. The trail descends through dense thickets of rhododendron and then crosses a shallow creek over a wooden bridge at just under a quarter mile.
After crossing the creek, the hike veers to the left, following an old gravel road westbound. The route skirts around a metal gate at .3 mile, continuing its descent. The hike passes a side trail at just under a half mile and carves through several sharp switchbacks as it descends.
Exiting the switchbacks, the hike follows the trail’s winding meander to the north, and then east, and then back to the northwest, continuing its descent into the valley. Just before reaching the banks of Greenland Creek, the hike passes an intersection with the Devils Elbow Trail on the trail’s right side and passes several large campsites. The hike crosses the creek at just over one mile, catching beautiful views of the rhododendron and doghobble-filled creek valley from the wide wooden plank bridge spanning Greenland Creek.
Shortly after crossing the creek, the hike reaches an intersection with the Little Green Trail at 1.1 miles. This route turns left on the Little Green Trail, following the trail southbound. The trail darts through a forest of spindly hardwoods and dense rhododendron, winding over a wooden boardwalk. With the sound of falling water echoing through the forest, the hike reaches a short spur to Schoolhouse Falls at 1.25 miles, following the spur to the reflective pool below the falls.
Scattered boulders and the creek’s pebble-lined banks make for a perfect place to catch some sunshine and a mid-hike water break with an ultra-scenic view.
After soaking up the beauty of the falls, the hike doubles back on its outbound route to the trailhead. The return hike features a nearly unrelenting climb to Cold Mountain Gap, making it a great (but short!) workout. The hike reaches the trailhead at 2.6 miles, completing the adventure.
Loved the trail? Join the Friends of Panthertown to help support their incredible preservation work and trail maintenance in this beautifully scenic stretch of NC.
More waterfall hiking adventures near Cashiers
The area surrounding Panthertown is incredibly scenic and offers some of our all-time favorite waterfall hikes in Western NC. Follow the Rainbow Falls Trail at Gorges State Park to a series of enormous falls on the Horsepasture River. Descend into a rocky, rugged gorge on the shore of Lake Glenville to the tumbling cascades at High Falls. Follow a short path to the towering, 400-foot falls at Whitewater Falls. Walk behind the enormous cascades at Dry Falls. And check out the full list of our favorite hikes near Highlands and Cashiers for even more adventures in this stunning slice of North Carolina wilderness.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
Free parking is available at the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead and parking area.
35.157700, -82.998817 // N35 09.462 W82 59.929