The Panther Creek Trail is the go-to destination for Athens locals trying to escape the town’s summer humidity and heat. The hike is appreciable for all seasons but the refreshing pools below Panther Creek Falls are particularly irresistible come May and June. Ask any Athens townie or college student what their favorite hike in the area is, and they will undoubtedly—and quite understandably—recommend this hike nearly every time.
The hike is very convenient, both for easy directions and relatively minimal driving distance. It’s only 1 hour from downtown Athens and is located right off of US-441 N. To get there, take Martin Luther King Parkway and continue onto US 441 N/Commerce Road until you see the Panther Creek sign about 45 miles later. Parking is optional either in the parking lot across the street for $4, or for free on the side of the road right next to the trailhead.
When first beginning the hike, you will pass under a highway bridge. From there on out, however, the hike shows little sign of man-made development and is engrossed by thick forests of deciduous and coniferous trees. Panther Creek itself is an intense creek full of rushing rapids that makes for soothing background music during the whole 7 mile trek.
Primarily in the shade for most of the way, the hike is a great way to escape the heavy heat of a Georgia summer. It's relatively flat too without any intense elevation changes that would cause any extra exertion in the heat. And though the summer is certainly the best time to visit, it'd be a mistake to pass up this hike in the other seasons. The foliage of fall and spring is gorgeous, and the winter adds more visibility to the actual falls.
Three miles into the hike you will find the tremendous waterfall that makes Panther Creek such a special destination. At the foot of these iconic falls is a huge, refreshing pool of calm water and soft sand leading into it. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are plenty of rocks and logs to jump off of, and if you’d rather just lounge in the sun on the large rock slabs, there's that option as well.
Considered by many to be one of the best hikes in all of Georgia, the Panther Creek Trail is 7 miles of lush, green goodness in a serene setting. With campsites located right off the trail both before and after the falls, there are options to make more than a day of it, and with flat, easy trails, there are plenty of opportunities for people of all hiking abilities—including families with children—to enjoy themselves. Some of the narrow areas are more technical, especially if it has rained recently, but otherwise the path is considerably safe.
Essentially, if paradise was indeed lost, it can be found again at Panther Creek.
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