The Panther Creek Trail is located 2.3 miles up the Middle Prong Trail
The Panther Creek Trail turns left off the Middle Prong Trail
and climbs steeply (1500 feet in 2.3 miles) to Jakes Gap. The trail crosses Panther Creek nine times and Lynn Camp Prong once during its journey, so make sure you have appropriate footwear.
When you reach the Panther Creek Trailhead, you turn left and are immediately faced with the trickiest creek crossing of the trail. If the water level is high, you may want to plan another route as crossing the Lynn Camp Prong can be dangerous. At low to medium levels, you can try to cross the creek using boulders strewn throughout creek. In the summer, you can take off your boots and wade across.
On the other side of the creek, the trail climbs along an old railroad bed, a reminder that the Little River Lumber Company logged this area before it became a national park. At mile .3, the trail crosses Panther Creek for the first time. The trail continues to ascend until you reach mile .8, where 2 creek crossings have to be navigated. As the trail continues to climb Timber Ridge, the creek crossings become easier. After passing a small cascade at mile .9, the trail begins to narrow.
Starting at mile 1.0, creek crossings become more frequent as the trail crosses Panther Creek multiple times. The narrow valley and moisture makes for the perfect environment for rhododendron. The rosebay rhododendron in this area bloom in July, making it a good time to be on this trail if you don't mind the heat.
At mile 2.0, the trail crosses Panther Creek for the last time, a simple hop compared to the rest of the crossings. The trail soon arrives at Jakes Gap, which lies in the middle of a hardwood forest. In Jakes Gap, there are several trail junctions that provides a variety of options at this point. If you continue straight ahead, you follow the Jakes Creek Trail
to Elkmont. If you turn right, you can follow Miry Ridge Trail
to either the Lynn Camp Prong Trail
(for a loop back to Middle Prong Trail
) or the Appalachian Trail (AT). If none of these options appeal to you, turn around and return via the path that you took to this point.
An alternative route for this trail is to head out of Elkmont via the Jakes Creek Trail
and then descend into the Tremont area.
Rhododendron are found throughout much of this trail, and they bloom in July.