We decided we would hike to Dismal Falls in Panthertown Valley yesterday as a meetup hike. I found some pretty good directions on a blog. Link is below.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail but I do want to comment on a few things here.
The easiest way to get to the traihead is just to drive up 281 about four and a half miles, look for Slick Fisher Road on your left and then Winding Gap Way (?) about a quarter mile up on the left. It now has a sign. Make your left. You will make a right onto a one lane dirt road very shortly after turning in. If you go by the house all the way to the end of the road to the camp, you have gone too far. Park at the end of the dirt road. There are about 6 parking spaces here.
You are going to see a brown gate which is the trailhead for West Fork Way. The directions are very good to Aunt Sally’s Falls. The trail is much more passable than the 2009 blog post. You will pass by a camp site on your left.
If you continue up West Fork Way, following the directions in the NCWaterfalls page, you will come to the split to Dismal Falls. It was marked yesterday with a tape. Cross the West Fork of the French Broad and stay to your left on the trail. It looks the trail crosses to your right but it dead ends. This is the place we got ‘lost’ and bushwhacked in the opposite direction and ended up by another creek.
You will be entering an area that is not heavily treed and it looks like the trail goes straight ahead and a little downhill. The hike actually starts uphill here so stay to your right and head up. The trail is pretty obvious once you find it.
There are several side trails here that go to the different waterfalls, Rhapsodie Falls, Lower Rhapsodie Falls, but if you keep heading uphill on the main trail you will end up at Dismal Falls. We did not get to the rock face this time (found another one with an overhang about half way up between the Rhapsodies) but we think the faint trail starts to your left before you hit the hilltop (at what we are now calling Acorn Hill) before you head down to Dismal Falls. Please see the blog link for more instructions on that.
Somebody has placed 3 very study ropes down to Dismal Falls but if we go again we will bring extra ropes just in case. The trail downhill is very steep and sometimes a bit treacherous. There is at least one place where you have to make your way over downed tree branches towards the bottom but we made it there fine. There was a nice place to sit for lunch where you can look up to Dismal Falls. Coming back out is obviously a climb and the hike downhill required some care. We found ourselves slipping on some acorns here so we decided to call it Acorn Hill.
Now that you know the hike up, the hike back is pretty easy since you won’t have to consult the directions.
We did hike about another half a mile down West Fork Way. We found it pretty muddy in spots and very heavily treed. Maybe someday we will finish it up but it was enough to make it to Dismal Falls and back yesterday.
My final word is that I agree this is not a hike for novices or anyone who needs to know exactly where they are going all the time. If you like a little adventure, and aren’t worried by getting a bit turned around, you will be fine here. If you need the certainty of marked trails, this is not the hike for you. I did take my Pantertown Valley Map with us but I relied heavily on the blog post above to get around here. I would suggest printing it off and taking it with you.