How to Reach Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley

Last Updated on August 25, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

Schoolhouse Falls is a beautiful waterfall in Panthertown Valley, a wonderful spot in Jackson County. The 18-foot waterfall makes up for its short stature with a large pool that’s safe for wading and even swimming.

You can also walk behind Schoolhouse falls when the water isn’t flowing too heavily. Add all that together and you can see why this is the area’s most popular waterfall.

Before you start driving, we think there are a few more things you should know. This guide will share how you can reach Schoolhouse Falls by car and details about the hike itself.

Here’s how we’ve organized those two sections with the others in this post:

  • Where is Schoolhouse Falls?
  • Schoolhouse Falls Facts
  • Driving Directions
  • The Schoolhouse Falls Hike
  • Things to Do at Schoolhouse Falls (Before Returning)
  • Leave No Trace Reminder
  • Safety Reminders
  • More Panthertown Valley Hikes, Waterfalls, and Things to Do
  • Waterfalls Near Panthertown (and Schoolhouse Falls)
  • Nearby Places (Plus Related Posts)

You can scroll to the specific section that you’re looking for or keep reading about some interesting Schoolhouse Falls facts!

This post is part of our series on Jackson County and more of our favorite things to do in Western North Carolina.

Where is Schoolhouse Falls?

Schoolhouse Falls

Schoolhouse Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Panthertown Valley, if not THE most popular. The valley is a 6,311-acre backcountry wilderness area in Jackson County, near Cashiers (and Sapphire).

It’s also about 40 minutes from Brevard and about 1-1/2 hours from Asheville, making it a great day trip.

The valley is also part of Panthertown-Bonas Defeat bear sanctuary. This means that black bears do call Panthertown valley “home,” so be mindful about how to safely interact with one.

Nantahala National Forest manages these lands, but the Friends of Panthertown maintain the 30-plus miles of trails here.

The valley and its surroundings are also ancestral lands of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee (Tsalaguwetiyi). It’s suspected that other tribes once occupied this area, too.

Today, Panthertown and Panthertown Valley are open throughout the year and you can explore its well-connected network of trails. These paths lead to valleys, gorges, mountain bogs, domes, waterfalls (like Schoolhouse Falls), and more.

Cell service is sparse when hiking here, so we highly recommend you bring a map (proceeds go to charity) and a compass. We’ll mention more about this in our “Safety Reminders” section below.

Schoolhouse Falls Facts

Schoolhouse Falls Beautiful NC Waterfalls

Schoolhouse Falls is usually the first of Panthertown Valley’s waterfalls that you’ll see when researching the area. It’s 20-feet tall and spills into a wonderful pool at the bottom, which makes up for the waterfall’s relative lack of height.

It’s safe for wading and also, swimming. The name came from an actual schoolhouse that stood nearby during a previous era.

To reach Schoolhouse Falls, you have a variety of options, thanks to Panthertown’s network of trails. The easiest route starts from the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead, just 1.25 miles (2.5 miles roundtrip) from the falls.

Before you hop on the trail and hike to Schoolhouse Falls, you first need to drive to the area.

Driving Directions

Before you leave for Schoolhouse Falls, you’ll want to set your route for the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead. Cell phone signal is very spotty in this area and we lost it during the drive.

We also didn’t have any for the entire hike.

However, Waze or Google Maps should work all the way to the parking lot, as long as you set your route to “Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead” in an area with a strong enough cell signal or WiFi.

When heading back from the parking area, you should be able to easily trace your steps back to NC-281, which you’ll then follow either north toward Sylva or south toward US-64.

The Schoolhouse Falls Hike

Schoolhouse Falls Hike Bridge

From the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead, the Schoolhouse Falls hike is 2.5 miles roundtrip. Here it is step by step:

  • The hike starts at the Panthertown Valley Trail (#474), which will take you through tree-cover for the first section. Be sure to not trip on the many roots in this area on your way down and back up.
  • After crossing a wooden bridge over a creek, the trail continues to the left down an old logging road. You’ll pass a metal gate and a side trail before reaching the switchbacks that dominate much of this trail.

Tempting social trails will appear along switchbacks, but we recommend staying on the official trail.

Schoolhouse Falls Hike Little Green Trail
  • Once you’ve finished the switchbacks, you’re on the home stretch. Continue until you pass the Devil’s Elbow Trail (#448), which is on the right.
  • Stay on the Panthertown Valley Trail until you reach the Little Green Trail (#485), which you’ll follow to the left.
  • From there, it’s a short walk to Schoolhouse Falls. If you arrive early enough, the waterfall and its pool will likely not be very busy.

Things to Do at Schoolhouse Falls (Before Returning)

Schoolhouse Falls Western North Carolina Waterfalls

In front of the pool, there should be a few dry rocks for you to sit and even place your bag. You can wade and swim in the pool, which is especially inviting on hot days.

There is a side trail that you can follow to walk behind the waterfall. Be careful and mindful if you want to walk behind Schoolhouse Falls, as slippery rocks present danger to you and you present danger to the sensitive plants growing there.

It may also seem like a good idea to venture to the top of the waterfall, but we do not suggest you do that. There are a variety of factors that could lead you to fall or lose control and get seriously injured. Once again, DO NOT hike to the top of Schoolhouse Falls.

With the Schoolhouse Falls hike, what goes down must come back up. Your return to the parking lot is a steady incline of about 300 feet.

Before you head back up, we hope you’re able to enjoy the waterfall and its pool for as long as possible.

Safety Reminders

We’ve mentioned waterfall safety and being mindful of bears, but also want to remind you to bring a map and compass when visiting Schoolhouse Falls.

Burt Kornegay’s guide is highly recommended and all proceeds go to charity. We purchased Burt Kornegay’s because many other hikers recommend it for the thorough detail and more recent updates.

The Friends of Panthertown also recommend the US Forest Service’s map.

Leave No Trace Reminder

While hiking to Schoolhouse Falls, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace. Trash doesn’t belong on our trails nor in our beautiful natural spaces.

If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring a grocery bag of your own and pick up any trash that you see!

More Panthertown Valley Waterfalls, Hikes, and Things to Do

As we mentioned, Panthertown Valley hosts about 30 miles of trails and you can add some miles to your Schoolhouse Falls hike if you’d like. One popular additional hike is from Schoolhouse Falls to Green Mountain and Green Mountain Creek Falls, via the Little Green (#485) and Mac’s Gap (#482) trails.

Once you pick up a map, you can plot this hike or any others that seem intriguing.

Beyond hiking, you can fish, ride a mountain bike or horse (on designated trails), and even camp at Panthertown.

Waterfalls Near Panthertown (and Schoolhouse Falls)

Silver Run Falls near Cashiers NC
Silver Run Falls.

There are innumerable waterfalls near Panthertown, considering it sits near the Jackson County-Transylvania County line. Here are a few that we think you should visit.

Near the junction with NC-281 North, you’ll cross a bridge. Underneath that bridge is the top of Toxaway Falls. You can park on the US-64 westbound shoulder, but don’t park on the eastbound shoulder, as there’s not enough room for a car to fit.

To see Toxaway Falls, you’ll have to walk west from your car and cross the road. Please be careful as you do this because cars fly through this stretch of US-64.

Gorges State Park (home to Rainbow Falls) is about 20 minutes south and Upper Whitewater Falls is about 30 minutes away, both off NC-281.

Silver Run Falls is off NC-107, south of Cashiers. That road runs parallel to NC-281 and might be the road that your GPS follows if you drive toward Upper Whitewater Falls from Cashiers.

More Nearby Places

There are more than a few great cities and towns near Schoolhouse Falls, including Asheville, which is 1-1/2 hours away. However, for this section, we’re going to stick to three places that are within 30 to 40 minutes from Schoolhouse Falls.

Cashiers and Sapphire

Village Green Cashiers North Carolina
Village Green.

Cashiers is a cool mountain town that is about 15 minutes from Panthertown. It’s filled with shops, boutiques, and the beautiful Village Green.

We definitely recommend stopping at Whiteside Brewing for a pint and a burger (or wings!). Cashiers Valley Smokehouse is ready to fill you up with tasty ribs, barbecue, and more meats with at least a couple of sides.

Between Cashiers and Panthertown is Sapphire, a wonderful town that’s known for great golf and its amazing ski resort. That amazing park also boasts a 500-foot tube park.

Highlands

Dry Falls near Highlands and Franklin North Carolina
Dry Falls.

Highlands is about 30 minutes southwest of Panthertown (and Schoolhouse Falls) and a lovely town to stay in and just visit. You could easily spend all your time in Highlands, exploring the shops downtown.

Mountain Fresh Grocery is a great spot in town, especially if you’re seeking a nice breakfast.

US-64 runs through Highlands and the section west toward Franklin is packed with waterfalls. Here are a few of the big names along this road:

Brevard

Looking Glass Falls Outside Brevard NC

Finally, Brevard is 40 minutes away to the west of Panthertown and Schoolhouse Falls. First and foremost, it is known as the Land of Waterfalls.

Some of our favorites are Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock, both along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Of course, between the two is the Moore Cove Falls Trailhead, which is a rewarding 1.5-mile roundtrip hike!

Downtown Brevard is filled with shops and great places to eat. Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop is a must for burgers, hot dogs, and more.

White squirrels lurk in the area, especially around Brevard College. We don’t guarantee you’ll see them at the college but the school is your best chance at a sighting.

More Things to Do in Jackson County

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