(click on pictures to enlarge)
The Sexton-Walkers have been in Highlands/Cashiers, NC with my parents and sisters and their families. We're staying in a big house on Lake Glenville; the same house we stayed in three years ago. My family used to spend a week at my granddad's cabin in Shooting Creek about 1 hr. west of here, but the whole area has many, many more summer residents than when I was a kid.
The National Forest Service has developed a wicked nice multi-use recreational trail system in Panthertown Valley, which is a couple of miles east of Cashiers. It's a mix of old logging road, old school trail, and singletrack. There's a nice map, which is really necessary to have because the area is big and there are multiple trails that exit the official Natahala National Forest boundaries.
The marketing around here calls Panthertow Valley the "Yosemite of the East". I've not been to Yosemite but I suspect there is a reason that Yosemite is a National Park and Panthertown Valley is not. Actually, other than a small knob called "the lookout" there really are not good views of the valley.
Nevertheless, the trails are exceptionally...runable. Many of the trails are rated for mountain bikes so the climbs on these are quite easy. There are a few short steep climbs on the hiking-only trails and the climb out is a bit cruel after a long run, but otherwise, the terrain is stunning and perfect.
The map above shows my three runs in the forest, which included
1. a 7.6 miler (plus a 1.4 mile hike out with Cacky, Tom, and Will) in red
2. a 9 miler in green
3. a 16+ miler in cyan.
Most of the trails in the middle of the map and the north end of the forest are old logging roads. The trails on the south end are more hiking/single track. In general the trails range from packed dirt to loose rock and are generally (but not entirely) free of the nasty roots we have in Maine. The rocks are also flattish and not sharp and jagged like a typical Maine trail rock.
The long run this morning was beautiful. My average pace over the whole run was an easy 9:30, which is way faster than I could do on mountain trails in Camden or the Mahoosucs or the Whites. But yet it was much more of a moutain feeling than Bradbury (and Pineland of course). I'd love to have this trail network in my backyard.
After my long run, my cool down was a sweet 2 mile hike with the family along the Whiteside mountain cliffs, which I think are the highest cliffs in the east (1000 ft). Super easy hike and gazillion dollar views. Plus a pair of nesting Peregrine falcons flying at eye level made it even betterer.