It was the day after Christmas and I wanted to photograph winter woods but did not want to go far from home. It was already late in the day, so I decided to drive to the trail head for Panther Creek, which is the infamous “back way” to the popular Panther Creek Falls. This alternate route to the falls begins near Yonah Dam and treks westbound to the waterfall on what has been tagged as a very difficult trail. My goal was not to reach the falls on this day since the sun was already setting but to grab some winter photos instead.

I had been “Christmasing” for the past couple of days and simply needed to be outside. The Panther Creek area is still beautiful though spray paint vandals have been at work on the foot bridge leading across the river.

We noticed that the river was high and ready for a kayak or two! And believe me at 65 degrees, it was warm enough!

We even found some small rapids along the way and realized the water was deep here. Perfect for swimming in the summer!

Once on the main trail, we enjoyed several rocky overlooks. One blogger wrote that usually you have the trail all to yourself. He was correct. We did see one family, who was visiting from another state. The guy told me that he had grown up in the area and remembered how he would drive through a water crossing on the river and up into the mountain. He seemed disappointed. Sadly, the water crossing he was talking about has been closed for years to everyone except those, who do have access to the land on the other side—like the Forest Service folks.

Though the rating for this trail is difficult, I think that is more for the areas where the pathway narrows and becomes very rocky. No one maintains this side of the trail. The longer trail (7 miles) is located off Old 441 and is well-maintained. Blow-downs here on this 4.7 mile trail are left but are easy to step over or hike around. You do face several altitude gains that are steep!

We didn’t stay in the woods long because I remembered something I read about being in the woods near the end of the day—this is when the night animals come out to feed. Funny . . . I think. Since this area is named Panther Creek and since it is pretty isolated, I assumed there are animals other than deer that come out to feed. So, we hiked back down the mountain and stepped out along a road that led to a field of Forest Service or Georgia Power “planted” trees.

The whole area is worth hiking and it reminded me of the ending to Robert Frost’s famous poem: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” I still do have miles to go!

Returning to the car, I looked up at the trees and then checked my watch. It was 5:15 pm. There were no leaves on the hardwoods. We officially have winter, I thought. And we are past the winter solstice, which means the days are back on track to getting longer—slowly. Good news for those of us, who love being outdoors late into the day!