Looking for a 10 mile Adventure Day in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Well… This could be the perfect adventure for you!
Western North Carolinas “Fairy Tale Trails” :
It doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen.. The day that you stumble upon a hike that makes you feel as if you’ve found your way into a fairy tale. A hike that even begins with a quaint, secluded and mysterious cabin in a beautiful – yet small meadow with apple trees bearing fruit on both sides. A place that will give you the opportunity to be a kid again and take a tree swing for a ride. You’ll find a day of exploring that later takes you to a spot where you can rest in a hammock, kick back and relax. A resting spot with a never ending sea of mountain ridges and shadows ahead of you. Only to continue on your journey, past a mountain inn like no other and then to the best picnic spot in the Smokies. A bald with not only breathtaking views of the intoxicating western North Carolina mountains, but also to have the foreground of those views be beautiful horses. The best part?
You’ll get to experience it all again as you hike back to the parking area. It doesn’t happen every day, but some days it does.. Some days you find a hike like no other and one that you must experience for yourself to truly understand its charm.
How to reach this indescribable place?
You’ll begin this hike at the gate for Purchase Knob on Purchase Road. You’ll reach the gate by turning onto Hemphill Road off of US-276 near Maggie Valley, NC. Hemphill Road will turn into Purchase Road. You can do a Google Maps search for Purchase Knob for exact directions from your beginning location.
Even if the gate is open when you arrive, park at the gate. Due to the gate only being open for scheduled events at the Appalachian Highlands Learning Center, you could very likely be locked inside of the gate when you return from your hike. So… Like all good things, a little extra work must come first. Once you’ve parked at the gate, you’ll need to walk 1.5 miles to reach the trail to the Ferguson Cabin. If you want to soak up the view from Purchase Knob and check out the science center first, you’ll want to continue up the hill for another .5 miles. You will be able to see the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center building from your junction with the Ferguson Cabin Trail to your left. The learning center is located on Purchase Knob, do extra mile to enjoy the views from there as well as the other stops along your journey.
The first thing that I noticed on my first hike here was the gorgeous apple tree, filled with perfect apples and yellow jackets. If you’re allergic, just be cautious. You’ll be able to see the small cabin from the apple tree. It’s small, quaint and charming. The cabin is the highest cabin in the Smoky Mountains, at 4,700ft elevation. It was built in the 1870’s and continued to be called home until around 1900. Think about that for a moment and imagine what life must have been like during that time. Have an fresh apple snack, from an apple tree that was planted in 1900. Then, find the trail to the left of the cabin that directs you to the Cataloochee Divide trail. Take that trail, with a bit of an uphill trek, to the Cataloochee Divide Trail – then take a left. This will put you right on track for going to your next stop, Gooseberry Knob.
( You will see purple paint on some trees to your left as you get closer to Gooseberry Knob, this is private property. The Purple Paint Law allows property owners the opportunity to use dashes of purple paint to say “no trespassing”. Respect their wishes and continue with your journey.)
As your hiking on the Cataloochee Divide Trail, you’ll come to an option to continue on the Cataloochee Trail or to cut over and go to the left of the fence. Hop over to the much wider area on the left side of the fence, this area is on The Swag’s property – a private and luxurious mountain inn that has been voted one of the best getaways in the country. If you visit The Swag as an overnight guest or a dining guest, you can also access all destinations of this hike. Continue on your path up the Swag property, once to the top of the hill you’ll reach Gooseberry Knob. Gooseberry Knob is a bald like no other. Thanks to The Swag, the bald has a hammock for relaxing and chairs to soak up the view in. Show your appreciation of The Swag sharing this area with the public by respecting the area and taking care of all that they share.
So, rest up and carry on..
Take a walk up to The Swag, check it out and then hop back on the trail going towards Hemphill Bald to find the next chapter of your fairy tale story of the day. Signs at The Swag will direct you to Hemphill Bald. You’ll take a left off of the private property and back into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll probably notice that the trails are very well marked in this area. From The Swag, it’s 1 mile to Hemphill Bald. In .2 miles you’ll come to a junction, but continue straight, in .8 miles – you’ll see Hemphill Bald on your left.
It is on Hemphill Bald that you’ll be treated to views of the Cataloochee Ski Area and the amazing mountains of Western North Carolina. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few horses stop by to say hello. Check out the view locator on the Flintstone style picnic table, take a break on the benches and just enjoy your afternoon. Keep in mind also that Hemphill Bald is on Cataloochee Ranch property, however, they too – share it with hikers and explorers from the area. So, again – please respect their property and leave no trace behind, as you should with any destination. Finished up at Hemphill? Retrace your steps back to the parking area.
Bonus: You’ll get to experience all of the gorgeousness a second time on your way back.