Purchase Knob is a mountain located along the Cataloochee Divide, the serves as the border between Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Maggie Valley and Waynesville areas of North Carolina. The hike to Purchase Knob is a real hidden gem, as are many of the trails on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Purchase Knob features high elevation views, historic buildings, and access to a number of other fantastic trails and view.
Location: Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Roundtrip Distance: 3 – 5 miles depending on how far you want to go. Longer hikes can also be done to other trails.
Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
Handicap Accessible: None, unless arrangement are made to drive up and park at the Science Center
Dog Friendly: No, dogs are not allowed on trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Features: Long distance scenic vistas, historic cabin and homestead, horse riding, science center
Directions:From I-40, take Exit 20 and heads towards Maggie Valley. Turn right on Hemphill Rd. Follow Hemphill all the way to the top when it turns into Purchase Rd. The trailhead begins at the gate.
Recommended Gear: Standard Day hiking essentials
Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Your adventure to Purchase Knob begins on Hemphill Rd, near Waynesville and Maggie Valley NC. Hemphill Road is a beautiful and historic drive, full of farms, old barns, historic stores, an old school house, and creeks. Purchase Knob is the tallest peak you’ll see as you drive up this old mountain road, and to the left of it is Hemphill Bald, accessible from Purchase Knob.
Hemphill Road turns into Purchase Rd, and you’ll soon arrive at a Great Smoky Mountains National Park gate. While the gate is sometimes open, we don’t suggest driving up further on the road, unless you make arrangements with the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, as you can easily get locked in. The best option is to park at the pull over areas near the gate, and walk up. Your hike will begin here.
Purchase Road, which will take you up to Purchase Knob and the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, is a beautiful rock covered Road. This portion of the hike is moderate to strenuous. The road is wide, and walking is easy, but the road makes a gradual climb up to the science center, and while not real steep, it does make for a good workout, especially if you’re not in good hiking shape.
You’ll travel about 1.5 miles along Purchase Road to the trailheads that lead to the science center and Ferguson Cabin.
The road twists and winds up through the Smoky Mountains, and levels out as it travels through an evergreen forest, full of spruce and fir trees. This portion of the hike smells amazing and the forest looks like something out of The Lord of the Rings.
After passing through the evergreen forest, you’ll enter a beautiful meadow full of grass and wildflowers, followed by more forest , then you’ll enter the bald area.
You’ll immediately notice the Science Center at the top of the mountain, and also note the gorgeous scenic views, and it gets even better as you climb up to the science center.
Shortly after entering the bald, if you continue up Purchase Road for a short distance, you’ll see the trail heads to the Science Center and to Ferguson Cabin to your left. You can also continue up Purchase Road to reach the Science Center as well.
We chose to visit Ferguson Cabin first, then hike up to the science center, if we had enough energy.
From the two trail heads, take the left one to reach Ferguson Cabin. There is a sign pointing the way (shown in the photo above). The trail will go down here for a bit, through the bald and enter some woods. You’ll see Ferguson Cabin through the trees, and the spring house right next to the trail.
Ferguson Cabin was built in 1874, by John Love Ferguson. Ferguson Cabin is the highest cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at 4700 feet. The Ferguson family lived and farmed here until 1902.
The cabin as it stands today, is a rebuilt version, using wood from the original cabin, which was double pin construction. Double pin is basically one roof, with two cabins separated by a breeze way. In 2000, the cabin was rebuilt into a single structure.
The cabin had everything the Ferguson family needed, fields to grow corn and raise livestock, apple trees, and a spring for water.
The cabin is a great place to take a break, relax, and grab a snack while sitting on the front porch. Make sure you go inside and read over the historic information on the wall.
From the cabin you can head back the way you came, and catch the trail up to the science center. We elected to take the loop trail up through the woods. The forest and trail here are gorgeous. The trail starts off directly across from the porch, and begins with a small boardwalk.
The trail is narrow, and looks like a normal remote hiking trail. You’ll soon cross over a creek (you’ll need to rock hop a bit), and continue up through the woods. As you do, you’ll see lots of tree markers, flags, and even taped off areas – These are science experiments being done by the scientists in the science center. Please do not mess with them.
You’ll soon reach a gate that allows hikers through only. This gate keeps horses off the hiker only trail. Here is also where we went the wrong way, as the signs are a little confusing. Having this trail map would have been really helpful.
We should have continued straight up to the Cataloochee Divide Trail, and then turned right to go up to the Science Center. Instead, we turned right just after the gate, and took the horse trail back down to the start of Ferguson Cabin and the meadow trail.
It was fine though, we just took the meadow trail up instead.
Purchase Knob and the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center
The meadow trail is a moderate to strenuous hike up to the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. You’ll want to do this trail and hike up, as the center has the best views, and you can almost see 360 degrees! Fortunately, while pretty tired at this point, we weren’t going to miss the views, so up we went! The view below makes it all worth it.
In 2000, Kathryn McNeil and Voit Gilmore, donated the 535 acres to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since then, this part of the park has averaged about 5,000 visitors per year, many being students, teachers and scientists. Our kids have all been.
The Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center building has a viewing deck that provides breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, on both sides of Purchase Knob.
Looking southeast towards you’ll see Cold Mountain and Mt. Pisgah. Looking north, you’ll see Mt. Sterling further into the park. If the day is clear, the views are incredible.
There is also access to the Cataloochee Divide Trail (on our list to hike, but not on this visit). The trailhead starts behind the Science Center building. There are some outbuildings here with scientific equipment, and also a webcam. You should definitely check out the webcam often, especially during sunrise and sunset.
We had the whole area to ourselves the weekday evening we went. Our only company was a turkey working it’s way through the tall grass.
One word of caution – The field areas are full of insects, including ticks and these really small little green bugs that bite. So wear bug repellent, and do a really thorough tick check on yourself when you get home and keep an eye on yourself while hiking. We would not recommend sitting down in the grass without a blanket.
The journey and hike up to Purchase Knob is a fantastic hike, offering some of the most incredible scenic views available in the area. The terrain changes frequently as well, making it even more fun and interesting. The hike is on the strenuous side of moderate overall, so take that into account when deciding if the trail is for you. We just took breaks as needed, and tried not to hurry.
Definitely put this hike on your to do list!
Purchase Knob Photo Gallery