Purchase Knob is a "new" section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (near Maggie Valley) with wonderful vistas from 5,000 feet elevation, an impressive research center and a great hike on the Cataloochee Divide Trail. These 500+ acres were donated to the Park in 2000. A former residence on that land was transformed into a science center.
The Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center is part of a network of research learning centers supporting science education in national parks. The center at Purchase Knob includes the historic Ferguson Cabin, classroom and housing for ten visiting scientists. There's nothing to see inside the main building, but you can enjoy the views from the porch (nice picnic spot). Find public restrooms and a water fountain beside the main building.
If the center is closed, park at the gate and walk about a half mile up their road to the trail on the left for Ferguson Cabin and Cataloochee Divide Trail. Find two hike options:
One Mile Loop
Hike the mile loop at the center for fantastic meadow and mountains views, taking you by the historic cabin. Their loop trail includes a short section of Cataloochee Divide Trail.
You'll see the meadow trail in front of the center. Stroll down through the wildflower meadow and with panoramic views ahead. Next you'll come to a trail on the right to Ferguson Cabin. It's the highest cabin in the Smokies (4,700 feet), built in the 1870s. Take a peek inside and continue the trail to Cataloochee Divide Trail. In about a quarter of a mile, at the Cataloochee trail intersection with Mckee Branch. Turn right to complete the loop. Turn left to hike toward Hemphill Bald (see below).
Cataloochee Divide Trail
This 13.8-mile ridgeline Great Smoky Mountains National Park trail runs by the Learning Center property. At either intersection from their loop trail, take a left on the trail to head south toward Hemphill Bald (follow signs for The Swag). Hike about 1.5 miles to Gooseberry Knob at The Swag (private inn) and another 1.2 miles to Hemphill Bald. Sidenote: You can also hike to Hemphill Bald from Cataloochee Ranch - see See our Hemphill Bald Hike Guide.
You'll descend through the cool, lush forest a few hundred feet in elevation and ascend back to around 5,000 feet.
If you want to continue to Hemphill Bald past The Swag Resort, you'll add 2.3 miles roundtrip and climb about 550 feet in elevation. Sorry, dogs are not allowed on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park trails. Read more about Hemphill Bald.
Take I-40 West, 24 miles from the West Asheville Exit turn on Exit 20. Take Rt. 276 south approximately 5 miles and turn right on Hemphill Road. Go 5 miles to the Science Center. If the center is open, you are welcome to park at the main building and explore the grounds. If the gate is closed, park your car near the gate and walk up.