|Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center|
I want to share what we’ve learned about parking to access Cataloochee Divide Trail at either Purchase Gap or Double Gap. Parking is allowed at both the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center and at The Swag. However, there are restrictions. The Learning Center is a half mile from Purchase Gap on National Park property. Anyone can park there for free and there is a half mile trail which leads past Ferguson Cabin right up to Cataloochee Divide Trail. This trail is clearly marked. The problem is that the Learning Center is not open all the time (only when they have a group scheduled and that schedule is posted on the website) and when they are not open, the road is gated. If the gate is closed, which it was today, hikers are welcome to park at the gate and walk up the road. That’s what we did today and we estimate the distance from the gate to the trail is about 1.5 miles, all uphill.
Since The Swag wasn’t yet open for the season, we opted to park at the gate on the road to the Learning Center. There is only one road that goes to that gate. We took Hemphill Road off US 276 (Exit 20 from I-40). Hemphill Road eventually turns into Purchase Road and the pavement ends just before you reach the gate. It took us about an hour to walk up the road and then hike the half mile trail to Cataloochee Divide Trail at Purchase Gap. Of course, we stopped for a few pictures and Ferguson Cabin.
|View of Cataloochee Ski area from The Swag|
Cataloochee Divide Trail marks the boundary of the park. The trail is open to horses, but the treadway was in good condition; not muddy and rutted like some of the horse trails are. At this high elevation, only the very early spring flowers were showing their faces. We saw mostly bluets.
|Picnic area at The Swag|
|View of Jonathan Valley|
We retraced our steps for the return trip. At least it was mostly downhill. Since we’re not sure about the milage along the road, we are estimating our hike to be between 6.5 and 7.5 miles.
I am so glad to have that little section colored in on my map.
That’s it for today. Thanks for tagging along.