Friday, April 13, 2012

Ferguson Cabin and The Swag

Well, we were back to the hiking trails again today.  Today’s hike was all about coloring the map.  That pesky little map with all those squiggly lines of trail.  Sometimes I wish I weren’t quite so goal oriented.
What I needed was a 1.8 mile section of the upper Cataloochee Divide Trail.  That 1.8 miles was 4.6 miles from the trailhead which I’d done a few years ago.  Getting to that 1.8 mile section without walking the first 4.6 miles was a challenge to figure out.  We knew there is a road up there because Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center sits about a half mile from the trail.  The Swag sits practically on top of the trail and there is a road that leads up there as well.  However, both of these places are not open for the season yet and their gates are barring access far down the roads.
Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center
With a whole lot of research and some driving around, Sharon was able to discover that we could get pretty close to the Science Learning Center and that there was enough room to park a car off the road at the gate.

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.
Ferguson Cabin
The parking lot at The Swag, a luxury inn, is about 2 feet from Cataloochee Divide Trail about halfway between Purchase Gap and Double Gap.  There is even a hole in the fence to access the trail.  The Swag is hiker friendly, but still it is pretty exclusive and folks pay a whole lot of money to stay there.  They require that you buy lunch in order to use their parking lot.  One lunch will cost you about $20, but then you can leave your car in the parking lot and hike as long as you want.

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
John Ferguson moved into a small cabin at this site in 1874 and built another cabin in 1884 where he and his family lived until 1902.  In the 1960s that second cabin was restored using the timbers from Ferguson’s barn.  The cabin sits at about 4700 feet in elevation making it the highest cabin in the park.

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
A little less than a mile from Purchase Gap, we arrived at the outdoor picnic area for The Swag.  The Swag has been very generous in allowing hikers to pass through the fence and enjoy the view from their property.  Today, since The Swag is not yet open for guests, we had this million dollar view all to ourselves.  We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view and take a break, but then continued on our way.
Hemphill Bald
As we passed The Swag, it was evident by the number of cars in the parking lot that they are getting ready for this seasons opening day.  I think that may be Sunday.
View of Jonathan Valley
When we reached Double Gap we debated whether to climb Hemphill Bald for our lunch or go back to the picnic area at The Swag.  The longer we looked at that hill that had to be climbed to reach Hemphill Bald, the more appealing The Swag became.

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.


  1. glad you got to colour in your map!..those chairs look mighty comfy!

  2. We look like two pretty relaxed chicks in that photo, don't we?? What a great day it was.

  3. Wish I was up to doing a hike like that.

  4. Another great looking hike. Sure liked that photo of the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center and that cabin too.