This hand-crafted mountain retreat is nestled on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with scenic views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. The building and 500 acres of land were donated to the National Park in 2000, by author Kathryn McNeil. McNeil and her family designed the home and used the area as a summer time mountain retreat before deeding the estate to the National Park. This architectural beauty is now home to the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. Every year 5,000 students, teachers and scientists visit the center which was “one of five initial Learning Centers created by Congress to support research in the National Parks and to transmit the information generated to the public.”
What Makes It Great
The first mile of “trail” is actually a gravel road that leads up towards the science center. Your path will cross a babbling brook and then climb through a magnificent hardwood forest. The beauty of the Purchase is revealed one mile into the trip when you come to the bottom of a rolling mountain meadow. A maintained trail wanders up and up through the middle of the pasture, this will be your highway to panoramic views. A short trail to your left leads to Ferguson cabin, the highest elevation historic cabin in the “Smokies.” Take a short detour and relax on the shady porch of this rustic cabin before your uphill climb to the Science Center.
After leaving the cabin return to the meadow and begin your visually stunning approach to the Learning Center. Your body may resonate with tunes from The Sound of Music as you follow this grassy trail through a heavenly meadow on your journey to the top. While in the meadow your view to the North begins to open up and panoramic views from Cold Mountain to Mt. Mitchell begin to reveal themselves as you gain in elevation. When you reach the pastoral summit take your time to enjoy the view from the Learning Center’s expansive porch.
Who is Going to Love It
The moderate hike through the highland beauty of The Purchase make this location ideal for a serene stroll through wilderness. Invite your friends and family of bring along that special someone for a picnic in the middle of the meadow. History buffs are also going to enjoy this hike. The property was once a location for Cherokee trade and also served as a base for logging operations before the coronation of the park. Pick up a copy of Purchase Knob, by former owner Kathryn McNeil, before your visit to gain an intimate knowledge of the property.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Getting to the Trailhead from Asheville will take you 45 minutes. From Asheville, take interstate 40 west to exit 20 (Maggie Valley). Head South on highway 276 for 3 miles until you see Hemphill Rd on your right. Follow Hemphill Rd up and up until the pavement ends and you see a gate with signs for the Science and Learning Center. Find a parking spot on the side of the road and your journey will begin here.
There are no fees for your visit and don’t forget to bring your dog along for the adventure!