#GetOutandExplore: Purchase Knob

The view from the Science Education Center.

There are a number of well worn quotes about the joy of getting outside and exploring nature—Abbey, Keats, Thoreau, Whitman, Blake, Madame Curie, the Book of Jeremiah (6:16) and even Yogi Berra. Perhaps my favorite was penned by John Muir when he mused, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt.” Like my grandfather, Muir knew that getting into the wild was essential to a life well lived. Spending time outdoors in nature keeps us grounded, gives us perspective, and rejuvenates the soul. In an era of increased sedentary lifestyles and hobbies, even doctors are touting the benefits of unplugging and taking the road less traveled. One of my favorite paths, in any season, leads to Purchase Knob.

The walk from the parking area to Purchase Knob.

The walk from the parking area to Purchase Knob.

National Geographic published an article in January of this year, “This Is Your Brain On Nature.” In it, they assert “When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor.” In the era of do more with less, who doesn’t have an overstressed brain??!!?? The article also highlights one of my favorite historical figures, Frederick Law Olmsted, whereas in 1865 “the great landscape architect looked out over the Yosemite Valley and saw a place worth saving” and then lobbied the California legislature to protect it from the rampant development of the times.

One of my modern-day heroes, Blue Ridge Naturalist, Ken Czarnomski, has also lobbied for nature as a place worth savoring. Ken is an avid hiker, teacher, talented architect and exemplifies the very essence of community through his kindness & various works. One of my favorite projects are his hiking maps. As part of his Blue Ridge Naturalist certification, Ken tackled the visual beauty of mapping. His first was a hiking map of the Purchase Knob area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“What I wanted to do was concentrate on areas that were accessible to people in all seasons,” Czarnomski said.

Alex & Olivia

Alex & Olivia

“Whether it was spring, summer, fall, winter, they could head out and find a place and still make a nice day’s walk and still enjoy the day,” he says. “…maybe bring the family and learn something along the way.”

The Introduction of the Purchase Knob map reads: “The Southern Appalachian region contains more than 2,500 species of flowering plants, 130 species of trees, over 400 species of mosses and approximately 1,500 species of vascular plants.” On a beautiful February day, map in hand, my family set out to explore what Ken describes as “spectacular beauty that evokes a sense of timelessness for those who wander its trails.”

Walking Directions:

Park your vehicle outside the National Park gate on Purchase Road.

Trail Length, Grade & Conditions

Mom & Girls

Lunch at the Ferguson Cabin

Approximately 5 miles, Ken suggests allowing 3 to 4 hours with stops for views and observations. We brought a picnic lunch in our pack that we enjoyed at the John Ferguson Cabin.

For any day or half-day trip, pack plenty of water. Always mind the “leave no trace” principles, take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints. Hike out your rubbish!

Don’t Miss

There are old growth apple trees from when this area was an actual settlement. According to Ken’s map, from 1874 through 1902, John Love Ferguson lived here on 447 acres. It is the highest remaining cabin left in the national park at an elevation near 4,700 ft. The cabin you’ll find today was rebuilt from some of the original timbers in 2000 by Friends of the Smokies.

Catalochee Divide

Frozen Creek

From the Ferguson cabin, there is a well defined trail leading to the Cataloochee Divide. According to the Purchase Knob map, the Cataloochee Divide is a defined line of mountain ridges separating the Cataloochee drainage basin or valley from the Jonathan Creek drainage basin or Jonathan Valley. “Both these drainage systems flow into the Pigeon River watershed which flows to the French Broad River and eventually into the Mississippi river ending at the Gulf of Mexico.”

Science Education Center

Loop around from the Cataloochee Divide Trail to the Science Education Center. According to Ken’s map,  the center rests at approximately 4,850 feet with Purchase Knob just off to the southwest (see featured photo).

Some of our favorite photos from the day:

Ready to hit the trail?

The best part…Ken Czarnomski’s maps are FREE and available in our local Visit NC Smokies Visitor Center. The history and science information in the maps are excellent but my favorite aspect, by far, is the illustrated front. Growing up hiking with a grandfather who believed everyone should be able to read a map, I have a special appreciation for Ken’s work. The maps are as much a piece of local art as they are a backpack essential. Want your own Purchase Knob experience? Get out and explore… Visit NC Smokies.

A Parting Thought

This post is part of an ongoing #GetOutandExplore series covering a plethora of outdoor adventures. There is nowhere I’d rather be than chasing the wild places from my childhood. With one of Ken’s maps, some flora, fauna, fresh air and nothing but views…you’ll see why. Hiking, biking, kayaking, walking meditations and sometimes just hanging from a tree, stay tuned for more adventures from Bold Narrative. Join me for the journey!

*What is a Laurel Hell?