Hemphill Bald

  • Highlights: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, bald summits, great views, wildlife, history, birdwatching
  • Distance: 9.7 miles, out and back
  • Elevation change: 1,639 feet
  • Difficulty level: Difficult
  • Trailhead Parking: Purchase Knob trailhead, Hemphill Road/Purchase Road, Haywood County, NC; park at National Park gate.
  • Website: Purchase Knob and AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Frog Level Brewery—Dragonfly Session IPA & Hop-Rooted IPA

The Hike:

This hike has a bit of something for everyone. Located on the southeast corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the trail begins on a park access road, loops around the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, and connects with the Cataloochee Divide Trail up to Hemphill Bald. Download the map above for more details.

A parking area is located outside of the gate to the road to the Science Center. The hike along the road is a steady, gradual incline for 1.2 miles when you reach the meadow on your left. Follow signs to the Science Center up a steep hill through the meadow. At 1.7 miles reach the Science Center. While not technically a bald summit, the porch of the Science Center has great views. 

Walk around the right side of the Science Center and follow signs for the Cataloochee Divide Trail. At 2 miles, you will reach a junction, turn left here on the Cataloochee Divide Trail. The trail winds through a forest of rhododendron and mountain laurel which are magnificent in May-June. This trail borders private lands on your left and the National park on the right. At 2.4 miles, arrive at a trail junction with the McKee Branch Trail on the right and a trail to Ferguson Cabin on the right. Note this junction for the return trip. Stay straight on the Cataloochee Divide Trail.

The trail continues a gradual ascent and at 3.3 miles you will reach Gooseberry Knob, which is part of the SWAG resort. This is private property so be discrete and courteous if you want to venture past the fence for more great views. Continue on the trail and at 3.6 miles reach the SWAG, an all-inclusive resort. At 4.2 miles enter Double Gap with expansive views of a the surrounding mountains and a bald/meadow for cattle grazing. 

The trail begins a steep ascent up to the 5,540’ summit of Hemphill Bald. 220 acres of Hemphill Bald were donated to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Hemphill Bald provides panoramic views to the South and east. A plaque and map at the summit shows surrounding mountain peaks. 

Retrace your steps past Double Gap, the SWAG, and Gooseberry Knob. At the junction with the McKee Branch Trail, turn right and follow the path to the Ferguson Cabin. The cabin was built in 1874 and at 4,700’, it is the highest elevation historic cabin within the Smoky Mountains. Continue past the cabin and the trail will reach the grassy meadow near the Science Center and just beyond is Purchase Road. Turn right and follow the road downhill to your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

Frog Level Brewery in nearby Waynesville has indoor and outdoor seating, live music, pub food, and great beer. They have a nice outdoor beer garden right beside a nice creek. Kathy liked the Dragonfly session IPA which had hints of citrus with a balanced bitterness. Pete enjoyed the Hop-Rooted IPA, which is brewed in partnership with 7 Clans Brewing of Cherokee NC. This IPA is made with Centennial hops and then dry-hopped with more Centennial for an extra kick of hoppiness. 

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.