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Hiking up to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s cherished, historic high-elevation Ferguson Cabin is a smart way to keep trim in the winter season. You can grab a friend or soul mate and accomplish this hike on a whim, because the trailhead begins at a metal gate only 15 miles from the center of Waynesville. You can turn this trip into anything from a 3 to 5 mile round trip, depending on how you feel, once the cabin comes into view at the 1.5 mile point.

This adventure cries out for spontaneity, requiring minimum advance planning, plus you and your companion(s) are very unlikely to get lost. You won’t need your most rugged hiking boots or hardy lunch, either. It’s even a great hike to take solo (just a long afternoon to complete). Once at the cabin site, other landforms within view might just tempt you to wander the ridge tops further, to fill out your day. You decide!

Most of your ascent will be on the wide and winding packed-gravel Purchase Road incline, beyond a metal gate, which is normally closed to vehicles this time of year. If the gate is open, use caution if you choose to park beyond it, because park rangers sometimes lock the gates when they leave, unknowingly locking hikers’ cars inside.

As you gain elevation towards 4,500 feet, the landforms offer various valley views that reveal in all compass directions. Along the road, I loved being able to see downslope to the right, unobstructed, through the open trees along the path of the little tumbling creek.

The road allows ample space for two (or more) friends to be able to ascend side-by-side without any single file or tricky footwork. This frees up time for casual conversations to emerge in a group hike.

You can also keep visual track of any young ones running ahead, as 90 percent of the hike remains along the slope-clinging Purchase Road. This hike made to order for one of our milder winter days. And, best of all, near the top of the hike, it offers the restored cabin as the reward, (and then it’s all downhill on the return).

By the time you hit the saddle area, your steeper sections will have subsided. Rolling and sloping tan and green grassy areas abound, punctuated by reddish brown highlights of willows amid the winter forest scrub. The fallen deciduous leaves lend more frequent views of the faraway tiered, blue-toned horizons that we know and love. It won’t be long and you’ll spot the sign marking the short Ferguson Cabin trail spur breaking into the forest to your left. At this point, you’re only minutes away from a little jewel of history, the Ferguson Cabin where you can go inside or sit on a weathered porch bench.

John Ferguson completed his family home by 1875, which now remains the highest elevation historic cabin within the Smoky Mountains. If you arrive here solo, you’ll have a peaceful covered veranda upon which to pause, and contemplate a personal life decision or two. Cutting back into the forest from the sloped grassy Ferguson front yard at right is a signed trail that connects to the Cataloochee Divide Trail.

The cabin’s gray textured ‘dog trot’ construction planks are a treat to photograph from all angles, and the slightly forward sloping porch might tilt you toward the daydreams of the daily routines of a ‘turn of the century’ settler family running both a farm and ranch.

Perhaps if you linger longer it will inject longevity into your own life too, (beyond the exercise value of the trek), as two young Ferguson boys each lived until the age of 99!

While hiking ‘above and beyond’ the cabin site this January during a soft overcast day with brief blasts of sun, the day ended with a soothing, light and misty rain. I had the pleasure of crossing paths with longtime local Bill Woody and his dog, Traveler, who was bounding happily in a 300 foot wide arc below us, nose lowered. Woody’s roots go way deep into the ridges up here, with his own high elevation cabin and far-reaching family ties. His stories were just a hint of his historical knowledge and insight. He’s happily gone out of his way to help assist many hikers through these parts get through various odd predicaments over the years. He has a wealth of wisdom and anecdotes, and I’ve barely heard a skim of it. He was planted and honest, and seemed to relish the unpredictability of life while carrying a gentle sense of gritty, natural humor. We traded contacts.

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