Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever: Western North Carolina’s few remaining century-old cabins stand as reminders of the region’s isolation and the Appalachian way of life. Here’s a trio of hikes to historic homesteads that offer insight into the past.
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All Alone: Seen 1,500 feet below from Wildcat Rocks Overlook near Milepost 241 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, tiny Caudill Cabin offers one of the most compelling images of Appalachian isolation. Take a detour off the parkway to the trailhead at Grassy Gap Fire Road for a 10-mile round-trip hike to the one-room, 1894 cabin. Lenny Caudill maintains a visitors’ book at the site, which tells the life story of his great-grandfather.

Getting There: To reach the trailhead from Doughton Park (Blue Ridge Parkway Mileposts 238.5-244.7), exit the parkway at Milepost 248 and travel east on N.C. 18 for six miles, then turn left on N.C. 1728. Go four miles and turn left onto N.C. 1730/Longbottom Road. Follow for three miles, and park on the right just beyond the bridge across Basin Creek. The Grassy Gap Fire Road begins across the road at the Park Service sign.

From N.C. 1730/Longbottom Road, Caudill Cabin is a rugged 10-mile roundtrip hike with a few dozen stream crossings that can be negotiated without wading when water levels are low. In higher water, take waders or water shoes. If you camp two nights at Doughton Park’s backcountry campsite, 1.7 miles up the Grassy Gap Fire Road, the roundtrip to the cabin on day two is only 6.6 miles. A camping permit is required, available at the Doughton Park Campground ranger kiosk at parkway Milepost 239.2, or if you have a few weeks, call the kiosk at (336) 372-8877 to request a permit by mail.

The High Life: The Smokies’ highest cabin sits 5,000 feet above sea level near Maggie Valley. The circa-1870s John Love Ferguson Cabin is accessible from The Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The easy, two-mile loop starts near the learning center’s gate.

Getting There: From Asheville, go west on I-40. Take exit 20 and travel south on U.S. 276 toward Maggie Valley. In 2.8 miles, turn right onto Grindstone Road, then right on Hemphill Road. Drive three miles. Pass the entrance to The Swag Country Inn on the left, and park 0.8 mile beyond near the gate at Purchase Knob Environmental Education Center [(828) 926-6251]. Do not block the road. Hike up the road to a meadow where you’ll see a trail sign to the cabin on the left.

Getting Back: Return to your car, or make a short loop by exiting the cabin and turning right uphill into the woods along the stream. You’ll cross the creek, and reach a junction. Turn right at the junction to return to the meadow. You can drive to the center during the day (another 2.25 miles), but for access to the cabin, it’s easiest to park outside the gate.

Home Away From Home: Not every cabin lacked comforts. When George Vanderbilt felt a little cramped at Biltmore Estate, he and guests adjourned to Buck Spring Lodge near Mount Pisgah. It was razed in 1963 but the spring and foundation remain. Take the two-mile walk from the Pisgah Inn parking area, or start at Buck Spring Overlook (Milepost 407.7) for a shorter stroll.

Getting There: From Asheville, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway south and turn into the Buck Spring Gap Overlook at Milepost 407.7. The shortest trail to the site is a 0.2-mile roundtrip. The trail starts from the south end of the overlook. For the two-mile hike, pull into Pisgah Inn’s parking area and park near the camp store. Take the path north from the trail sign beside the parking lot.

These hikes and directions can all be found in Randy Johnson’s books Hiking North Carolina and Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway. Visit his website www.randyjohnsonbooks.com for more information.

Photograph by Randy Johnson