Max Patch Mountain (5-3-17)
Max Patch Mountain needs no introduction. As one of North Carolina's finest and most popular southern balds the peak is touted on countless area tourism websites and travel brochures. Rising near the North Carolina/Tennessee border just north of Interstate 40 west of Waynesville, Max Patch Mountain boasts some of the finest views from any summit in the regions. To the south rise the mighty Smoky Mountains, to the north lie the wild Unaka's, and to the southeast rises the roof of eastern America...the Black Mountain Range itself. All this and it's an incredibly easy mountain to enjoy. The road up to it can be rough and steep but most vehicles can make the journey without trouble. As far as the hike? You can make a beeline for the summit from the small trailhead parking area in at most 30-minutes. Max Patch is a place I've been to countless times and it rarely disappoints.
On this particular visit I'd try to make more of a hike out of my time at Max Patch by combining a number of area trails to make a small loop around the mountain, rather than just heading straight to the top. Starting from the small parking area (which, I'll warn you, fills up quickly on most nice days) I'd start my trek by taking a right on the Max Patch Loop Trail from the large kiosk at the trailhead. The path begins on a rather level grade as it gradually curves around the grassy meadows south of the summit. Views here of the nearby Smokies are already stunning. Nearing a point due south of the summit ridge, the trail enters the forest for a time and soon crosses paths with the Appalachian Trail itself. Saving the AT for later, I'd continue on the loop enjoying spring greens and a nice assortment of wildflowers before reaching the junction with the Chestnut Ridge Trail at a large opening. Turning left on the Chestnut Ridge Trail my route roughly parallels the long summit ridge of Max Patch which the trail provides beautiful views of just to the west. Traversing a bushy hillside, bordering the huge fields surrounding Max Patch, this is a wonderful stretch of trail. Soon the trail begins to descend a bit more into a narrow, more leafy, drainage and arrives at its intersection with the Appalachian Trail. Turning left onto the AT the trail continues to descend an soon reaches a sharp right turn around what looks to be the remains of an old farmstead. After this sharp turn the AT begins to climb the ridge beyond in earnest. This is the most strenuous part of the loop though it's nothing I would rate as overwhelmingly difficult. More wildflowers abounded on this stretch as the trail passes through a beautiful open hardwood forest.
Before long the trees break away completely and I found myself climbing the massive grassy, open, summit ridge of Max Patch itself. Simple wooden posts marked with the famous white blaze of the Appalachian Trail lead the way through the high elevation meadows. Stunning panoramas begin to surround you and only become more grand as you climb. Eventually I reached the broad summit lawn and stopped to absorb the majesty of my surroundings. As stated earlier, the most dominant natural feature seen from this vantage point is the massive rampart of the Great Smoky Mountain Range rising just to the south. In the opposite direction rises the lesser known but rugged Unaka Range. Farther in the distance, but no less impressive, are the Great Balsam and Black Mountain Ranges, to the southeast. It's a place that, no matter how many times I visit, I have to just sit for a good long spell and let my surroundings seep into my soul. This is most certainly one of the spots that embodies, to me at least, that great quote by John Muir..."Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." Max Patch is most certainly one of those places. From the summit I'd continue along the Appalachian Trail as it gently, and then a bit more steeply, descends the open southern summit ridge. Before long I was back down among the trees at the junction with the Max Patch Loop which I had passed earlier. At that point, a simple right turn and a bit more level walking would return me back where I had begun.
There's not much more I can say about Max Patch. If you've been there...you know it as a place you want to return to again and again. If you haven't been...GO!! This is one of those few places that are not over-inflated in their appeal by magazines and brochures. It's every bit as wonderful as you'll read. It's a place you won't regret making the winding, bumpy drive up to visit and it's most certainly a place you'll never forget. So, without further adieu, come along with me on one of the more quintessential southern mountain walks. As always...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.796444, -82.962596
Route Type: Lollipop Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 3.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 4,200' Max. Elevation: 4,629'
Total Vertical Gain: 500' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 167'
Trails Used (blaze color): Appalachian (white), Buckeye Ridge (yellow), Max Patch Loop (unblazed)