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Have you ever visited Max Patch, the famous bald straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina line. The Appalachian Trail runs atop its open mantle and presents panoramas that lead to Max Patch being called “the grandstand of the Smokies.”
Hikes can enjoy a 2.7 mile loop hike, detailed below, that encircles venerated Max Patch, a former mountaintop pasture, now scenic home to stunning views of surrounding highlands. The Max Patch Loop Trail starts along the western slopes where you can look into Tennessee. Make a short side trip to the 4,629 foot summit of Max Patch, soaking in 360 degree panoramas. Follow the AT northbound into woods, skirting past springs. Curve back to the trailhead in a mix of field and forest, taking in more views and high country splendor before the walk is complete.
When skies are clear hikers atop Max Patch can clearly identify the peaks of the Smokies, plus views of lands in all four cardinal directions. The grassy slopes reveal more intimate beauty as well, colorful wildflowers in summer, blackberries aplenty, tawny brown fields waving in the fall wind and a blanket of white in winter. And as long as the clouds aren’t swirling about, the vistas remain no matter the season. With elevation changes under 500 feet and shortcut options available, this hike is ideal for giving younger and/or less able hikers a taste of the high country.
The most popular path is the one going directly up Max Patch. Instead, head left on the Max Patch Loop Trail, tracing an old roadbed on a grassy track. Vistas open immediately, northwest into the Volunteer State. A few trees and berry bushes begin to border the path. Blackberries will ripen in early August. Enter tree cover, primarily maples, at .2 mile. The main field of Max Patch rises to your right. At .3 mile, a short spur leads left to a spring box, a vestige from the days when cattle roamed the peak, grazing in summer while farmers down in the valleys grew hay for winter.
Open to meadow again at .5 mile. Shortly meet the Appalachian Trail. Turn right here, southbound, aiming for the summit of Max Patch, which you soon reach. A USGS survey marker denotes the spot. You may not notice the marker on a clear day, as your eyes will be drawn southwest to panoramas of yon Smoky Mountains.
Mount Cammerer with its distinct curves and squat stone tower and Mount Sterling with its slender metal fire tower are distinctly visible. Beyond that swells of ridgelines roll in a sea of highlands. And to the east, Carolina crags extend as far as the clarity of the sky allows. Nearer, you can see the meadows below and the trail you will soon be walking. This is a truly inspiring panorama.
From here, head northbound on the world’s most famous footpath, passing where you were earlier. The wooden trailside posts help hikers find the path in rainy or foggy conditions. The AT descends north, entering woods at 1.0 miles. Reach a fenced-in spring and campsite at 1.4 miles. Travel amid tightly grown rhododendron.
Come to a trail junction at 1.5 miles. Turn right here, back on the loop trail. Enter a mix of meadow, brush and trees. Buckeye Ridge rises to your left and views of Max Patch open to your right, above meadows. At 1.7 miles, keep forward as the Buckeye Ridge Trail comes in on your left. Step over a couple of spring branches in woods. At 2.3 miles, come to a four-way intersection. Here, the AT goes right uphill and left downhill and the Buckeye Ridge Trail follows an old roadbed. You take the grassy path keeping on a side slope, the loop trail. Wander in a blend of small trees, grasses and brush. More views open to your left. Return to the trailhead at 2.7 miles, completing the hike.
To find the trailhead from Asheville, head east on I-40 to exit 7, Harmon Den. Take Cold Springs Creek Road, Forest Road 148, right for 6.3 miles to reach a “T” intersection. Turn left here on NC 1182, Max Patch Road. Follow it for 2.0 miles to the Max Patch parking area on your right. It is a gravel road but doesn’t require four-wheel drive. Adept navigators can also get there via Hot Springs, North Carolina and a series of back roads.
Johnny Molloy is an outdoor writer who’s penned a total of 46 worth of adventure-filled books. Check out his
work at www.johnnymolloy.com.
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