Few hikes in North Carolina deliver as much bang for your buck as Max Patch Mountain. If you’ve never been to this grassy, 4,600-foot summit in the Bald Mountains, you need to put it at the very top of your to-do list. Here’s a destination that lives up to its reputation, which is mighty considerable!
What follows are five solid reasons to hoof the half-mile to what locals often call “the Patch,” within easy day-tripping distance from Asheville.
1. You Get to Experience a Classic Southern Appalachian Bald
Balds are a scattered but defining feature of the Southern Appalachians. They’re ridgetop or mountaintop meadows or shrub fields, quite the contrast to the typical heavily forested heights of these lush highlands.
Ecologists aren’t 100% sure how balds historically formed. They don’t reflect an actual alpine environment as you find atop some of the highest, most weather-beaten summits in the Northern Appalachians. Indeed, no peaks in the Southern Appalachians rise above climatic timberline.
Likely most balds were maintained by a combination of burning by American Indians (and, later, white settlers) and grazing. Max Patch once pastured livestock; today, it’s kept open by mowing and prescribed burning.
2. You’re Treated to One of the Best Panoramas in the Eastern U.S.
The wide-open summit of Max Patch provides a genuinely outstanding vantage point. The panoramic views from the bald are genuinely breathtaking. They include the highest ranges of the Southern Appalachians and the eastern U.S. in general.
Under clear conditions, you’ll be able to spot the Black Mountains from here, including the loftiest summit in the East: 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell. The Great Smoky Mountains, which rise nearly as high as the Black Mountains, are visible, too. So are the Great Craggies, the Great Balsams, and the Roan Highlands, with plenty of peaks north of 6,000 feet on display.
3. You Get to Visit One of the Most Celebrated Landmarks Along the Appalachian Trail
The 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail is arguably the most famous hiking trail in the world. It takes in a lot of unique spots along its north-south journey along the East’s mountain backbone. Many thru-hikers, though, regard Max Patch as the all-around scenic highlight, given the stunning vistas. Shortcutting to the Patch on a day hike lets you experience this legendary stopover on a legendary footpath.
Who knows? Maybe a visit to Max Patch will inspire some itchy feet, and you’ll end up planning your own A.T. odyssey…
4. The Sunsets Are Out of This World
Long sightlines westward from the Patch translate to killer sunsets. Whatever time of day you can get to this grass bald, get there. All things considered, though, there’s nothing like watching evening fall from here. Get ready for vividly fired skies, gorgeous light on the endless ridges, and deepening shadows in the gorges and ravines. (Daybreak’s pretty darn extraordinary from Max Patch, too, if you’re an early riser.)
5. You Won’t Find a Better Place for a Picnic
Pack a picnic for your short trek up to Max Patch! It’ll rank among the most scenic—and most unforgettable—al fresco meals you’ve ever savored. (Remember to pack out everything you brought in! This is a popular outdoor destination, and everybody needs to do their part to lighten the human impact.)
Experience Max Patch Mountain for Yourself
Pictures can’t do Max Patch justice (though you’ll likely be taking plenty of them). They ultimately don’t capture the special ambiance of this sprawling bald, from the quality of the sunlight to the highland breezes. And a panoramic photo doesn’t fully convey how expansive the viewshed is.
Long story short, start planning your hike to the Patch ASAP!