At 4,600 feet, Max Patch Mountain doesn’t win any awards among Southern Appalachian peaks for sheer elevation. What it lacks in stature, though, it more than makes up for as an almost unrivaled perch for soaking up the tallest mountains in the eastern U.S. This broad grass bald, which lies in the aptly named Bald Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, marks one of the single most celebrated landmarks along the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail, but you can also reach its jaw-dropping, 360-degree panorama from a short path from the parking lot off the gravel Road 1182.
It’s a steep half-mile climb to the summit, but quite doable for anybody in even average physical condition. A bit of huffing and puffing is certainly worth it given the world-class vistas awaiting you up on the broad open summit, nestled within a veritable sea of mountains.
Max Patch—or “the Patch,” as it’s sometimes simply called in the local area—is a magnificent example of a Southern Appalachian bald, those expansive high clearings dominated either by grasses (as in this case) or shrubs that make unusual glades in a mountain chain otherwise dominated by forest and too low for a climatically controlled alpine timberline.
Ecologists continue to debate just how these balds formed and what maintained them across time, though human influence—including American Indian burning and Euro-American grazing—seems to have been an important factor in many. Once definitely a well-used livestock pasture, Max Patch today is managed through mowing and prescribed burns to keep its fabulous vantage nice and open.
From the grassy expanse of Max Patch, you feel like you can see to the ends of the Earth. Well, you can’t quite see that far, but you certainly have a magnificent swath of the Southern Appalachians in your viewshed.
To the southwest rise the Great Smoky Mountains and some of that iconic range’s great peaks, including 6,621-foot Mount Guyot (second-highest in the Great Smokies), 6,360-foot Old Black, 5,842-foot Mount Sterling, and 4,928-foot Mount Cammerer.
In the east, meanwhile, loom the Black Mountains, highest range in the Southern Appalachians, with the king peak of the entire eastern U.S., 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, topping it all. In front of them stand the Great Craggies, no slouches themselves with peaks in the 5,000-to-6,000-foot range.
To the south, the Great Balsams form the third-highest range in the Southern Appalachians after the Blacks and the Great Smokies, with 6,410-foot Richland Balsam—the 10th-loftiest peak in the East—visible. To the northeast, 6,285-foot Roan High Knob tops the Unaka Mountains, another mighty mountain block.
Needless to say, lingering (and a whole lot of photography) is par for the course atop Max Patch. Tear yourself away from this outstanding Southern Appalachian panorama as best you can to return to the parking area.
– With its long view west, Max Patch happens to be an utterly awesome place to take in the sunset.
– If you’d like to incorporate Max Patch into a longer hike—and ditch some of the crowds who throng the summit bald—consider incorporating the famous view into the roughly 2.5-mile loop around the mountain.