Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail
Hike the Appalachian Trail at Max Patch, one of North Carolina’s most popular AT hikes, on a grassy, bald mountain that’s covered in wildflowers. Catch a gorgeous sunrise, sunset or afternoon picnic on this moderate two mile loop with stunning 360-degree views and seemingly endless sunshine.
This is Max Patch, a popular, iconic, almost idyllic bald summit on the Appalachian Trail that’s beloved by hardcore AT thru-hikers, casual day hikers and frisbee-flingers alike.
Rising 4629 feet, Max Patch is a unique, rolling, sprawling stretch of mountain meadow that offers plentiful sunshine, incredible views and an on-top-of-the-world feeling set under expansive skies and framed in seemingly endless mountains. In a word, it’s incredible.
It’s likely THE single most popular and well-loved Appalachian Trail hike in North Carolina. Departing its southernmost blaze at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail (“AT”) meanders across the crest of the Appalachian Mountains and hikes an epic 2,000+ miles from Georgia to Maine. There are few mountaintops summited by the AT, though, that are as strikingly beautiful, and beautifully unique, as Max Patch.
This adventure hikes a spur trail from the mountain’s parking area, west of Hot Springs, NC, catching views of the iconic bald before trailing through a shady forest. The hike meets the Appalachian Trail at a half mile, making a narrow loop across the Max Patch summit and exploring to a shady forest before returning to the trailhead. It’s just over two miles, roundtrip, and solidly full of scenic beauty.
Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail: the hike
The hike departs from the trailhead on the graveled Max Patch Road, roughly an hour and a quarter northeast of Asheville (view maps and driving directions). The bald, wide, rolling expanses of Max Patch Mountain rise to the east. The hike trails to the northeast, skirting the mountain and beginning a continuous, moderate climb. Wild blueberries, blackberries and wildflowers grow in abundance along the trail in warm-weather months.
The Max Patch Trail dives into a young forest at .25 mile, catching a brief dose of shade. Ferns line the sides of the trail, and a spring trickles through the forest. The hike exits the forest canopy, the sky opening widely as the trail treks through a grassy meadow, meeting the Appalachian Trail at .5 mile.
The hike turns right, trekking southbound and climbing to the green summit. In the absence of trees on this sun-drenched bald, the AT’s iconic white rectangular blaze is painted on wooden posts. Wildflowers and grasses blanket the mountain’s rolling expanses and end abruptly at the base in a dense forest of trees. Nearby mountains of the Pisgah National forest roll in the distance and stretch far onto the horizon. (And, on a clear day, Mount Mitchell, Mount Craig and the Black Mountains’ other prominent peaks can be seen in the distance.)
The Appalachian Trail summits Max Patch at .7 miles. Vast panoramas open in all directions, views stretching 360 degrees around the bald, grassy mountain. Insects chirp loudly in the grass-filled wonderland. Birds chase, dive and soar in the nearly constant breezes. Wildflowers bask in the sunlight.
A side trail and the AT create a short half-mile loop around the summit, offering views to the south and the west. Finishing the loop, the hike departs the summit, retracing its steps on the Appalachian Trail, hiking northbound.
At 1.25 miles, the hike reaches a junction with the spur trail that leads to the parking area. From here, the adventure continues following the white-blazed Appalachian Trail to the northeast. Just beyond Max Patch’s lower, grass-covered elevations, the AT dives into a shady forest. While camping is prohibited at the summit, several large campsites in this shady grove of trees offer near-summit camping for backpackers. The forest provides a great break from Max Patch’s abundant sunshine, too – and a great picnic spot on warm-weather summertime days.
Departing the forest, the hike retraces the AT, hiking southwest to the parking area spur. The hike hangs a right on the spur at 1.85 miles, trailing southwest through the forest and reaching the trailhead parking area at just over 2.3 miles, completing the hike.
Note: lightning is a serious danger on Max Patch. This is not a safe trail if there’s even a small chance of an electrical storm.
Nearby adventures on the AT
East of Max Patch, the Appalachian Trail hikes through Hot Springs, a small mountain town that’s nestled on the banks of the scenic French Broad River. Hike a short, moderate 2 miler through town, along the river’s banks, and to the summit of Lovers Leap, a rocky precipice that offers beautiful views of the French Broad and the town of Hot Springs.