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.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 782 Trails Illustrated Map
Bring a frisbee, blanket, camera, or picnic. Soak up an incredible sunrise or stunning sunset. Lay on the expansive, grassy summit and cloud gaze during the day or stargaze at night. Hike through miles of wildflowers, wild blueberries, and blackberries, and wispy, tall grass. Catch incredible 360-degree panoramas of surrounding mountain summits in North Carolina and Tennessee. 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 is a rolling, sprawling stretch of mountain meadow that offers plentiful sunshine, incredible views, and an on-top-of-the-world feeling. It’s set under expansive skies and framed in seemingly endless mountains. In a single word, it’s incredible.
The mountain is 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 traverses more than 2,000 epic miles from Georgia to Maine. There are few mountaintops summited by the AT, though, that are as strikingly beautiful, and beautifully unique, as this one.
This adventure hikes a spur trail from the mountain’s parking area, west of Hot Springs, NC, catching views of the iconic bald after trailing through a shady forest. The hike meets the Appalachian Trail at a half mile, making a narrow loop across the summit before looping back to the trailhead. It’s a mile and a half, round trip, and solidly full of scenic beauty. (If the trailhead is full, or you’re up for a longer, scenic route, hike the Appalachian Trail from Lemon Gap to Max Patch, exploring a creek-filled valley and visiting the Roaring Fork Shelter along the way.)
Max Patch: the hike
The hike departs from the trailhead on a gravel forest service road, roughly an hour and a quarter northwest of Asheville (view maps and driving directions). The bald, wide, rolling expanses of the 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 spur 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 beneath the spindly hardwoods. 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 route turns right, traveling southbound and climbing to the green summit. In the absence of trees on this sun-drenched bald, wooden posts with the AT’s iconic white rectangular blaze mark the trail. 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, with views stretching 360 degrees around the 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.
The hike continues following the white blazes of the AT across the summit, and then begins a descent along its southern slope. Southerly views open up as the trail descends a series of rustic wooden stairs as the trail switches back to the southeast. At 1.1 miles, this short loop veers right at an intersection, departing the Appalachian Trail and following the Max Patch spur trail back to the trailhead and parking area. The hike reaches the trailhead at 1.5 miles, completing the view-packed adventure.
Max Patch camping
While camping is usually prohibited at the summit, several large backpacking campsites lie in a shady grove of trees just northeast of the summit. (And the forest provides a great picnic spot on warm-weather summertime days.) To get there, follow this route on the spur trail, but instead of turning right on the AT to climb the Max Patch summit, turn left on the AT to descend to the forest campsites.
Note: Lightning is a serious danger on an open mountain summit. This is not a safe trail if there’s even a small chance of an electrical storm.
Nearby adventures on the AT
To the northeast, 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 two-mile adventure through town and 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. Or hike the scenic route to Max Patch, following the Appalachian Trail from Lemon Gap on a ten-mile adventure through a stream and wilflower-filled forest.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available off FS 1182 / Max Patch Road. Check the Forest Service website for updates / closures.
35.796467, -82.962517 // N35 47.788 W82 57.751