Follow along with outdoorsman and writer Johnny Molloy as he treks through the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.
Max Patch is among the most memorable spots on the Appalachian Trail. The highland meadow shared by Tennessee and North Carolina is one of those majestic landmarks that people speak in hushed, almost reverential tones. However, Max Patch is more than just distant panoramas.
A series of trails surround the meadows atop the 4,629-foot summit of Max Patch, where you’ll find a wide ranging panoramas from the southern Appalachians Mountains.
The lure is strong any time of year. Whether you’re picking blackberries in late summer against a backdrop of tall wildflowers, exploring through the wind-tossed grasses and array of autumn color, or crossing a white carpet of snow beneath winter skies so clear that the mountains seem close enough to touch. But, let’s not forget one of Max Patch’s most popular seasons. In spring, hikers cross the open bald to find a rising greenery of life.
Not all hikes are best during the daylight. At 500 feet above the parking area, the top of Max Patch rewards star gazers with clarity as far as the sky allows. This is an ideal trek for younger or less able mountain enthusiasts.
Originally named Mac’s/Mack’s Patch, one would find grazing cattle and sheep on the mountain in the in the 1800s. Before that, no one knows if Max Patch was one of those unexplained Southern Appalachian balds, or cleared by farmers settled in the the valleys for summertime grazing lands.
Later, Max Patch became an airstrip claiming to be the highest plane landing in the East. Daredevil air shows were held back in the 1920s and 30s, attracting visitors who sometimes overnighted at simple cabins set up for tourists.
Time moved on, and Max Patch was largely forgotten. But in 1982, Max Patch was bought by the US Forest Service, remaining natural rather than becoming a ski resort for which it was slated. Nowadays, the bald is kept grassy, periodically mown by the Forest Service, to maintain those spectacular views.
The Max Patch Loop Trail makes for a perfect family hike with views into the Volunteer State extending west. The trail is bordered with berry bushes and a few trees, as it meets the Appalachian Trail (AT). A side walk up the AT takes you to the must-do section at the very tiptop of Max Patch. From this spot at 4,629 feet, you can gaze upon the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mount Cammerer registers 4,928 feet, is the easiest peak to spot with a flatter top. Mount Sterling, standing at 5,843 feet, is easy to find with a metal tower atop its peak. Waves upon waves of the Southern Appalachians fill the sky behind the peaks.
The AT is marked with wooden trailside posts, making the trail easier to find if there is fog or cloudy weather (which can be common). The AT connects back to the Max Patch Loop Trail with the open crown of Max Patch soaring to the right.
If you are looking to camp near Max Patch, Round Mountain Campground is just a few miles away in the Cherokee National Forest. Open during the warm season, the tranquil high-country campground is so in tune with the woods it seems to have been constructed by Mother Nature herself. Located at 3,100 feet, the camp is first come first serve. Each site has a tent pad, fire grate, lantern post, picnic table, and a stand-up grill. It is highly recommended to check campground status and weather conditions prior to your trip. Primitive and backpack camping at Max Patch is not encouraged. Here’s why.
Best Time to Visit
Max Patch is among the most popular hikes with views in East Tennessee. Therefore, we highly recommend planning your trip during early morning hours, or less popular seasons such as winter to avoid crowds.
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