||Skill: Novice 1 mile Round Trip
Pros: Stunning views
of the Smokies and surrounding mountains, Easy Walk
Notes: Just a half mile
walk to the top, the stars at night are breathtaking
I like this hike because it's on the way to or from
other hikes. Often, after finishing a hike, I just can't bear to
go home. When this happens and I am in the area of Harmon's Den,
I'll stop for this one last hike.
Max Patch is located in the "Harmon's Den" area of the
North Carolina National Forest. It is a 6 mile drive down a maintained
but bumpy U.S. Forest Road. Well Worth the detour,
the hike to the top is part of a small loop that is well marked.
The loop is approximately 1.5 miles and is a good leg stretcher.
Most visitors, hike up an old road/trail that leads from the tri-board
in the parking area.
It's hard to say what the best short hike in the Carolinas is. With
literally thousands of miles of trails, it's hard to pick one. If
there was a top 5 hike list, the walk to Max Patch should be on
it. The fascination with this grassy bald is not new. In the 1920's
there was an air strip
on top of the bald. For a small fee barnstormers would take tourists
for a brief flight above the bald. In more recent history, the US
Forest Service purchased the property and is now maintaining it
as a bald. Without this maintenance, the bald would be soon be covered
with bushes and eventually trees.
The A.T. passes over the top of this high point. This is the first
expansive view that the trail has after it leaves the Smokies.
White blazes are painted on fence posts to lead the way across this
huge bald. Although camping isn't allowed on Max Patch, you may
camp just prior to the bald or just after the bald on the Appalachian
Trail. There are also many campsites along the forest roads that
lead to Max Patch.
I come here for the stars. There aren't any towns nearby so the
show is intoxicating. A quick walk up the grass covered road
takes you to natures planetarium, Max Patch. The dark skies yield
a wonderful show of constellations and far off stars that you can't
see near the more crowded areas. You can lay on your back for hours
and not be aware of time.
After a while the stars swirl together, forming a tapestry that
is almost psychedelic in appearance. Another benefit of enjoying
the "Patch" at night is privacy.
No camping is allowed on Max Patch. This area, Harmon's Den is
administered by the Forest Service and is camp at will. No camping
is allowed within 100 feet of a water source but you may camp anywhere
else, as long as it is not on a trail. There are camping spots along
the road on the way in and a designated campground as well.
40 miles west of Asheville, take the Harmon's Den exit (Exit 7).
Turn right at the bottom of the exit ramp. The road is dirt and
in good condition, automobiles will not have any problems negotiating
the pot holes. Follow the road and the signs to Max Patch. Approximately
6 miles from Interstate 40 is a small sign that points to the turn
for Max Patch. Beware, it is easy to miss.