The Appalachian Trail winds its way through 2,190 miles of some of the most rugged country in the Eastern United States. It’s among the most popular long-distance hiking trails in the United States, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. About 94 miles of the trail run through Tennessee, plus another 160 miles along the North Carolina border. The section just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park falls into the latter category, and offers access to one of the most popular points along the entire trail.
What Makes It Great
There are tons of ways to access Max Patch from the Appalachian Trail, which at this point in its journey straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Traveling north, you’ll first hit the famous Smoky summits of Clingmans Dome and Charlies Bunion, then pass within 1,000 feet of the top of super remote Mount Guyot. Once you’ve completed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park section, you’ll cross Interstate 40 and begin the long climb to the summit of Max Patch.
It’s about 15 miles from the national park border to the Max Patch summit. At 4,629 feet, the summit isn’t the tallest thing around, but it boasts more than 300 acres of grassy bald filled with wildflowers. Beyond the rolling hills in the immediate vicinity, the top of “The Patch,” as it’s affectionately known, offers views of Mounts Guyot and Sterling, plus Big Cataloochee. If the weather’s clear, you can also see the Plott, Great Balsam, and Black Mountain Ranges. With all this beauty, it’s easy to see why Max Patch is a favorite destination for both thru-hikers and day hikers. If you have room in your pack, bring a frisbee to throw around on the bald and you’ll really fit in with the locals.
Who is Going to Love It
Thanks to its gorgeous views and idyllic grassy summit, thru-hikers, section hikers, and day hikers alike will want to linger atop Max Patch after the long trek through the remote Smokies. After the solitude of the Great Smoky Mountains section, though, this popular hike will feel like a shock to the system. If you’re not thru-hiking the entire AT, consider hitting Max Patch in the colder months, when you’re less likely to encounter tons of other hikers on the trail.
There’s a short, 1.5-mile hike up to Max Patch (about 1.5 miles) that is great for families or a quick adventure with your dog. Whether you take the long trek up to Max Patch or a short jaunt for an afternoon picnic, it’s worth the trip.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Camping is not permitted on the summit, though thru-hikers will find plenty of established campsites along the trail just below the high point itself. There’s also some dispersed camping allowed on nearby Forest Service roads. Max Patch’s exposed summit is not a good place to be in a lightning storm, so check the forecast before heading out.