Camping and Hiking at Max Patch & Black Balsam
Like all good views, Max Patch sits at the apex of an almost unnavigable gravel drive. The treaded tires of your four-wheel-drive will scrabble to gain traction among the divets and gullies of Max Patch Road; your knuckles will whiten against the black leather of your steering wheel; the narrow stretch of gravel will seem to stretch on endlessly into the dense forest, broken only by the occasional rumble of passing jeeps. But when you close your door and hike the steep, grassy knoll to the peak, you’ll understand why it was all worth it.
Max Patch is a bald, an ecological enigma where trees don’t grow, which you’ll find spotted across Appalachia. This weird natural feature affords unparalleled, unobstructed and unmarred views of the surrounding Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. From the treeless, 4,629-foot vantage, hikers witness a stunning kaleidoscope of blues and greens and hundreds of miles of rolling mountains.
When you arrive, the first thing you’ll want to do is simple: soak it in. Spread a picnic blanket and wonder at the glorious, boundless scene and bask in the feeling that you’re on top of the world. Max Patch is a draw for visitors of all types, especially through-hikers of the Appalachian Trail (which crosses the summit). Hungry for company, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with an AT-er and gain some insight into life on the Trail.
But you didn’t come here to relax. The 350-acre Max Patch hosts two looping trails: a 1.4-mile short route that crosses the summit, and a 2.4-mile loop that circles the mountain for all the best views. Seasoned hikers can take to the Appalachian Trail and follow it south for 6.2 miles to Lemon Gap; though it’s lengthy, the elevation remains steady, so the hike is all-fun, no-work.
The site is arguably the most striking vantage point on the entire Appalachian Trail, and you’ll often find AT-ers camped in the swaying heather of the bald. Pitch your tent in one of the large backpacking campsites in the grove of trees just northeast of the summit. Whether you witness sunrise, sunset, or both, Max Patch’s unique vantage point make it one of the most stunning destinations in all of Western North Carolina for catching the sun’s daily greeting and adieu.
Even without the illusory light of the sun, the views of Max Patch are breathtaking: a blanket of stars blinks overhead and the mountains below roll in a rainbow of navy and cerulean. In all seasons of the year and all times of the day, Max Patch affords an almost otherworldly escape for Charlotteans.