The Carolina Mountain Club maintains the popular hiking area, Max Patch, a large grassy bald near the North Carolina/Tennessee border.
This amazing area was cleared and used historically as a pasture for cattle and sheep back in the 1800s. In the 1920s, there was even a landing strip for airplanes offering thrill rides.
Left unmanaged, the field would naturally fill back in with shrubs, and later become peppered with young trees, eventually terminating the cherished 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and of Mount Mitchell to the east.
From time to time, the Forest Service uses mowing and prescribed burns to keep these breathtaking vistas open for hikers to enjoy.
The 2.4-mile loop that circles the crowned area of ‘The Patch’ incorporates part of the Appalachian Trail, with its time-weathered, iconic white-rectangle trail blaze markers.
Lucky hikers, especially this time of year, will see trail-seasoned Appalachian Trail thru-hikers resting at the edge of the slope soaking in their well-earned open views, which are somewhat rare along this section of the AT.
It's always good to give them their space, since day hikers only have the comparatively short incline to get there after “motoring” up via modern Conestoga wagon, while thru-hikers are weeks into their 2,000-mile plus journey.
The massive bald is a local favorite for picnics, epic Frisbee or football games or simply soaking in the inspiring views.
With relatively easy access when the weather is good and rewarding views after a short hike, it's the perfect place to enjoy the benefits of hiking in a quick afternoon trip.
At the lower elevations, elk can occasionally be seen grazing in the the shrubby meadows.
Pro Tip: Don't attempt the road in without 4-wheel drive following heavy rain or snow. The gravel road can quickly become muddy and treacherous.
An Additional “Therapy of the Road” Option for the return:
Those interested in extending your return road trip into more of a journey, you can elect to return to the Waynesville area by departing Max Patch in a temporarily Northeasterly direction using the fun paved rollercoaster section called Poplar Gap Road. This is a loop that departs and then joins Meadow Creek Road for about 10 minutes. (Meadow Creek is just the new name of the original Cold Springs Creek Road that you originally accessed from I-40 using Exit 7).
Meadow Creek Rd. meets up with 209 just south of Bluff. Turn right (south) and enjoy the winding rural valley scenes toward Waynesville via the hamlets of Spring Creek and Trust. The official name for 209 is aptly named “The Appalachian Medley Byway.” (Perfect). At its junction with 63 at Trust, there is a cool general store with a porch (of course! You’re in Western NC!) And, you have some picnic tables along the river running behind the store. Continue on to Waynesville to the Fines Creek spur (where you can shoot directly back to I-40) or, if not ready for that, just stay south on ‘The Medley’ winding your way down through Crabtree, ending up in the Iron Duff community.
Now that’s a nice journey, even without a destination. Remember to monitor our website for new adventures, and as always, keep it safe out there!