Hike a section of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail (or AT) on top of Max Patch Mountain near Hot Springs. This 4,600-ft. bald mountain was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. Today, it's a 350-acre tract of open land on a high knob with 360-degree views. It's one of the most spectacular settings you'll experience in the Blue Ridge.
On a clear day, see from Mt. Mitchell on the east to the Great Smoky Mountains on the south. What a picnic spot! And great for star gazing, camping and wildflowers. The summit is a short uphill hike from the parking area deep in Pisgah National Forest.
Two easy loop trails lead you to, and around, the summit. The 1.4-mile short loop crosses the summit. The 2.4-mile loop circles the mountain for outstanding views from all the sides. The options are not marked, but it's hard to get lost atop the bald. From the parking lot, follow the trail to the left to ascend through a forest and reach the top. Or head up the steeper wider trail straight ahead. You can also hike north or south on the Appalachian Trail for as far as you want. Hot Springs is about 20 miles north (so perfect for an overnight backpack trip especially if you have two cars and park one in Hot Springs.)
Find several trails atop the grassy bald, many of them leading to prime camping spots. Camp at least 100 feet away from trails. Don't camp on very top of the summit. It's best to have a few trees nearby if you need shelter. Weather can change quickly.
The Great Smoky Mountains, only 20 miles away, dominate the southwest horizon. To the west the terrain drops more than 3,600 ft. into the flatlands of eastern Tennessee. Fifty miles to the west rises the dark ridgeline of the Black Mountains. Endless ridges and peaks fill every vista. Peak fall color is usually the second and third week in October. Drive the nearby Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway to find other nearby things to do.
Take along a jacket, since it's usually at least 10 degrees cooler on Max Patch than in Asheville. And it's usually breezy. It can be a absolutely gorgeous winter hike after a snow!
Since Max Patch is deep in Pisgah National Forest, don't rely on your GPS. There are many unpaved roads in the area that are not signed. These unpaved roads can be bumpy, so not recommended for low clearance cars. Follow one of these three routes. Allow about 1 hour 15 minutes to drive from Asheville (45 miles).
Directions via I-40 from Asheville: Take I-40 West about 40 miles to exit 7 (Harmon's Den). Take a right on Cold Springs Road, and the road almost immediately becomes gravel. This usually well-graded road climbs steadily but never steeply 6.2 miles to SR-1182 (Max Patch Road). 4WD recommended in winter and wet weather. Turn left and drive 1.5 miles to the Max Patch parking area on the right. Allow an hour to drive.
Directions via Hot Springs from Asheville: From Asheville, take US 25/70 north to Hot Springs (36 miles). From downtown Hot Springs, follow Highway 209/Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway (7.3 miles) to Meadow Fork Road (State Road 1175). Go 5.3 miles to State Road 1181. Follow 1181 for 2 miles (turns into gravel). At the top of the mountain, turn right onto State Road 1182 and Max Patch parking is 3 miles.
Directions via I-40 from Lake Junaluska: Exit #24 and follow NC 209 North about 8 miles to Fines Creek General Store. Continue straight about 12 miles onto Max Patch Road. The last 8 miles are unpaved and curvy. The obvious parking area will be on your left.
Questions: Phone the Pisgah Forest Ranger station M-F at 828-689-9694.
Soak in the hot mineral springs after your hike!
Our Quick Video of Max Patch
Google Map to Max Patch
(Reminder - don't rely solely on your GPS in this remote area.)
More Hot Springs Hikes
Lover's Leap Hike: Start from the center of downtown Hot Springs for this one. See our Lover's Leap Hike Guide.
Rich Mountain: Starting three miles from Hot Springs, hike on the Appalachian Trail to Rich Mountain and its Lookout Tower. See our Rich Mountain Guide.
See our Asheville Area Hiking Guide.