Beauty can be found just an hour and a half away.
And it’s not in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Instead, it’s just north of the park, hidden in the Cherokee National Forest on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
Max Patch Bald is a field of dreams on top of the mountains. It’s not the highest mountain, but its one that offer plenty of views from the top looking across the North Carolina mountains and back access to Douglass Lake and the Tennessee Valley on the other side.
This past weekend, I took a drive to the top of Max Patch Mountain to see what the views could bring.
Littered throughout the southeastern Appalachian Mountains are fields on top of mountains. You can find them from the Roane Highlands, northward near Elizabethton, to as far south as off the Cherohala Skyway, near Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
Many are in the Smoky Mountains and have their own claim to fame, such as Gregory Bald.
These balds served a purpose years ago as farmers would drive their sheep or cattle up to them during the hottest months of the summer to offer their prized animals a cooler environment.
Now they offer something different. Views at the top of the sky in the place we call home here in East Tennessee.
I’m an avid outdoorsman that has hiked and backpacked trails from North Georgia to northeast Tennessee. Some people love waterfalls. But, I have always had another love.
I love to hike to balds.
I’ve hiked in 10 inches of snow to Spencefield in the Smoky Mountains just to get a spectacular view. I moved to Morristown a year ago and one of the first things I did was travel to Roane Highlands to see the balds there, a notch off my bucket list.
To my surprise, I heard of a bald when I got here I’d never heard of before: Max Patch.
There are a couple of ways to get to Max Patch from the Lakeway Area. One is to head east on Interstate 40, past Newport and keep going until you cross the North Carolina state line. You will travel through a tunnel and after that take the first exit, take a left and climb up a forest road.
At the outset, you’ll find yourself climbing up the mountain next to a roaring mountain stream. There are plenty of opportunities to stop at the side of the road and take pictures or get your feet wet.
After several miles, the road turns windy and you keep climbing. You then get to a fork in the road and from there you take a left onto Max Patch Road and within a mile, you’ll find the bald on the right side of the road.
The other way to get to the bald from the area is to drive to Newport. You take U.S. Highway 25E and 25 until you get to Del Rio. There you take a right onto state Route 107. After several miles, you then turn left onto Round Mountain Road, which turns into Max Patch Road after the state line.
Both routes have their attributes. For the spring and summertime, I would suggest taking the North Carolina route to get views of the stream. After the leaves fall during autumn, the Tennessee way up gives motorists spectacular views of the mountains.
For my drive, I went up the North Carolina side and came back down the Tennessee side.
When I arrived to the top of Max Patch Mountain just before noon Sunday, I was surprised to see what I found.
As you get to the top, you find two ways up the mountain. Both ways are a little under just half a mile, one is labeled easier. I took the easier route, which was to the left.
I found myself hiking up the mountain and through a plush forest. You climb steadily, but it’s not a strenuous climb. As I exited the small patch of woods, I found myself in the middle of a field with flowers blooming. Daisies littered the fields. I climbed onward to the summit, which is 4,600 feet.
As I got there, I found myself confronted with the best view of the mountains I had ever seen. In the course of my 43 years of life, I have visited close to a dozen balds.
But, none like this.
None have offered the diverse set of views you get on top of Max Patch. I’ve never been able to see the Tennessee Valley from a bald and the North Carolina mountains on the other. I’ve never seen the amount of wildflowers I saw on the mountain that day.
I reached the summit and a man and a woman stood their looking. I joked maybe I’d see my house from there. I was just joking, but the joke was on me. I could see from the top where it should be.
I pointed off into the distance.
“My home is just over there,” I told the couple.
They asked me if I was from the area and I said, “Yes, I’m from Tennessee” and pointed to where Tennessee would be. I asked them where they were from.
“Chicago,” the man said.
“You have a very beautiful home,” he said.