Max Patch is one of the famous "balds" of the Southern Appalachians--a gently sloped mountaintop covered in grass, shrubs, and wildflowers, with no trees to obstruct the view. Several balds exist in the chain, and all offer exceptional vantage in every direction. Max Patch is one of the most easily accessible and therefore most visited. The bald is not an entirely natural phenomenon, however. These mountains do not rise above treeline--the altitude where trees cannot grow due to harsh weather, but there is a defined transition here where the forest ends and the meadow begins. No one is quite sure how the bald originated, but it was likely maintained by livestock that grazed here for many years. Now that livestock are excluded, the Forest Service must manage the grassland with mowing and fire to keep trees from encroaching the summit.
This is for the benefit of everyone who comes to take in the view. As part of Cherokee National Forest, Max Patch is public land and requires no entrance fee. The dirt road to get here is somewhat rough and steep, but it is suitable for most cars in dry weather. Parking is in a small dirt lot where there are signs that explain the ecology of the bald, but there is no other fanfare or facilities. The summit is merely a short hike away, about 150 yards straight up an obvious trail. You can alternatively take a more roundabout route through the forest to see more of the mountain. A few trails crisscross the top to reach different small summits and viewpoints. The main thoroughfare traversing roughly north to south is the Appalachian Trail. Max Patch is a highlight section of the famous thru-hike, and a popular place to camp.
You don't have to be hiking the Appalachian Trail to spend the night here, though. Camping is allowed for free in this part of the national forest. You can simply carry your gear from the car and find your favorite spot to set up. Nights up here are cool, clear, and full of stars because of the high elevation and minimal light pollution. Be sure to check the weather and beware of thunderstorms and strong winds. There is no shelter from the elements on this exposed ridgeline.
Note: Max Patch suffers a litter problem due to irresponsible use by some visitors. There is no toilet or trash facility anywhere here. As a camper or day user, you must be prepared to properly dispose of human waste and pack out your own trash. Free access to this place is a privilege that we must all work together to respect and maintain. Please practice Leave No Trace and try to leave this area better than you found it.