Guide to Our Favorite Balds
Get to Know Max Patch & Black Balsam Knob
What is a bald?
Great question. (This is, in fact, not a guide to our favorite hairless men.) A bald is actually a mountain summit with a large grassy opening – perfect for picnics, frisbee, and most importantly, incredible views. Believe it or not, balds are unique to our area. Found mostly in the southern Appalachians, these are areas where you would expect heavy forest growth, but instead, find vast openings! The reason for such openings is a bit of a mystery. Some say it was through natural ecological formation or through the clearing by humans; but generally, the origin of Appalachian balds is still unknown. All we do know is if there are countless of these unique landmarks in our backyard, then you should definitely take advantage of them!
So where do we recommend?
Our two favorite ¨bald spots¨ are Max Patch and Black Balsam Knob. Both are around a two hour drive from Knoxville and located just past the Tennessee line in North Carolina. Pack a lunch and spend the day staring at the clouds or head out to see the sunset plus a starry sky. (Pro-Tip: Bring your pups and camp to experience both!)
Max Patch is by far one of the most popular outdoor spots in our area (and for a good reason!). To get to this gem, head towards Asheville on I-40 and follow your GPS to take a somewhat adventurous road for about six miles to the trailhead. Because so many people say they get lost, here are simplified directions: Take a left off Harmon exit until the road ends – about 6 miles. Take another left on Max Patch Road and it will be on the right in about 2 miles. At the Max Patch trailhead, there is both a small parking lot and street parking available. Once you’ve parked, walk straight up a very short trail to the summit – a clearing of 350 acres! The 360-degree views include the tallest peak this side of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell) on the eastern horizon and the rolling mountains of our very own Great Smoky Mountains on the southern horizon. If you want to work your legs some more, take the 2.6-mile loop around the bald that intersects with the Appalachian Trail. (Does this mean you can say you’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail? We think yes.) The massive clearing means there is a lot of wind, so dig out your kites and windbreakers. Also, since it’s such a short hike (we are talking 5-10 minutes), this is the perfect place to get your star-gazing on before the quickest jaunt back to the car! Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of trash left at Max Patch made the news this year. While efforts have been made to clean the area, let’s continue to do our part to take care of this space by taking our trash away with us! If you’re still unconvinced of the magic of Max Patch, head to the “Max Patch” location tag on Instagram to get blown away by great shots from local photographers. Oh yes, did we mention this is an epic spot for your next photoshoot?
Black Balsam Knob:
Black Balsam Knob is another local fave. It’s located in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina and is about a 2 hour 20-minute drive. On your way, there is a gorgeous lake that you should plan to stop at – Lake Junaluska is uniquely stunning, and the perfect picnic stop. As you continue to the Knob, the cell signal stays pretty strong, so we trust you can find your way to the street parking on Black Balsam Knob Rd. You do want to be sure to take the Art Loeb Trail and not the Sam Knob Trail. The first marker on the right is the one you want for the Art Loeb Trail (Sam Knob is farther down at the end of the road). As you begin the hike, the path takes you into an alluring dense grove of balsam fir trees. Literally, it feels magical with the sweet scent of fir and the sunlight glimmering through the evergreen trees. Then you will pass ¨through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and through the sea of swirly twirly gumdrops…¨ (*wink*) After the magical balsam grove, you will be greeted by a rocky landscape – it’s treeless and open to the sun (or stars!) with wildflowers and berries depending on the time of year. As you ascend, the view gets wider and wider to a 360-degree panorama at the top. Over 6,000 feet high with a wide vista of surrounding mountains, you will surely have a breathtaking moment! It is an easy one-mile walk to the bald and there are so (so, so, so) many spots to set up camp or chairs for great views. Enjoy your own little private area or you can walk towards the highest clearing for a more communal experience. We recommend bringing a jacket and hot cocoa to watch the sunset and take in the incredible starry sky! Can’t get enough of bald spots? We get it! There are tons of other adventures you can have in our backyard. For instance, you can explore the nearby Gregory Bald in the Smokies which has world famous azaleas blooming in mid to late June. Or you can drive farther and check out the wild ponies at the bald of Grayson Highlands! Head a little past Johnson City to the Roan Highlands, home to the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains (starting at Carvers Gap, you get to travel to 3 balds – Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge). Then, for the absolute perfect Saturday, hit up Yeehaw Brewery and White Duck Taco on the way home. Don’t want to travel quite that far this weekend? We got you! Why not take on a local hike and great view just 10 minutes from downtown or jump into some local quarries instead? However you choose to explore, we know you’ll have a great time outside in East Tennessee!