The AT in NC is about 88 miles long. The NC section of the trail offers diverse opportunities for both novice hikers and serious climbers. The variety of forest growth and flowering shrubs, along with the many spectacular views, make this entire section of the AT in North Carolina a hikers’ paradise.
The trail traverses historic country in Western North Carolina. Before the arrival of white settlers in the 18th century, the entire area was inhabited by the Cherokee Nation, with settlements along all major streams and trails going through the gaps.
The Appalachian Trail in this section is entirely within the Nantahala National Forest and is routed through mature, hardwood forest for the most part. Rhododendron, mountain laurel, flame azalea, mountain ash, vast beds of fern and galax, the profusion of wild flowers and the long flowing streams make the AT in the North Carolina very appealing.
Hiking along this part of the AT leads to the top of Max Patch, a 4,600-foot mountain where you can see Mt. Mitchell to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains to the south. This 350-acre tract of land was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s, but today its lush green mountaintop provides 360-degree views that won’t let you go. The summit is a short walk from the parking lot.
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 sides. From the parking lot, follow the marked trail to the left. You will ascend through a forest and then reach the top for amazing views. The rest of the hike is on the grassy bald. You can also hike north or south on the Appalachian Trail for as far as your legs will carry you.
Accessing the AT trail can be done easily from 4 points. Fontana Village, Cligmans Dome, Walnut Bottoms and Max Patch. Note that Cligmans Dome is a high point so the trail leading away north and south is mostly downhill and steep, meaning if you are planning a out and back hike, the hardest part will be the return.