Sunday, September 11, 2011

Max Patch and Lovers Leap, Hot Springs, NC 9/3/2011

We had heard what a great area Hot Springs, NC was for hiking so we planned a day to explore the area.  We drove into town then out toward Max Patch  We stopped first at Rocky Bluff Recreation Area to use the restrooms.  There is picnicing, camping, and hiking available there.  We climbed a hill to an old cemetary and took a short trail to a panoramic view. 

We would like to return and camp here but for now we headed toward Max Patch.  It can be approached from Hot Springs or I40 but either way includes several miles of gravel road.  Once at the trail head parking there is a map showing the loop hikes available.  We chose to head up the trail that was almost straight ahead.  The sounds of cricket surrounded us immediately.

The climb is short and although it is not steep it is relentless.  We reached the intersection of the Appalachian Trail before reaching the top and turned right.  A short distance down the trail there were still a few blackberries ready to be picked.  The bushes were short since this bald is kept mowed.  We enjoyed the views in this direction then turned back.

Back on the main trail we continued to the top exploring and taking pictures.  There were views in all directions and a surprising variety of wild flowers.    There were more blackberry patches.  There were other groups of people picnicing or playing but there was plenty of room to spread out.  After a while we followed the Appalachian trail in the other direction.

Had we continued on the trail for about twenty miles we would have reached Hot Springs where the Appalachiam trail follows the road through the center of town, over the river on the road bridge, then turns and follows the river out of town.  Instead we took a left at a signed intersection and headed back toward the parking.  This part of the trail is below the highest part of the ridge and is more gently sloped.

The trail entered a patch of woods and the shade felt good after the open sun on the main part of the bald.  There were lots of yellow and orange touch-me-nots.  Near a spring and the remains of an old spring house there was a critter scolding us although we never spotted him.  The trail appears to become and old road for part of this section.

The trail comes out of the woods just a short distance from the parking and to the left of the trail that we went up on.  I was actually surprised how quickly we were back.  This was a fun area with great views for a minimum effort.  We headed back down the long gravel road and back toward Hot Springs for lunch in one of the local restaurants.

After a relaxed lunch we looked for the Silver Mine trail head.  To get there we went over the bridge, took an almost immediate left, then left again to cross under the main road.  The parking is up the gravel road from the trail at the entrance to the group camping area.  We parked and walked a short distance back to where the Appalachian Trail follows the French Broad river. 

The trail follows the river for about a half mile.  Near the start of the trail was a high rock formation.  We were to see these rocks again from part way up and a third time at the top.  But for now we were just enjoying the view of the river.  There were camp sites on the opposite bank and people playing in the water.  This easy stroll was to end suddenly just ahead.

The trail switchs back and quickly climbs the ridge that had been paralleling us.  The trail is narrow and out in the open sun.  A wrong step would be a long way down.  We began to hear thunder approaching in the distance.  When we reached the rocks we had seen below there was another switch back and we climbed higher.  A third switch back led to the top of the rocks.

From here we had a great view of the river and the town beyond.  We believed this was the top and that our connecting trail was just ahead.  The thunder was getting closer so we quickly moved on.  The trail continued to climb to a higher view point then curved around the end of the ridge.  This is only a 1.6 mile loop hike but with the storm approaching and the steep climb it felt longer.

Finally we reached the intersection where the Lovers Leap trail leads back down.  The trail enters the woods as it switchbacks down.  The shade and breeze ahead of the storm made this part of the hike much more pleasant.  It was still steep and narrow but not such a sharp drop off on the side.  The final section was a level woods walk along a creek to the parking.

I would recomment Max Patch for a hike with children.  There is lots of room for them to explore.  They would also enjoy walking along the river but I would be very cautious about the trail going up to Lovers Leap.  We will return to this area to camp and explore more of the many available trails.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Grace! I found your blog through the 40th Anniversary Masco yearbook! I am Debbie (Cunningham) Voigt, Marc and I live near W-S and hike around NC every chance we get. We may have passed each other on the trails, who knows? Hope you're well, I will check in on your blog again to see where you've been, your photos are gorgeous.