The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a footpath stretching almost 1,200 miles across North Carolina from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks.
More than just a walk in the woods, the trail traces the diversity that is North Carolina. Experience ancient mountains and small Piedmont farms, coastal swamps and colonial towns, changing textile villages and barrier islands. Almost 700 miles of footpath are now completed. With temporary routes on back roads and bicycle paths, hikers can now follow the trail on an adventure across North Carolina. — www.mountainstoseatrail.org
I made the decision to hike the “Mountains” section of the Mountains to Sea trail with two of my hiking friends from the Appalachian Trail. While they were focused on thru-hiking, I was only yearning to spend another hunk of time in the mountains… so I hiked from the Smokies to Boone, North Carolina over the course of three weeks. If I ever have the opportunity to do this hike again, I would - but I would go MUCH slower. The first 300 miles is a lovely segment.
The MST is not finished yet - only about 680 miles have actually been completed. The map above shows segments of the MST… note the blue line which denotes an alternative river paddle. One day I would like to travel the length of this trail, although I don’t know if I will ever hike it fully.
MST Segment Details
Section Miles: 50
Total Miles Walked: 50
Days spent in this section: 4
Segment 1B is an alternate route to the traditional segment 1 route (Peak to Peak). This alternate route was great for many reasons, but shouldn’t be your first choice if you don’t like road walking (25 miles). It was my first taste. My two hiking partners, Kaleidoscope and Corn-silk, were hoping to thru-hike the 1100 mile trail in 54 days, so the River Valley route gave us the starting advantage we needed (not to mention it had a much more accessible resupply).
An epic start at Clingman’s Dome! What better way to kick off a thru-hike or large section hike than by starting at the highest point in the Smokies?
Our first view on Blackrock Mountain. This was toward the end of the section; we waited so long to climb a mountain… getting a view of it beforehand made it that much more special!
Walking along water for pretty much the entirety of this section
Section Miles: 61 of 61
Total Miles Walked: 111
Days spent in this section: 5
Segment 2 was beautiful: blue Ridge Parkway views, mountain laurel & rhododendron tunnels, peaceful mountain balds… The Middle Prong Wilderness was incredibly serene, as if humans’ hadn’t touched it <3 We saw two rattlesnakes in this section, and a lot of yellow jackets nests@ This segment ended with some fun at the very popular Skinny Dip Falls. Water was relatively easy to find and we were able to make it through this section without having to stop for a resupply.
Making the transition from the River Valley Alternate Route to the actual MST – it felt really good to be following MST blazes!
Camping in a clearing by a rock outcrop (just past the Little Sam Trail), and watching the sun set… followed by an epic lightning storm roll that rolled gently into the valley.
Walking up on blackberry covered balds only to find more epic mountain views.
Jumping off a high rock into Skinny Dip Falls
Treating ourselves at the Pisgah Country Store
Section Miles Hiked: 68 of 68
Total Miles Hiked: 178
Days spent in this section: 5
Segment 3 was filled with surprises! Much of this segment was hiked near the Blue Ridge Parkway or on old, abandoned mountain roads. I thought a lot about the natural recent history of the land surrounding us – what “roads” used to be, how different the wilderness is now that the American Chestnut no longer reigns, how we as humans effect and have affected our natural surrounding so much more than we realize.
Our trip into Asheville: visiting friends, resupplying, and resting.
An unexpected visit to the Folk Art Center – Appalachia inspiration.
Hiking through the remains of Rattlesnake Lodge, which was built in the early 1900s and burned down in the 1920s.
Walking up on an old Civilian Conservation Corps shelter & contemplating how many people had stayed there over the years.
Mount Mitchell – need I say more? Not only did we get an EPIC dinner sunset and camp on the highest point east of the Mississippi, but we also made it just in time to buy hot cocoa from the visitor kiosk!
Surprise bacon and egg sandwiches from the kindest campground host at Blackrock Campground.
Section Miles Hiked: 73 of 73
Total Miles Hiked: 253
Days spent in this section: 6
If I had to pick a favorite segment, 4 might be it. It was incredibly different from anything we had hiked thus far on the MST. There were some gnarly rock outcrops in this section both on bald knob and through Linville Gorge. I hope to return to the Gorge to climb Shortoff Mountain an spend more time at the Chimneys. The views were amazing! There were also quite a few sections in this segment with swimming holes! We even decided to cut one of our hiking days short so we could relax by the Linville River. One of the last days in this section was spent crossing the many forks of Little Wilson and hanging out at Hebron Falls. This segment was the perfect balance of intense hiking mixed with relaxing water time.
Hitching into Marion to - the hitch was not an easy one, but we met two very kind, supporting souls in the process. Part of my love for long distance hiking comes from the people you meet along the way!
The intense climb up the recently burned bald knob at sunset.
Beautiful views and intense climbs on big mountains: the Pinnacle, Shortoff, the Chimneys
Camping by the Linville River
Water crossings and water falls (Little Wilson & Hebron Falls)
Beamont heights – a top notch cowboy camping location if the weather is right for it. Trail magic abounded!
Section Miles Hiked: 25 (of 90)
Total Miles Hiked: 278
Days spent in this section: 2
I didn’t spend much time in this section as my time on the MST was coming to an end (although my hiking partners’ continued on!). Much of the hike was on old carriage roads, so trail was largely flat and wide. We hitched into Boone and got picked up almost immediately (a change!). I was sad to get off the trail!
Views of Grandfather Mountains and the Viaduct before the Rough Ridge boardwalk.
The charming mountain town of Boone, NC.