The western portion of North Carolina’s premier hiking trail that connects Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks.
The Mountains to Sea Trail is North Carolina’s premier thru-hiking trail. The western terminus of the trail begins at Clingman’s Dome, also the highest point on the entire 2,200-mile long Appalachian Trail. Much of sections 1 through 5 follow the Blue Ridge Parkway, allowing endless day hiking opportunities along the western half of the MST. Waterrock knob, Richland Balsam and Black Balsam Knob are all popular hiking areas in the Great Balsam Range and accessible by way of the MST. Crossing over US-276, the trail passes the Pisgah Inn and begins the infamous “Pitchell” route, with the final destination atop the summit of Mount Mitchell - the highest peak in the east. A large portion of this segment is also a part of the original Shut-In Trail, the original corridor used by George Vanderbilt to get from the famous Biltmore Estate to his hunting lodge adjacent to Mt. Pisgah.
Leaving the serene and effervescent spruce-fir forest atop Mount Mitchell, the trail explores several more unique and fragile ecosystems as it passes through Linville Gorge and Grandfather Mountain State Park. At 5,946’, “the mountain boasts 16 distinct ecological communities”, according to Wikipedia. It’s a truly unique experience for hikers and one of the most visited portions of the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The Linn Cove Viaduct, the last portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed, also skirts around the base of the mountain as the MST co-aligns with the Tanawha Trail – translated as “fabulous hawk or eagle” in the Cherokee language.
Winding through the high country, section 5 of the MST passes through Doughton Recreation Area and ends at the Basin Cove Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway. With one exception, sections 1-5 are entirely on either singletrack or unpaved backroads. While the eastern portion of the state has several completed sections, after passing through Stone Mountain State Park, much of the route is still under construction. New sections are being added every year, though an entire thru-hike currently requires several long road walks.