Guidebook

The Epic Mountains to Sea Trail - Sections 1-5

The western portion of North Carolina’s premier hiking trail that connects Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks.

Description

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.

Mountains to Sea Trail: Clingmans Dome to Oconaluftee Visitor Center
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains to Sea Trail: Clingmans Dome to Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1 day +
43.6 km
1,197 m
2,502 m
The western terminus for North Carolina's Mountains to Sea Trail.
Difficult
Private
Mountains to Sea Trail: Oconaluftee Visitor Center to Balsam Gap
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains to Sea Trail: Oconaluftee Visitor Center to Balsam Gap

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1 day +
45.5 km
1,817 m
1,423 m
A segment of the MST known for its views near Waterrock Knob.
Difficult
Private
Mountains to Sea Trail: Balsam Gap to Pisgah Inn
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains to Sea Trail: Balsam Gap to Pisgah Inn

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1 day +
80.7 km
3,313 m
2,825 m
An epic traverse through the Great Balsam Mountains and Middle Prong Wilderness.
Severe
Private
Mountains To Sea Trail: Pisgah Inn to Mount Mitchell State Park
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains To Sea Trail: Pisgah Inn to Mount Mitchell State Park

Brevard
1 day +
97.6 km
3,980 m
3,447 m
A historic and iconic route connecting Mount Pisgah to Mount Mitchell.
Difficult
Private
Mountains to Sea Trail: Mitchell to NC-181
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains to Sea Trail: Mitchell to NC-181

Asheville
1 day +
95.2 km
3,774 m
4,923 m
A segment of the Mountains to Sea Trail best known for its traverse through Linville Gorge.
Difficult
Private
Mountains to Sea Trail: NC-181 to Blowing Rock
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains to Sea Trail: NC-181 to Blowing Rock

1 day +
76.3 km
2,519 m
2,339 m
The Mountains to Sea Trail as it passes Grandfather Mountain
Difficult
Private
Mountains to Sea Trail: Blowing Rock to Basin Cove Overlook
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mountains to Sea Trail: Blowing Rock to Basin Cove Overlook

1 day +
80.9 km
2,202 m
2,249 m
The MST as it passes through North Carolina's high country.
Moderate
Private