North Carolina is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. From the mountains to the sea, and everywhere in between, you can find a variety of year-round outdoor activities to enjoy in the Tar Heel State. Whether you’re an avid, seasoned hiker with backpacking experience –
or not, you’ll love reading about and seeing photo highlights of this epic hiking path that stretches across the entire state – and then some! Take a look.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail in North Carolina is a 1200-mile journey of monumental proportion that takes an approximate 2,112,000 steps to finish.
The adventure passes over the highest mountain peak as well as the highest sand dune, includes two ferry rides, ten state parks, two national forests and three lighthouses. Only the most seasoned, experienced hiker should attempt this journey. Let's take a look at some of the highlights:
The Mountains to Sea Trail starts at Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
From the observation deck accessed via a spiral tower, you'll have a front row seat for viewing various peaks, ridges and even cities. But don't dawdle; you have a long journey ahead, so get moving. 🙂 The start of this unforgettable hike takes you from peak to peak with breathtaking mountaintop vistas.
You'll wind your way across 68.9 miles of varying terrain to end up at Waterrock Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
By the time you reach the top, you'll have climbed to the summit of the 16th highest mountain in the U.S. Waterrock is a popular spot for tourists, who access the trail on a much shorter hike that begins on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Welcome to the famous mountain valley known as Graveyard Fields.
Segment two takes you through North Carolina's famed Graveyard Fields, with breathtaking views as you make your way on a 61-mile journey from Waterrock Knob to the Pisgah Inn, winding right through the middle of Graveyard Fields.
But don't get too accustomed to the valley lows...
On the very next segment of this statewide hike, known as The High Peaks and Asheville, you'll cross Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. This leg of the journey ends up at the Black Mountain campground, a perfect respite for a good night's sleep. You'll need it; this leg of the hike is 67.7 miles.
Head to Linville Gorge — North Carolina's own Grand Canyon.
From Black Mountain Campground you'll hike 75 miles through the Pisgah National Forest over a variety of terrain. You'll climb peaks, drop down into Linville Gorge, see massive waterfalls, and more. The view from the stacked rocks of Shortoff Mountain (shown above) is phenomenal!
Saving the best for last...
© Robin Jarvis
The last of the mountain segments in the Mountains-to-Sea Trail begins at Beacon Heights (shown above). From here, you'll wind a whopping 90.3 miles all the way to Devil's Garden, at MP 234 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the way, you'll get back-to-back views of two of the most famous bridges in North Carolina: Lincove Viaduct and the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain.
The prettiest 304 miles you can cross on foot.
The next 304 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the Piedmont of North Carolina. From Pilot Mountain all the way to the picturesque Falls Lake Dam, you'll trek over some relatively easy trails — and some strenuous ones, too. Enjoy the Elkin Valley, the Sauratown Mountains and various rivers, railroad paths and lakes on this leg of the adventure.
The Coastal Plain and Outer Banks Segments.
From here, you can choose from two very different routes that both lead to the Neusiok Trailhead.
1) The paddle life...
Avid paddlers can take the blue-colored trail in the Coastal Plains map above. By way of water, it's a mere 216 miles to the Neusiok Trail. Along the way, you can stop in the historic towns of Smithfield, Seven Springs, Kinston, and New Bern for an overnight, or just to restock.
2) Or, take the other scenic route — on foot.
If you don't take the paddle route, you'll hike 378.1 miles through North Carolina's agricultural heartland, the carolina bay country, and various stretches with miles of sandy roads and long range wetland vistas before you merge with the paddlers on the blueway.
The Blue and Green merge.
The water trail and the hiking trail merge at the Neusiok Trail in the Croatan National Forest. This segment of this grand hike is 69.1 miles in length. The trek features inviting pathways on flat terrain passing by sounds, marshes, rivers and estuaries in the coastal plain. Your journey ends at the Cedar Island Ferry, where you'll board for the final leg of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
From the ferry to the end of the trail.
On the last part of the MST, you'll take two ferry rides and hike 81.5 miles, mostly in the sand. Along the way, you'll pass a multitude of coastal attractions including the tallest lighthouse in the U.S., Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
You'll know you're finished when you reach the tallest sand dune in America, located at North Carolina's Jockey Ridge State Park. Go ahead; climb to the top. Don't stop now.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail was conceived in 1977 and added to the state park system in the year 2000. In 2015, the most recent year for which published stats are available, 700 volunteers worked more than 30,000 hours to build and maintain the trail. Discover more highlights and get more detailed information from the Moutains-to-Sea Trail