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This is a trail that will eventually stretch from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Completion date is set for 2000.

The 1973 North Carolina Trails System Act is establishing a 700 mile long trail a reality. The 12.9 mile section within the Highlands Ranger District between Haywood Gap and Old Bald was completed and dedicated in August of 1994.

Within the Highland Ranger District, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the southwest side. Because trailheads are not marked, the hiker will have to look for them at the overlooks. The trail follows old logging roads, railroad beds and other connecting trails. The trail has three inch diameter white blazes and turns are marked, however, they are easy to miss.

Backpackers are the primary users of the trail. There are a number of campsites along the trail. Water from many small creeks is available but it should be treated before drinking. Hiking on the old railroad beds is easy, but the condition of the connector trails can be rocky and rough.

In the Highlands Ranger District, day hikers have two options. From the Double Top parking area, hike to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail toward Old Bald and a large field which has spectacular views. This makes a nice 3 mile round-trip hike. The second option is a loop. Park at Bear Pen Gap and hike south toward Wet Camp Gap. Continue through Wet Camp Gap in a southwest direction for a short detour up Gage Bald. Backtrack to Wet Camp Gap, pick up the Mountain-to-Sea Trail and hike around Rough Butt Bald to Haywood Gap. Arrange shuttle service or hike 1 mile on the Parkway to Bear Pen Gap. Views from Wet Camp Gap and Gage Bald are well worth this loop hike.

Directions: From Blue Ridge Parkway, NC, Milepost 382 between US 215 and US 23 / 74,. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail has connections with Rough Butt Bald Overlook, milepost 425.4; Haywood Gap, milepost 426.5; Bear Pen Gap Overlook, milepost 427.6; Double Top Mountain Overlook, milepost 435.3; Grassy Ridge Mine Overlook, milepost 436.8; and Balsam Gap, milepost 443. To reach the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the Highlands Ranger District, park at the Bear Pen Gap or Double Top Overlooks.

Elevation: 5,600 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet

Distance: 12.9 miles

Difficulty: Strenuous

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Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

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The details, dates, and prices mentioned here were accurate at the time of publication.

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