Thru-Hiker's Guide to America

Mountains-to-Sea Trail Introduction
By E. Schlimmer
trail image
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail joins the Neusiok Trail for a 22-mile journey through the enchanting pine savanna in Croatan Forest. (Photo © Jeff Brewer)

Excerpted from Thru Hiker's Guide to America by E. Schlimmer

North Carolina, like Wisconsin (Ice Age Trail) and Vermont (Long Trail), boasts a path that takes you from one end of the state to the other. Starting in the far western part of North Carolina on the Tennessee border, on top of the highest peak in Tennessee, and winding its way east to the Atlantic coast, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is aptly named. The 925-mile figure may change with the cutting and blazing of newer sections of trail; like many other trails in this guide, the MST is a work in progress.

By spring 2003, 370 miles of the MST were on bike paths and road shoulders, with 450 miles having State Park Trail designation. But with each trail season, the MST moves closer to completion. Currently, the largest obstacle for making this path truly a mountains-to-sea route is the central and eastern portion of the state—the Piedmont Region—where there is little publicly owned land.

Luckily for Southern long-distance hikers, the state of North Carolina fully supports the expansion of this "flagship trail." During a July 2000 session of the General Assembly of North Carolina, the state approved Bill 1311, which authorized "the addition of the Mountains-to-Sea State Park Trail to the state parks system.

Major reasons cited by state officials that support the existence of the trail (which must have blushingly flattered the MST) include the following:

" preserve the common heritage of this State, its open lands, and places of beauty; and whereas, the General Assembly enacted the State Parks Act in 1987, declaring that the state of North Carolina offers unique archaeological, geological, biological, scenic, and recreational resources, and that these resources are part of the heritage of the people of the State to be preserved and managed by those people for their use and for the use of their visitors and descendants; and, whereas, a Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina would offer outstanding recreational opportunities to the state’s citizens; would protect riparian buffers and corridors of wildlife habitat along its route; and would possess biological, scenic, and recreational resources of statewide-significance..."

The private organization assisting state and federal agencies in making this happen, through the spirited work of their volunteers, is Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (FMST). Headquartered in Louisburg, North Carolina, this group runs volunteer trail projects and petitions individual property owners for the use of their land. As on most other trails in this guide, volunteers, along with state and federal land management agencies, are the backbone of a long trail’s existence.

Only four recorded hikers have walked from the mountains of North Carolina to the sea via the MST. The first to thru-hike this path were Allen DeHart and Alan Householder back in 1997. Householder and DeHart currently serve on the Board of the Friends of the Mountains-to Sea Trail. DeHart is also the author of Hiking North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail. In September and October 2002, Jason Pass hiked and biked the MST averaging 19.6 miles per day. The president of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Jeff Brewer, started a thru-hike during the last week of August 2003 and reached the eastern terminus on the Outer Banks on October 19, fifty-five days later. Jeff unfortunately had to deal with a full-on hurricane during his thru-hike.

Hurricane Isabel did play a huge factor in my trip. I took one day off for it but the next day all the creeks and streams were at flood stage in the Piedmont (Winston-Salem area) of the state. This also made the Croatan Forest very wet with waist-high water at times on the trail. Other than that, the weather was great. As you know, the hurricane tore the Outer Banks up pretty bad as well.

When a hurricane wasn’t drenching Jeff, he considered the best section of the MST to be from the town of Marion to Blowing Rock. This 110-mile section is home to Linville Gorge and Shortoff Mountain.

Article © McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »