MST at 40: Five great hikes in the Piedmont

Sennett Hole, West Point on the Eno city park

Sennett Hole, West Point on the Eno city park

As the Mountains-to-Sea Trail celebrates its 40th anniversary, we celebrate the trail by looking at five of our favorite segments in the Piedmont. (Previously, we shared five favorites in the mountains and five favorites at the coast.) We focus on the coast and coastal plain this week because there’s a narrower window for hiking — pleasantly hiking — in the hotter, wetter, buggier part of the state. Buzzy creatures will soon surface, slithery ones, too. For now, spring is in progress and it’s a great time to explore this region. Especially these five segments.

At the Historic Occoneechee Speedway

At the Historic Occoneechee Speedway

1. MST in Hillsborough

Triangle: Hillsborough

About 3 miles

Intrigued by the notion of a statewide trail but prefer to ease into it? This run through Hillsborough runs along a gorgeous stretch of the Eno River, a ruggedly montane creek in the heart of the Piedmont. Yet more than half the hike — 1.8 miles — is wide, paved and civilized (lunch at Weaver Street Market, anyone?) From Gold Park on the west side of town to Riverwalk Park, the trail is most friendly. That friendliness continues even after the trail yields to a dirt path on its way to the Historic Occoneechee Speedway. There, you can hike the oval of one of NASCAR’s early tracks (it was active in the 1960s), then cross the river and hike a mountainlike half-mile stretch to the U.S. 70. overpass.

More info here

Lake Brandt

Lake Brandt

2. Greensboro Watershed Lakes Trails

Triad: Lakes Bryant, Townsend, Higgens

42 miles (with numerous options in the 3- to 5-mile range)

Not all 42 miles is part of the MST — some just intersects the trail, making for some nice diversions. If you like walking along the water, though, this is your stretch, as the trail runs along the south shores of lakes Higgins, Brandt and Townsend, a combined 2,600 acres of water. This weekend in particular should be good for catching the transition of bud to leaf, the torch being passed from the pastel world of spring to the deep green of summer. A favorite trail going into summer: Laurel Bluff, a 3.5-mile (one way) trail that takes in some of the most exceptional hardwoods along the lake and explores a scenic wetland as well.

More info here.

Hiking the MST along Falls Lake in Raleigh.

Hiking the MST along Falls Lake in Raleigh.

3. Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake

Triangle: Durham, Wake Counties

60 miles

Triangle residents aren’t to be deprived of long passage along the water, not with a 60-mile stretch of the MST hugging the south shore of this 12,410-acre reservoir. There’s lots of good scenery along this stretch of the MST, scenery that currently has the look of spring but is rapidly transitioning to summer. A favorite stretch: Day-Hike Section K, as the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail call it, the 7 miles from NC 50 west to NC 98. It’s as remote as the MST gets along Falls Lake, with no developments elbowing their way onto the trail and plenty of Falls Lake’s pre-reservoir past to take in.

More info here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Hanging Rock State Park

Triad: Danbury

About 4.5 miles

The MST enters the park at Tory’s Den to the west, climbs Moore’s Knob, then descends down Indian Creek to exit, stage east. Atop Moore’s Knob you’ll score awe-inspiring views of the Blue Ridge to the west, Winston-Salem to the south, deep into the Piedmont to the east and to Virginia’s George Washington National Forest to the north. Stop at the Visitor Center to freshen up, then pass the lovely

More info here.

5. MST along the Eno River

Triangle: Durham

15 miles

Again, you don’t have to hike 12 miles at once: the stretch runs from Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve in Durham upstream to the Pleasant Green Access of Eno River State Park and neatly divides into five sections. Along the way, it passes two natural swimming holes (Bobbit Hole and Sennett Hole) and the Eno Quarry, climbs mountain laurel-covered bluffs, and spends considerable time along the rocky, Eno. Once again, the Friends of the MST accommodate shorter hike preferences by dividing the trail into day-hike sections, in the 2- to 5-mile range.

More info here.