This month, our three GetHiking! groups — in Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle — are celebrating Mountains-to-Sea Trail Month by hiking the MST. That’s 17 hikes in all, covering nearly 130 miles of trail.
And it’s still not nearly enough to fully appreciate this statewide trail-in-progress.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail was conceived in the 1970s with the goal of making it possible to walk across North Carolina, from Jockey’s Ridge on the Atlantic to Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line. A walking pace (the trail is, for the most part, limited to foot traffic) is the perfect way to see and appreciate the state’s geographic diversity, from the mighty Appalachians to the rugged Blue Ridge escarpment to the rolling Piedmont to the agricultural coastal plain and the awe-inspiring Atlantic.
Eventually, the trail will run about 1,150 miles. To date, more than 500 miles is finished. With so much to choose from, that creates a dilemma: where to start?
We have a few thoughts on the subject. Find more detailed information on most of these hikes at


East of the Triangle, only about 50 miles of the MST is finished. There are some surprisingly good options in those 50 miles. We offer two:

Croatan National Forest, Havelock. The MST piggybacks on more than half of the Neusiok Trail, which runs for about 20 miles through the northern part of the Croatan. Not a good warm weather hike — flying things, slithering things — the Neusiok portion of the MST is best appreciated in the winter, when you can spend less time playing defense and more time gawking at the pine savannah, cedar swamps, dense coastal forest and the critters that call the Croatan home. More info here.

Holly Shelter State Game Land, Pender County. The MST will run through this state game land in the coastal plain on about 19 miles of existing gravel road (making it an option for mountain bikers as well). This 49,000-acre preserve includes a lot of Carolina Bay and Pocosin Swamp vegetation, all sorts of critters, including a mess of waterfowl, making it prime hiking for wildlife viewing. More info here.


More than 160 miles of trail are down in the Piedmont, much of it, not surprisingly, near the Triad and Triangle.


Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle. From the Yadkin River south of Pilot Mountain, the MST runs about 40 miles north, then east, along the north flank of Sauratown Mountain and through Hanging Rock State Park. A nearly eight-mile stretch recommended by Steven Mierisch, president of the Sauratown Trail Association, upon which the MST hitches a ride through much of this stretch, recommends starting at the Pinnacle Hotel Road Access and hiking all or parts of the Mountain, Ledge Springs, Grindstone and Grassy Ridge trails in the park, and Sauratown Trail section 15 and part of 16. Includes passage on “a fun & scenic swinging bridge.”

Sauratown Trail, Stokes County. The constantly changing (most of it is on private land) Sauratown Trail runs from Pilot Mountain State Park east to Hanging Rock State Park. The trail is divided into 16 sections, ranging in length from less than a half mile to nearly two and a half miles. Thus, it’s a great trail for putting together a custom-made day-hike: Sections 8, 9 and 10 are especially scenic. Keep in mind that the trail was designed for horses, which aren’t as picky about bridges or rough terrain. More info here.

Greensboro Watershed Lakes, Greensboro. From Hanging Rock, the trail dips down to Greensboro, piggybacking on trail along the city’s popular Watershed Lakes. A favorite stretch: the Laurel Bluff and Peninsula trails, which combine for 4.5 miles of hiking, most if along the south shore of Lake Townsend. More info here.


Falls Lake, Wake and Durham counties. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs for 60 miles along the south shore of Falls Lake, offering one of the longest urban escapes of its kind in the country. For your hiking pleasure, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail have divided those 60 miles into 18 day hikes, ranging in length from just under a mile to nearly seven miles. It’s hard to pick a favorite, which is why we suggest you start at the beginning, at the base of Falls Lake dam, and hike Day-Hike Section 1 three miles to Possum Track Road. Some surprising elevation at the start, a lovely creek worn to bedrock in the middle, typical Piedmont hiking throughout. More info here.

Eno River, Durham and Orange counties. Where the Falls Lake stretch of the MST ends at Pennys Bend in Durham, the Eno River stretch picks up. This 13-mile run currently heads upstream through city of Durham parkland initially, the linear Eno River State Park eventually. In the beginning, you’ll think you’re at the coast, hiking through bottomland forest; in the end, you’ll think you’ve somehow made it to the mountains. This stretch has five day-hike stretches ranging in length from two to three miles. See below for where to jump in. More info on the Falls Lake stretch here, the Eno River portion here.


With more than 300 miles of trail it’s hard to imagine there isn’t a less-than-scenic stretch in the lot, but there isn’t. Still, a recommendation — or three — is in order.

Tanawha Trail, Beacon Heights to Boone Fork on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 7.9-mile run traverses the east flank of Grandfather Mountain, a rocky stretch that includes passage under the Blue Ridge Parkway and over a bridge that’s the pedestrian equivalent of the Lynn Cove Viaduct. The trail is intimate one minute, squeezing through tight boulder passages the next. It concludes with grand exposure atop Rough Ridge. Great hiking from end to end. More info here.

Beech Gap to the Pisgah Inn, Blue Ridge Parkway. The terrain this 21-mile stretch of the MST passes through a highlight real of North Carolina scenery: Sam Knob, Black Balsam, Art Loeb Trail and Graveyard Fields, not to mention the waterfallswaterfallswaterfalls and viewsviewsviews. Much of this stretch is above 5,000 feet, meaning tolerable temperatures in the dead of summer. Several pullouts along the parkway allow for shorter shuttles; additional trail means numerous loop opportunities. Possibly the most scenic stretch of the MST. Note: the Graveyard Fields Access is closed through July 4 for construction. More info here.

Wilson & Harper Creek area, Pisgah National Forest. Not all of the mountain section of the MST is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This portion departs the Parkway between NC 181 and Beacon Heights for 24 miles, dipping into the rugged and watery Wilson Creek/Harper Creek area along the Blue Ridge escarpment. If you like waterfalls, creek crossings, and cool pools for a nice summertime dip, you’ll love this stretch of the MST. More info here.