Hiking the MST through Doughton Park

Looking to launch a Section Hike on North Carolina’s longest trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail? Here’s one of our suggested hikes to get your section hike off the ground.

Region: Mountains

Start: Doughton Park Picnic Area, MP 82.4, Blue Ridge Parkway

Finish: Devil’s Garden Overlook, MP 235.7, Blue Ridge Parkway

Distance: 7.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated time (including shuttle): 4-5 hours

Facilities at the trailhead: Yes, during the official season

Resource: “Mountains-to-Sea Trail Guide: Mountains,” p. 208-209. Follow eastbound mileages 82.8 to 90.3. Find the online guide for Segment 5 here.

Shuttle: 12 minutes. We’re assuming you are either hiking as a group and thus, can set a shuttle, or that a friend is assisting. In either event, leave your car/a car at the Devil’s Garden Overlook parking area and drive 12 minutes — at 45 mph, remember — south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Doughton Park Picnic area. Depending upon the time of year that you visit, you may need to park just outside the picnic area.

The hike: Typically, you don’t start with desert. But on the MST, especially in the mountains, the trail is little but desert. We like starting with this particular stretch for several reasons. First, you can’t beat the shuttle: From the Devil’s Garden Overlook to the Doughton Park Picnic Area it’s just 12 minutes — and a straight shot. Then there’s the hike itself: you start in a mountain-top meadow that affords rolling views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the south and west, the gently tamed Piedmont to the east. Take a moment (15 minutes, actually) to detour to Wildcat Rock, where the Blue Ridge escarpment plummets; take note of the isolated Caudil Cabin down below and imagine life more than a century ago for the Cadils and their 13 kids in this isolated box canyon.

The MST plays tag with the Blue Ridge Parkway, passing the currently closed Bluffs Coffee Shop, exploring the Doughton Park Campground (open only during warm weather), ducking into a pasture, then slipping into a hemlock forest. Before long — about 4.4 miles in — the trail visits the restored Brinegar Cabin, where you can take a peek into life for one of the last holdouts before the Blue Ridge Parkway national park: While Martin Brindle died in 1925, Caroline stayed on another 10 years. Placards explain how the couple and their children made a living in this isolated perch.

If you’re just getting you hiking legs under you, the Brinegar Cabin makes a nice place to end your hike (provided you thought of this when you were setting your shuttle): 4.4 miles is a good start. Continue on and the next 3.1 miles spends time in woods and pasture, with a nice view to the interior of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Air Bellows Gap.