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Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Sunset view from Clingmans Dome, the western terminus of the trail
Length1,175 mi (1,891 km)
LocationNorth Carolina, United States
DesignationNational Recreation Trail
North Carolina State Trail
TrailheadsJockey's Ridge, Clingman's Dome
Elevation change6,684 ft (2,037 m)
Highest pointMount Mitchell
Lowest pointPamlico Sound
DifficultyModerate to Strenuous
SightsAppalachian Mountains
Sauratown Mountains
Multiple rivers
Outer Banks
HazardsAmerican alligator
American black bear
Biting flies
Diarrhea from water
Dog attacks
Limited water
Poison ivy
Severe weather
Steep grades
Tick-borne diseases
Traffic collisions
Venomous snakes
SurfaceNatural, sand, gravel, boardwalk, asphalt

The Mountains-to-Sea State Trail (MST) is a long-distance trail in the US for hiking and backpacking, that traverses North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Its western endpoint is at Clingmans Dome, where it connects to the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its eastern endpoint is in Jockey's Ridge State Park on the tallest sand dune on the east coast. The trail is envisioned as a scenic backbone of an interconnected trail system spanning the state. As such, its route attempts to connect as many trail systems and natural scenic areas as practicable. A little over half of the trail is complete in multiple segments across the state.

The Mountains-to-Sea State Park Trail was made an official land-based unit of the state park system by the North Carolina General Assembly on August 2, 2000.[1] Since that time, the state trail unit has grown to encompass 691 acres (280 ha) in three tracts and 87 acres (35 ha) in conservation easements.[2] Each of these tracts is leased to local governments for management as nature parks, under the guidance of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation (NCDPR). The vast majority of the foot trail is located on lands not directly managed as part of a state park unit.

The trail is a part of the North Carolina State Trails System, which is a section of NCDPR and, by January 2019, 669 miles (1,077 km) of trail had been designated as a part of the MST by NCDPR.[2]

The segments of MST along the Blue Ridge Parkway were designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2005.

The MST has the distinction of being the highest elevation long-distance trail in the eastern United States as it crosses Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet (2,037 m).[citation needed]

Incorporated trails[edit]

The MST incorporates several other notable trails as part of its route.


Hikers should be aware that the Mountains-To-Sea State Trail does contain camping restrictions across its route. Hikers should research and follow all rules and regulations for camping, as the MST does cross through lands managed by various public and private land agencies and individuals.

In the mountain section, starting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, camping is allowed at permissible campsites with a back-country permit. The GSMNP back-country office can provide permit and reservation information.

Camping within the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor is prohibited except for permissible parkway campgrounds (Doughton Park, Julian Price Park, Linville Falls, Crabtree Meadows and Mt. Pisgah). In some areas, hikers can cross the BRP boundary lines into the Nantalhala and Pisgah National Forests to camp at well-established campsites. Planning is being done to create designated, private campsites for the MST on parkway land, but the only backpack site currently[when?] open is in Julian Price Park.

On the North Carolina Piedmont section of the MST, camping is not permitted along the Sauratown Trail section (from Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock State Parks) since the trail is managed and maintained on land leased from private landowners. A list of nearby campgrounds and lodging is maintained on the Sauratown Trails Association website. There are three privately managed campgrounds a short distance off the Sauratown Trail.

Camping inside the North Carolina State Parks is only allowed at permissible camping sites and campgrounds. Large sections of the Falls Lake State Recreation Area and neighboring public lands managed by the Army Corps of Engineers also prohibit camping.

Stealth camping or any illegal camping along the MST is highly discouraged. Possible citations and fines may be enforced if such camping is found by the managing land agency.

Park lands[edit]

The MST as a State Trail unit of the state park system encompasses 691 acres (280 ha) of land in three tracts. The North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation (NCDPR) leases each of these tracts to local governments for operation as nature parks.

Shallow Ford Natural Area[edit]

Shallow Ford Natural Area consists of 191 acres (77 ha) located in Alamance County along the banks of the Haw River, and it is managed by the Alamance County Recreation and Parks Department. The natural area has a small, volunteer built trail network, which includes the MST, a few primitive campsites, a canoe access and a picnic area. The natural area was acquired to help fill in a gap in the MST.

Richardson-Taylor Preserve[edit]

The Richardson-Taylor Preserve, formally known as the Morton-Richardson Tract, is a new[when?] 440-acre (180 ha) nature preserve that was jointly acquired by the Guilford County Open Space Program and the State of North Carolina. The preserve was acquired in two parts, the Taylor Tract and the Richardson Tract. The 196-acre (79 ha) Taylor Tract was bought by the state park system from the Morton family, who also sold Grandfather Mountain to the state. The Richardson Tract was bought by Guilford County, partly using grants from the state. Both tracts are intended to be managed together as a buffer for the Greensboro Watershed and as a corridor for the MST to reach Haw River State Park from the watershed trails. The Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department manages the preserve with guidance from the Guildford County Open Space Committee and the NC Division of Parks and Recreation.

Clayton River Walk[edit]

A third tract was leased to the Town of Clayton for use as part of the Clayton River Walk which serves as an extension of the Neuse River Trail into Johnston County, and it is also utilized as part of the East Coast Greenway's route. NCDPR owns the northernmost property the River Walk crosses.

List of destinations[edit]

The trail currently[when?] passes or is planned to pass through several notable natural areas in North Carolina. This list notes them from west to east:

Photo gallery[edit]

These are images of or along the MST going from west to east:


  1. ^ "Session Law 2000-157". Raleigh, North Carolina: General Assembly of North Carolina. August 2, 2000. Section 1. Retrieved March 4, 2019. The General Assembly authorizes the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to add the Mountains to Sea State Park Trail to the State Parks System as provided in G.S. 113-44.14(b).
  2. ^ a b "Size of the North Carolina State Parks System" (PDF). North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. January 1, 2013. pp. 1–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 6, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2013.

External links[edit]