Mountains to the Sea

Interactive Map of Mountains to the Sea Trail

Although the trail is still incomplete, the Mountains to the Sea Trail is North Carolina’s longest trail. When completed, it will be over 900 miles long.

Starting at Clingman’s Dome (the highest point in Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park). It travels over Mount Mitchell (the highest mountain in the entire Appalachian chain), and through Jockey’s Ridge State Park (the highest sand dune on the East Coast). It’s also the longest trail in the State, and one of the longest in the Appalachian region.

The Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail – the non-profit group which now acts as the trail’s official stewards, – has divided the trail into 7 sections within the Western North Carolina region. This will also be the basis for their upcoming MST Trail Guide. These regions are:

  1. Clingman’s Dome to Waterrock Knob
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: White
  2. Waterrock Knob to Pisgah Inn
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: White
  3. Pisgah Inn to Black Mountain Campground
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: White
  4. Black Mountain Campground to Beacon Heights
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: White
  5. Beacon Heights to Devil’s Garden Overlook
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: None (wilderness)
  6. Devil’s Garden Overlook to Pilot Mountain State Park
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: White
  7. Pilot Mountain State Park to Hanging Rock State Park
    Most Difficult, , Hilly, Moderately Rough
    Blaze Color: White

Although technically, the trail can be hiked as a through-hike, it lends itself to shorter dayhikes linking with other trails that make a nice loop walk. We have several favorite loops that pop on an off the MTS. Our MTS hikes are located along sections 1-3 as described above.

We hike this trail in segments.  Each segment is listed in my trail list with it’s own segment title. 
 
 

Mt. LeConte Via Rainbow Falls

  • Distance: 5.4 Miles One Way
  • Elevation Gain: 1685 Feet
  • Difficulty:  Strenuous

Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. After driving 0.7 miles veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you’ll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you’ll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. After driving roughly 0.6 miles on the loop, the Rainbow Falls Trailhead will be located on your right (if this parking lot is full, there’s an auxiliary parking area about a tenth-of-a-mile further down the road).

The first two-thirds of a mile along the Rainbow Falls Trail is a steady climb through a large boulder field. As you proceed through this area LeConte Creek will cascade down the mountain on your right. Hikers will find many opportunities for some great picnic sites along this section of trail.

As you continue up the LeConte Creek valley hikers will cross over two footbridges along the way; one at 1.7 miles, and the other just as you reach the 80-foot high waterfall, located roughly 2.7 miles from the trailhead.

Rainbow Falls has the distinction of being the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies. The name for the waterfall comes from the rainbow that’s produced by mist on sunny afternoons. During extended cold periods an impressive ice formation builds around the waterfall.

The falls are best viewed after long periods of rain. If you wish to go home with some great photos I highly recommend starting your hike first thing in morning, or in the later afternoon. During the late morning and early afternoon time period the sun will be directly over the waterfall, which will make photographing a challenge.

Some of our Rainbow Falls Trail Hikes:

LeConte Via Rainbow Falls Trail

  Distance: 5.4 Miles One Way Elevation Gain: 1685 Feet Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. After driving 0.7 miles veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you’ll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you’ll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard … Continue reading LeConte Via Rainbow Falls Trail

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MP 420 Maintenance Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 200′
  • Difficulty: Easy

Near MP 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway across from the Black Balsam Road entrance, there is a short little maintenance trail that runs parallel to the road. The trail is easy and has a really nice spot 5 minutes from the car to sit on the rocks and have a picnic. The views are nice. This is a great trail for small children.

Mt. LeConte Lodge to Myrtle Point

  • Distance: 1.5 Miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 328 ‘
  • Difficulty: Easy

Many LeConte visitors get up early and walk out to Myrtle Point to see the sunrise.  It really is spectacular and well worth seeing.

Walk up the steps from the Lodge to the trail and turn left.  Follow the trail past the shelter.  Make sure you bear right at the Boulevard trail junction. Follow the knife edge ridge trail to the point.

Some of our Myrtle Point Hikes

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Mt. LeConte via The Boulevard

Trail Facts

  • The Boulevard Trail is longest route to the summit of Mount Le Conte (elev. 6,593 ft (2,010 m); 2,010 m)
  • The path follows the Appalachian Trail for 2.7 miles (4.3 km), between Newfound Gap and Charlie’s Bunion
  • Never during the hike does the trail dip below 5,000 feet (1,500 m)
  • The trailhead is located at Newfound Gap, off U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road), between Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina, on either end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Plan on 1.5 miles per hour in good conditions for the average hiker Plan on 1 mile per hour for new hikers or in bad conditions
  • Distance: 8.1 miles One Way
  • Cumulative Elevation Gain: 2552′
  • Difficulty: mild to strenuous

The 8 mile Boulevard Trail has a lot of up and downs making this trail a bit more strenuous than it may appear. The trail begins at Newfound Gap and runs in conjunction with the AT for the first 2.7 miles, then forks left away from the AT running the main crest of the Smokies.

The trail continues approximately a mile past the Jumpoff (scenic lookout) and then descends Mt. Kephart about 500 feet in elevation to the gap before ascending again on the eastern side of Mt. LeConte.

Around 6.5 – 7 miles in, the trail traverses a scar created by a storm in the 1990’s. Cables are fixed into the mountain for safety when traversing the scar. In icy conditions, this section can be very dangerous. Leaving the scar the trail ascends sharply and narrows to a rocky and wet (most of the time) section.

Taking the right fork at  junction at 7.5 miles leads past the Shelter to the summit of Mt. LeConte marked by a cairn to the left of the trail. The Mt. LeConte Lodge is 1/2 mile further down the trail from the summit.

Some of our Boulevard Trail Hikes:

Mt. LeConte TN

MT. LeConte Trip #24

November 12-14, 2015

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Mt. LeConte, TN

Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave Trail

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Distance: 11 Miles RT
  • Elevation Change: 2763′
  • Difficulty:  Strenuous

The Alum Cave Trail (also referred to as Alum Cave Bluff Trail) is an American hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Sevier County, Tennessee. The trail ascends Mount Le Conte, the “tallest” (and sixth highest) mountain east of the Mississippi River and passes by many notable landmarks, such as Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, the Duckhawk Peaks, and Cliff Top, before merging with Rainbow Falls Trail near the summit.

The Alum Cave Trail is the shortest and steepest of the five trails leading to LeConte. Mt. LeConte contains four separate peaks in all, the highest of which has an elevation of 6,593 feet. Due to its short length and beautiful scenery (it is often considered Le Conte’s most scenic route) it is the most common footpath for hikers seeking to reach the summit of Le Conte. It is the preferred trail for families hiking with smaller children.

The entire trail is within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trailhead is about 10 miles (16 km) from the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, off Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Highway 441)

Some of our Alum Cave Hikes:

Mt. LeConte, TN

Alum Cave

  My ankle has improved so much, that we decided to put it to the test by day hiking Alum Cave Trail all the way to LeConte Lodge and back. The total distance hiked was 11 miles. Total elevation gain is approximately 2560′. It gets a little steep in places. I would rate this trail … Continue reading Alum Cave

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Mt. LeConte Lodge

Alum Cave Trail

Taking advantage of the good weather and lower temperatures, we decided to do a day hike up and down Alum Cave Trail on Mt. LeConte. We left early enough to get a parking space in what is usually a very crowded parking lot at the trailhead. We lucked up and there were still a few … Continue reading Alum Cave Trail

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Mt LeConte 2014

It was time for our official 2014 trek up Mt. LeConte. Phil’s brother-in-law was our guest this year. We chose to hike Alum Cave Trail. It was reportedly in the best shape and we hoped that it had minimal icy spots. The Thursday hike up was great. It was a warm sunny day in the … Continue reading Mt LeConte 2014

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The Crew

Mt. LeConte

Alum Cave Trail Our guests were my brother and two of his sons. The weather was crisp and sunny. The two youngsters enjoyed the dining hall the best, I think.  They drank buckets of hot chocolate!

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Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave

We hiked Alum Cave in and out.  My brother and his wife went with us and it was the first time we have ever taken a trip together. Phil had to sit on an inverted bucket the whole time, and he didn’t like that. I thought it was funny. Anyway.  It was totally awesome.

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Mt. LeConte Via Alum Cave

LeConte Trip with friends that had never been there! The weather was awesome. We hiked Alum Cave in and out. We also spent a lot of time with the Llamas. They are so soft but don’t care much for attention.  And … they bite!

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Mt. LeConte Via Alum Cave

Phil’s brother in law, Dale hiked in with us this year.  We hiked up Alum Cave trail.   The weather was cool and foggy. We enjoyed a lot of lodge time and hot chocolate.

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Mt. LeConte, 2017

Trail:  Alum Cave Trip # 27 – November 9 – 22, 2017 Trail: Alum Cave Trail Hiking Time Going Up: 3 hours 7 minutes Hiking Time Coming Down: 2 hours 15 minutes This year we decided to hike up and down Alum Cave Trail. Due to trail closures, we haven’t gotten to hike this trail … Continue reading Mt. LeConte, 2017

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Mt. Cammerer

  • Highest spot: 5042′ Lowest spot: 2250′
  • 11.2 miles RT
  • Difficulty:  Strenuous

Mt. Cammerer is also known as Sharp Top or White Top. The Appalachian Trail traverses it’s south slope and is part of the Smoky Mountain National Park system. Elevation 4928′.

 Parking Lot Elevation: 2250′ Low Gap Trail: 2.9 miles One Way We began our trek up Mt. Cammerer at the Cosby, TN Campground in the Hiker’s Parking Lot (else you will get a ticket). This adds about 1/2 mile to the trek. This is considered the easiest route via Low Gap Trail to the Appalachian Trail and then branching off on the Mt. Cammerer Trail for the last .6 miles. Low Gap Trail is a constant incline for 2.9 miles to the junction of the Appalachian Trail. During the summer months, the trail is closed in by heavy vegetation and is not very rocky (soft loamy forest floor).


Low Gap / Appalachian Trail Junction Elevation: 4242′ Appalachian Trail Section: 2.1 miles One Way Take a left on the Appalachian Trail where you will be walking on the ridge line. You will continue to climb gradually. The trail climbs up and over a knob that is 5042′ (the high spot of the hike) just before you get to the Mt. Cammerer Trail Junction. We walked through some muddy sections that were uncharacteristic of a ridge line trail. The trail is more weedy than normal as this area has seen a lot of rain. The strange invasive orange vine had covered a lot of the lower vegetation.

Appalachian Trail / Mt. Cammerer Trail Junction Elevation: 4950′ Mt. Cammerer Trail:  .6 miles One Way Take the .6 mile Mt. Cammerer spur trail to the top. It was lined in blueberries. Near the top, there are rock outcroppings made of Thunderhead sandstone.  Within the sandstone run veins of quartz and blue granite.

The octagon shaped lookout tower at the top was built in 1937 and is in fairly good condition.  The 360 degree view from the top is well worth the climb. The rocks boast evidence of previous survey markers that have been removed.

Some of our Mt. Cammerer Hikes:

Mt. Cammerer

Mt. Cammerer is also known as Sharp Top or White Top. The Appalachian Trail traverses it’s south slope and is part of the Smoky Mountain National Park system. Elevation 4928′. We began our trek up Mt. Cammerer at the Cosby, TN Campground in the Hiker’s Parking Lot (else you will get a ticket). This adds about 1/2 mile … Continue reading Mt. Cammerer

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Mt Hardy

Mt. Hardy

  • Distance: 4.4 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 1017 ft.
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Park in the pull off on the west side of highway 215, 0.45 mile north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is room here for a half dozen or more cars.

A trail heads into the greenery right from this lot, but do not take this trail. Get back onto the highway, and walk about 200 feet further north (downhill) on the highway, and look for the Mountains To Sea (MTS) trail marker on the left. Turn onto the trail here.

Some of our Mt. Hardy Hikes:

Mt. Hardy – Green Knob

Tailhead: Park at the Rough Butt Bald Overlook and walk across the Parkway to the Mountains to the Sea Trail. This section of the MTS runs parallel to the Parkway for several hundred yards before it forks right into the Middle Prong Wilderness proper. Rough Butt Bald Overlook Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 425.4 Elevation: 5300′ … Continue reading Mt. Hardy – Green Knob

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Mt. Hardy

Mt. Hardy

We parked at the Rough Butt Bald overlook and walked across the parkway to the trail. Note to self:  It was really weedy.  Put this hike on the rotation for Labor Day Through Mother’s Day. Another note to self: watch for yellow jacket nests in the trail.

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