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"If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else." --- Yogi Berra

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Mountains to the Sea Trail (Western NC)

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.


Art Loeb – Graveyard Ridge – Loop

  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

This section of the Art Loeb Trail begins on the right of F.R. 816 at the Black Balsam parking area 0.8 mile north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For the first 10 yards, the Mountains to the Sea Trail shares the same trail before it descends to the right. Staying on the Art Loeb, we hiked .6 miles to the summit of Black Balsam Knob. The 360 degree views are worth the short hike there.

The main trail continues straight ahead descending to a small saddle. Continuing on to a series of switchbacks to the summit of Tennent Mtn at 1.6 mile.

Descend down to the junction with Ivestor Gap Trail at 2.2 miles.  The trail ascends  to a pine grove and descends through a thick pine grove to Ivestor Gap after 2.4 miles. Turn left at the Shining Rock Wilderness sign walking on a gravel road.

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Art Loeb – Flat Laurel Creek Loop

  • Distance: 5.7 Miles RT
  • Elevation Change: 900 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

We park in the grass on the side of the parkway at the intersection of the Art Loeb Trail between the turn off to Black Balsam and the Devil’s Courthouse at approximately mile marker 421.3. Go north on the Art Loeb.

The trail accents immediately from the parkway rising over 400′ in the elevation from the parkway .2 miles to the intersection of the Mountains to the Sea trail. This little section looks like it has never been logged. There are some impressive Red Spruce and Frasier Fir Trees. The trail is eroded in a few spots making the footing difficult, but in my opinion, the shortness of this section cancels out the difficulty of the steep pitch.

We turned right at the junction and walked through the forest to the road leading to the Black Balsam parking lot. We turned left on the road and walked about .3 miles on the road to the parking area.

Pigeon River
One little interesting caveat. A small spring comes up right next to this road and goes through a culvert under the road. This is actually the headwaters to the Pigeon River. The picture at left shows the spring.

From there, we took the Sam Knob trail and walked across the big meadow to where we turned left. Walk about 1/4 mile and turn left on Flat Laurel Creek trail. Follow the trail to where it intersects the Little Sam trail.  This is a hard right turn and if the carbonate sign is knocked down, it is easy to miss.

Just stay on this trail until you intersect the Mountains to the Sea trail and turn left there. This will lead you right back to where you came up the Art Loeb from the parkway.

2016 04 30 Flat Laurel Creek 12


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Flat Laurel Creek – July, 2011

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Flat Laurel Creek – May, 2014

Green Knob Near Wagon Road Gap (out and back)

  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 816 feet
  • Easy Hiking

The Mountains to the Sea Trail crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway several times. One of those spots is just south of Wagon Road Gap. We hike this little trail when we want something quick and easy to get to. It is accessible when the parkway is closed. The trail is less than 1/2 mile from the gate at Wagon Road Gap.

  • Picnic Area on left of road to road junction – elevation gain 140′ one way
  • Trail Crossing at Road Elevation 4530′
  • Green Knob – 5051′ –

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Green Knob

MTS Trail to Green Knob

January 20 2014

Shut In Trail – Pisgah to Elk Pasture Gap (out and back)

Around 1890, the Shut-In trail was created by George W. Vanderbilt to link his Biltmore home with his hunting and outdoor lodge at Buck Springs (Near the current Pisgah Inn). While many think of this trail as following the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s actually the other way around, since the parkway wasn’t built until the 1930’s. Since it does parallel the parkway, it has a certain benefits, not the least of which is you’re never very far from help. It follows the series of ridge lines from the French Broad (mile marker 393.5) at about 2,000 ft. elevation to the Pisgah Inn (mile marker 408). I’ve divided it into several smaller hikes because it’s an easy drop-off, and pick-up by car by your friends who want to remain car bound.


  • Distance: 3.6 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1364′
  • Difficulty: Strenuous (very steep)

Sam Knob Loop

Park on Hwy 215 north of the parkway and hike east on the Mountains to the Sea Trail. Fork left on Little Sam Knob trail and intersect the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. Hike back down to Hwy 215.

  • Distance: 6.5 miles RT
  • Elevation Change: 750 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

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Stony Bald Overlook to Elk Pasture Gap

This segment of the Mountain to the Sea Trail is fairly easy walk in the woods. This particular day, there were more trillium blooming than I’ve ever seen on a trail. It took longer because I kept stopping to take pictures.

  • Distance: 6 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 700 ft.
  • Difficulty: Easy


MTS StonyBaldOverlook


"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

--- Albert Einstein