1. Linville Gorge North Carolina’s longest trail runs across mountain peaks, past farmland, along rivers, through swamps, down country roads, and across beaches. Some of its most strenuous spots are
North Carolina’s longest trail runs across mountain peaks, past farmland, along rivers, through swamps, down country roads, and across beaches. Some of its most strenuous spots are in the west, including this stretch through the Linville Gorge.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail begins at the observation tower on this mountaintop along the North Carolina/Tennessee border. From there, it winds through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at one point going nearly 23 miles between road crossings.
Discover the best of both worlds: a view of the surrounding Piedmont from the rocky outcroppings of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. To get to Hanging Rock from the west, the path follows the Sauratown Trail. Heading east, the trail follows mostly roads until Greensboro.
In Alamance County, the MST follows a footpath along the Haw River, then runs through one of the best-preserved mill villages in North Carolina. After Glencoe Mill closed in 1954, the village was abandoned, but it has since been renovated to reflect its past life.
The path runs for three miles through town here, passing nest-like structures by artist Patrick Dougherty as well as the site of the former Occoneechee Speedway.
As the trail heads eastward toward the coast, it runs along the shore of Singletary Lake, one of many Carolina Bay lakes in eastern North Carolina.
Here in Pender County, the MST follows 19 miles of forest road through stands of longleaf pine and pocosins. To the east, the trail meets the ocean for the first time, running for eight miles on the beach at Topsail Island before heading northward to Jacksonville.
From Havelock to Morehead City, the MST follows the 21-mile-long Neusiok Trail, the longest continuous trail in eastern North Carolina. The MST runs along roadways, where it makes two ferry crossings to get from Cedar Island to Ocracoke to Hatteras.
Once it reaches the Outer Banks, the MST runs along beaches and bridges for 81 miles before ending at this sandy spot in Nags Head. There is no official sign at the finish because the trail’s end isn’t fixed — its eastern terminus is atop whichever dune happens to be the tallest.
For the passionate advocates who work to move the path off of roadways and into woods and fields — a fraction of a mile at a time — improving the trail is an ongoing journey.