Editor’s note: Before taking any hike during the COVID-19 outbreak, observe all state and local health and government advisories, consult the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail website (www.mountainstoseatrail.org) for up-to-date guidelines and maintain social distancing.
One of the great hiking treasures of North Carolina is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Now, more than 42 years old, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail stretches 1,175 miles from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. Three-inch white circles blaze a path as the MST passes through mountains, Piedmont, and coastal plain in 37 of the state’s 100 counties.
Most of us will never hike, or want to hike, the entire trail. To date there are about 120 known completions. But where does one start to explore the trail?
A new book, “Great Day Hikes on North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail,” by the trail’s nonprofit support group Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, fills this need.
This book isn’t the first guidebook on the MST. Friends founder, the late Allen de Hart, wrote the first comprehensive guide 20 years ago. Though still available, some of the information is out of date because of updates to the trail. The Friends organization also produced section and regional guides in the last five years. This newest guidebook presents a greatest hits for North Carolina’s flagship hiking trail by the people who collectively know the trail the best.
For this book the Friends chose a balance of settings - wilderness, farmland, small towns and cities - with selections geared toward all levels of experience.
Featured day hikes vary in length from 0.5 miles to 8.4 miles (one way). Because the overall trail is linear, many of the hikes are out-and-back hikes with trail distances listed as one way. For longer hikes, consider hiking with a friend or group and parking one vehicle at each of the trailheads listed.
Some hikes, however, including Pilot Mountain and the Burgaw Greenway, are presented as loops, using connecting trails or roads to complete the loop and return to the original trailhead.
A table at the beginning of the book lists each of the 40 day hikes from West to East with distance and degree of difficulty. Hikes are then categorized by their points of interest such as wildlife, waterfalls, history, small towns, wildflowers and universal accessibility.
Each listing starts with a color photograph of a trail highlight – blooming rhododendron, mountains blanketed in fall color, country stores, fishing trawlers or boardwalks through lowland marshes.
Distance, degree of difficulty, trail surface, trailhead locations, elevation change and highlights are clearly described in a list under each photograph.
A full-page, color topographical map follows identifying trailheads and points of interest.
Hike descriptions include an overview with brief bits of historical, geological or ecological information of interest, driving directions, turn-by-turn hike directions and special considerations (climate, insects, land use). Each listing concludes with links to local resources for additional information.
To encourage hikers to explore all of the guidebook’s hikes, The Friends organization is offering a 40 hike challenge, with a prize to those who complete the challenge by March 31, 2023. Progress forms can be downloaded from the Friends website, mountainstoseatrail.org.