From mountains to sea: Completing the MST

On May 4, I completed the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST).

In Western North Carolina, we may only know the MST as the white circles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, the trail runs almost 1,000 miles, beginning at Clingmans Dome on the Tennessee border, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It ends on the highest sand dune on the east coast in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, in Nags Head on the Outer Banks.

Part of the North Carolina State Park system, the MST is designed to show off the best of our state and consists of trail, back roads, and beach walking. Only about half of the hiking trail has been completed, mostly in the mountains and on the Outer Banks. The rest of the time I walked on small back roads. See http://www.ncmst.org.

The route changes often as more trail is built. The trail is still in its infancy, perhaps as the Appalachian Trail was in the 1930s. It changes and improves as more public land is acquired.
My route took me over 985 miles with 95,200 feet of ascent in 78 hiking days.

Walking the road was fun and flat, a change from the mountains. I walked 15 miles, day in day out on the road.

Looking back, the best parts were:

• Pretty Hollow Trail in the Smokies

• Walking 25 miles of new trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway after it just opened

• Walking through small towns such as Pilot Mountain; Freeborne Motel on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 248; Glencoe Mill Village; Emily’s Cookies outside of Burlington; New Bern; Buxton on the Outer Banks

• Meeting people on the road

There were challenges:

• Climbing Bald Knob, just west of Linville Gorge, in 95 degree heat last August

• Leaving my car in Stone Mountain State Park overnight and having the Superintendent start a search

• Dogs on the road in the Piedmont

The logistics of walking the trail are not easy. There are no shelters and few legal places to camp. I’m only the 21st person to have completed the trail.

I blogged about the experience. You can see my blog www.hikertohiker.com/thishikinglife.

Danny Bernstein is a hiker and outdoor writer. She’s the author of Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage.

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