When it comes to natural beauty, it doesn’t get much better than North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea trail. Find out why it’s worth it to explore this U.S. destination.
Living in and traveling to North Carolina provides an opportunity to witness some truly beautiful locations, and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) encapsulates the Tar Heel State’s finest scenery. It starts west in the Great Smoky Mountains and cuts through parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, before continuing east through the Piedmont and culminating at the Upper Outer Banks. The MST spans more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) and offers a plethora of beautiful sites along the way. To illustrate just how beautiful these sites are, I enlisted my photographer (a.k.a. my wife, Christina), packed our Eagle Creek bags, and ventured out. We covered the MST in a series of trips, and returned with fresh knowledge of three wonderful and absolutely inspiring spots to explore. Visit anytime, though spring and fall offer the most moderate temperatures.
The MST begins at the Tennessee-North Carolina border and moves east through Pisgah National Forest, on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina. We got started on an early summer day, which offered beautiful weather and a perfect opportunity for a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. My wife napped with her comfy blanket along the way, and we reached the picturesque Craggy Gardens trail after a few hours on the road. Various flowers in the area bloom year-round, and the pink and purple catawba rhododendrons certainly bring in crowds when they bloom in early- to mid-June. We arrived a bit too early for them, but can vouch for the exquisite 360-degree panoramic views from Craggy Pinnacle’s peak.
Eno River State Park
Even though the central Piedmont is largely flat in comparison to western North Carolina, there are plenty of beautiful green spaces to explore in the area. Eno River State Park’s 20-plus mile (32-kilometer) stretch of trails—part of the MST—is one of them. It’s also right in my backyard—just a short drive from my home in Durham, North Carolina. Visit during the warmer months and you’ll walk past families picnicking and making day trips out of the Eno. During a late spring hike, we found a funny spectacle when we stopped to grab water out of our day bag: Turtles were sitting on every single log and rock on the river, soaking up some sun between dips in the cold water.
Croatan National Forest
Before making its way up the coast and the Outer Banks, the MST moves southeast and through Croatan National Forest. The summer rush will bring tons of city-folk out to the coast, but thanks to North Carolina’s massive coastline, it’s possible to find some absolutely quiet and mostly isolated spots inside Croatan. I drove to various spots in Croatan National Forest at the beginning of summer and fell in love with Pine Cliff, where visitors can choose between lounging on a beautiful beach and starting a 21-mile (34-kilometer) hike on the very popular Neusiok Trail. Personally, I kicked myself for not bringing a neck pillow for taking a peaceful nap in the shade—but regardless, the scenes at Croatan won me over and I’ll definitely go back in the future.
I can confidently say that these landmarks along North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail are worth a visit, but there’s certainly more to uncover. It’s an overwhelming challenge to dedicate enough time to hiking and driving through the entire MST, but even if you just scratch the surface, you’ll understand that it’s full of special places. Whether you’re up in the mountains, the Piedmont, or the coast, I hope you get to experience North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail and explore its beauty.
Do you recommend visiting any particular spots along the MST? Please feel free to share your two cents in the comments section below.
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