September marks the 45th birthday of North Carolina's state trail - the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST).  The MST was proposed in 1977 by Howard Lee (at the time, he was the secretary of the NC Department of Natural Resources and Community Development) as a way to connect the mountains to the coast.  It was added to the NC State Park System in 2000.  Today, the trail stretches almost 1,200 miles between Clingmans Dome on the NC/TN border to Jockey's Ridge on the Outer Banks.

One of my favorite things about living in NC is how much variety in outdoor activity there is.  There's great hiking, cycling, paddling, rock climbing, fly fishing... and the weather is temperate enough that you can enjoy them year round!  That variety carries over well to the MST.  A quiet winter hike through a coastal swamp is a different experience than a challenging hike through the High Country.  It passes through four National Parks, three National Forests, and 10 State Parks.  It summits both the highest peak and the highest sand dune east of the Mississippi River. 

The trail descends from Clingmans Dome through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where it connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It follows the Parkway through Asheville to Mt Mitchell.  From Mt Mitchell, the trail descends into Linville Gorge, then up to the High Country near Boone.  After dropping off the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the trail heads into the foothills through Elkin and the Sauratown mountains.  It follows several lakes and rivers through the Piedmont before arriving at Falls Lake near Raleigh.  From Falls Lake, paddlers follow the Neuse River to Croatan National Forest near Havelock.  Hikers follow backroads south toward Fayetteville, east toward Wilmington, then north along the coast.  The two routes re-join at the Neusiok Trail, then hikers take a ferry out to the Ocracoke.  Finally, the trail follows the Outer Banks north to Jockey's Ridge.  The whole way, it passes through small towns and rural communities. 

One of the downsides to the long sections along the Blue Ridge Parkway, cycling routes, and back roads is that there is very limited camping in some areas.  To help combat this challenge, a vibrant network of Trail Angels has sprung up along the route.  These are individuals who assist hikers with lodging, shuttles, resupply, and advice.  It's a touching reminder that our state and trail community is filled with generous, kind hearted people, who are more than happy to lend a helping hand.

Because the trail is not fully complete - around 720 miles are currently on trail with the remainder following backroads and cycling routes - you can cycle the road portions.  There are two additional optional paddling routes down the Yadkin River and down the Neuse River.  So not only do hikers experience a wide range of landscapes, they can choose to do so using several different modes of transportation.

I've felt drawn to the MST since I first learned about it in 2007, when my university outdoor program partnered with Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail for a trail work day.  It's been a bucket list trip of mine ever since.  I though this would be such a great way to experience the natural beauty of my home state.  As I've lived and worked across the state, it's been a consistent presence, always there for a day hike or bike ride or quick canoe trip.  This fall, I'll set out to complete the MST as a multi-sport adventure - hiking the trails, cycling the roads, and canoeing the Neuse river - finally connecting all those footprints.  An expedition across my home state.  I've sometimes joked that one of the reasons I haven't hike the AT is that I couldn't give up cycling and canoeing for 6 months; this way I don't have to!  You can follow along with my journey on our social media channels for occasional updates.  

And if you'd like to have your own adventure on the MST, check out their website for information about organized group hikes, pick out one the MST's recommended day hikes near you and hit the trail with some friends, or book a hike with us and let your guide know you'd like to check out the MST.  Happy hiking!