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black Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Segment 4

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76.6 mile 123.2 kilometer point to point
85% Runnable


Ascent: 15,801' 4,816 m
Descent: -14,589' -4,447 m
High: 4,290' 1,307 m
Low: 1,261' 384 m


Avg Grade: 8% (4°)
Max Grade: 48% (26°)


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Trail shared by Jim Grode

Gorges, Peaks, and Waterfalls: Black Mountain Campground to Beacon Heights

Jim Grode

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall

Section Of

Need to Know

Except in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, Wilson Creek, and Lost Cove Creek areas, primitive camping is allowed anywhere on the Pisgah National Forest. In Linville Gorge Wilderness, Wilson Creek, and Lost Cove Creek areas, free camping permits are required on weekends and holidays from May 1-Oct. 31. Permits are not required Nov. 1-April 30 or for visitors who do not stay overnight. Reservations are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis, beginning the first working day of each previous month.

Permits for campsites in Linville Gorge Wilderness, Wilson Creek, and Lost Cove Creek areas can be obtained from Grandfather Ranger District, 109 Lawing Drive, Nebo, 28761; 828-652-2144; Permits are issued by the district ranger office by mail or in person.

Camping is prohibited on all BRP property. Before setting up a backcountry camp, please confirm that you are in a legal camping area.


Traveling eastbound, the trail leaves Black Mountain Campground on the South Toe River and climbs gradually to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), which is the Continental Divide to the Tennessee Valley. It travels through mostly mature forest in the Pisgah National Forest or along the BRP.

The trail then descends to the North Fork of the Catawba River and climbs Bald Knob and Dobson Knob, some of the most challenging ascents on the entire MST. From these heights, visitors see some of the most spectacular views of the region, from Lake James to Little Switzerland.

The next part of the trail offers views of the spectacular Linville Gorge, descending to the Linville River on the west side then climbing to the eastern lip of the gorge at Shortoff Mountain and following its eastern edge. Because this popular part of the trail has had frequent forest fires, there are stretches with little water or shade from the Linville River until descending again at Table Rock.

The Linville River is approximately 60 yards wide at the crossing point. The water is usually at least knee deep, but it can be much higher and dangerous after rains and in cold weather. The directions in the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail guide described below offer an alternate route to cross the river via a bridge if you reach the river when it is at dangerous levels.

The trail dips into remote wild-trout waters located in areas nominated for wilderness status. It follows tributaries in the western Wilson Creek basin to the confluence of Harper Creek and Raider Camp Creek and then climbs along Harper Creek before hopping over a ridge to Lost Cove Creek and Gragg Prong. The trail follows these streams until it nears the BRP at Grandmother Mountain and Beacon Heights. Much of this part of the trail travels alongside crashing wild streams and rocky outcrops, which also offer spectacular cascades and waterfalls. This area was heavily timbered in the early 20th century and the trail often follows the old roads and railroad beds. One may look for traces of once vigorous human activity among the resurgent timber, in the sagging banks of these passages, and in the hints of washed-out and vanished bridges and settlements and wonder how nature has reclaimed these valleys and coves.

If you are interested in an overnight backpacking trip, this segment may be divided into 4 sections of roughly similar lengths. The first 19.6-mile section is between Black Mountain Campground and US 221 at the Forest Service Work Center at Woodlawn. The second 13.6-mile section is between US 221 at Woodlawn Work Center and Old NC 105. The third 19.5-mile section is between Old NC 105 and NC 181. The fourth 22.5-mile section is between NC 181 and Beacon Heights on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Much of this segment travels through wilderness areas, so even MST blazing, a 3 white circle, may be sparse. There is some signage along forest service roads in the vicinity of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. There are some blazed trails in the Harper Creek and Lost Cove Creek areas.

For more information, including camping, lodging, parking, shuttles, and resupply information, as well as detailed, turn-by-turn directions, download a trail guide from the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.


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