Hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Watauga & Ashe County

Oh, Mountains-to-Sea Trail, how I love thee.

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I’ll be honest, I haven’t done very many major hikes since getting a dog. Our dog Remi is a high-spirited, free-range pitbull. She loves other dogs and humans and does not do well on a leash. Most trails have leash laws for dogs, and thus, we are generally reluctant to commit to several hours of being pulled around my Remi.

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(Remi always goes for the biggest sticks…. shin guards required!)

However, we have found several trails near us that are very lightly trafficked where it’s safe to let Remi run free. One of our favorites is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of 421 just outside of Boone, NC. With several sections ranging from 2 miles to 9 miles in length, this part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a great way for hikers and adventure seekers to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway escarpment (the edge of the NC High Country mountains before they steeply descend into the foothills).
With trailheads at the Tompkins Knob Overlook, Cascades and Park Vista (Benge Gap), there are lots of small sections to choose from. For the most part, these sections are flat and utilize old logging roads, game trails and fields to guide hikers to the next section. It can sometimes be a treasure hunt though with a little walking on the side of the parkway.

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One of my favorite aspects of this trail is the hike along the steep slope up above the parkway. Walking along a narrow path lined with nettles and jewel weed during the summer, you realize that you are on the edge of the mountain range that makes up the NC High Country. Our elevation here in the Fleetwood/Deep Gap area is around ~2800-3000 and the mountains seem to rise endlessly headed West from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Another striking aspect of hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is the changing landscape of Ashe County. There are several hillsides visible from the trail that are now devoid of trees–evidence of logging in America’s Christmas tree capital. Headed north from Hwy 421 on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, you will find yourself for the most part in the forest. However, from Jumpinoff Rock north, the trail sticks closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway and winds down residential roads.

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With highlights such as Elk Mountain Overlook, Tompkins Knob (and Jesse Brown’s Cabin), Lewis Fork Overlook and the Cascades Waterfall loop, The Lump (I will talk all about the Lump in another post) and Jumpinoff Rock, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Watauga and Ashe County offer great alternative hikes for those adventure seekers wanting to get a little off the beaten path in the NC High Country.

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If you enjoyed reading about this trail and hike in, check out more of my portrait and wedding photography! I often meet clients at amazing locations throughout Western North Carolina and love to plan an outdoor adventure. Want to collaborate or learn more? Drop me a line.

Until next time…

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