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Wednesday, 09 January 2008 00:00

Day hikes along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Balsam Gap Segment

This portion of the trail runs for approximately 35 miles from Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) Balsam Gap Ranger Station (milepost 442.9) to the intersection of the BRP with NC 215 (BRP milepost 423.2). Abundant wildflowers and shrubs such as rhododendron and azalea and a number of wild berry patches — blueberry, strawberry and blackberry — grow along this scenic section. It harbors northern hardwood and spruce-fir forest bird species including black-billed cuckoo, brown creeper, wild turkey, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and black-capped chickadee. Grassy Ridge Mine, an old mica mine, is visible off Grassy Ridge Overlook at BRP milepost 436.8. Spectacular views of the Great Balsam Mountains and the Tuckasegee River Valley are visible from Double Top Mountain Overlook (BRP milepost 435.3). This segment also offers excellent vantage points for watching the monarch butterfly migration.

Mount Pisgah Segment

Running from NC 215 (BRP milepost 423.2) to the BRP French Broad River Bridge (milepost 393.5) for approximately 39 miles (66 miles if following the alternative Art Loeb Trail, the only loop on the MST at this time), this high-elevation segment follows the Pisgah Ledge through the upper reaches of the Pigeon River watershed to spectacular vistas including views of Devil’s Courthouse. The alternative route, Art Loeb Trail, drops down to the Davidson River before climbing back to Mount Pisgah through the Pink Beds. The trail courses past cascades and waterfalls, conifer groves, thickets of mountain laurel, and tunnels of rhododendrons that are breathtakingly beautiful when their blossoms open in May and June. Wild turkeys and northern bobwhites roam below as common yellowthroats, white-breasted nuthatches, cedar waxwings, several species of warblers, and even a few ruby-throated hummingbirds and golden eagles fly above.

Mount Mitchell Segment

High-country hiking is excellent along this stretch which runs approximately 14.5 miles from Balsam Gap Parking Overlook (BRP milepost 359.8) to U.S. Forest Service Black Mountain Campground. In these spruce-fir forests chances are good for sighting the northern saw-whet owl, pine siskin, red crossbill, veery, downy woodpecker, golden-crowned kinglet, and a number of warblers. Small mammals and white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, and gray foxes roam this area. Some of the most spectacular scenery east of the Mississippi includes views of the Asheville Watershed, Potato Knob and Mount Mitchell in the Black Mountain range, and the nearby Great Craggy Mountains. This trail segment also includes a short side trail to the summit of Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet the highest point east of the Mississippi River.

(From the Web site http://www.sherpaguides.com/north_carolina/mountains/long_trails/mountains_to_sea_trail.html)

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