Danny Bernstein is the author of the just-published “The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina: Walking a Thousand Miles Through Wildness, Culture and History” ($19.99, The History Press). The trail begins at Clingmans Dome, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and ends in the Outer Banks. Bernstein walked the entire trail – 78 days, in sections – west to east. Here’s what she says about the North Carolina State Park System trail – half footpath, half designated back-country roads.
Favorite views. “Nothing can top the views from the top of Clingmans Dome and Mount Mitchell. They equal any Appalachian Trail-view you’ll find. And Pilot Mountain is incredible. That big lump of rock just comes jutting out of the ground.”
Favorite place to eat. “North of Burlington, I was walking on small back roads... then I reached Emily’s Cookie, a little place with great coffee, cookies, ice cream and fascinating people.”
Coolest lesson in civics: “The Sauratown Trail area is the only section of the MST on private land, but the public has permission to walk on it. The 21.7-mile section connects Pilot Mountain State Park and Hanging Rock State Park.” (Area camping info: www.sauratowntrails.org.)
Most fascinating section. “The coastal plain. Walking east from the Falls of the Neuse alone, I passed through tobacco fields and cotton fields. I backpacked through Croatan National Forest – something I wouldn’t have seen unless I walked the MST. I was fascinated by Croatan’s swamps. There’s a very different terrain, and there are swamp flowers. I loved it even though it was buggy. I did this section at the end of April, and you don’t want to do it any later in the year than that.”
Busiest sections. “People use the Asheville area part of the trail for running and dog walking; it has pretty high foot traffic. The Bent Creek area – 15 miles minutes from downtown Asheville, in Pisgah National Forest – is also busy. Falls Lake State Recreation Area has more than 60 miles of trails and was quite busy. It’s the local play area for people in the Triangle.”
Trail section with most elbow room. “The Outer Banks area is very empty. It’s really a pleasure to walk through, and I saw a lot of birds.”