Are you looking for an adventure that takes you through lush forests, past shimmering water, and over some of the most breathtaking views around? If so, then you have to check out the Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina. Passing right through Topsail Island, hike a section or two of it while on vacation to the Carolina Coast.
Less intense than the Appalachian Trail, not only is this trail full of natural beauty, but it also offers miles of diverse terrain and plenty of exciting experiences along the way.
Let’s dive right into how you can get a taste of the Mountains to Sea Trail right outside of your vacation rental home on Topsail Island.
Understanding the Trail System
The Mountains to Sea Trail, also known as the MST, is an approximately 290 mile trail that heads along the North Carolina coastline. It is one of the longest marked hiking trails in the United States, stretching over 1,150 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Outer Banks.
It is a multi-use national recreation trail, open for hiking, backpacking, biking, and horseback riding. There are many sections of trail that pass through some of the most diverse geographies in North Carolina, from waterfalls among high mountain peaks, down through rolling hills and pastures of the piedmont, to coastal estuaries and barrier island sand dunes. Along the way, there are numerous scenic and historical sites to explore and plenty of open space.
The Mountains to Sea Trail was officially established in 1977, but had existed as a concept since the 1920s. It is managed and maintained by the North Carolina State Parks system, along with local and regional governments and help from organizations like the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail
There are numerous access points for the trail, and trailheads to start your journey. The trail can be broken down into 12 distinct sections, each ranging from 30-100 miles in length. The sections are mostly linear, but offer loops and side trips for hikers who are looking to explore more than just the main trail.
Overall, The Mountains to Sea Trail offers a variety of experiences, from peaceful forests to majestic mountain peaks. There are campgrounds located at various points along the trail, so hikers can enjoy the whole experience from start to finish.
Exploring the Trail Near Topsail Island
Approximately 150 miles of this trail passes through Topsail Island and meanders through areas of unspoiled wetlands, forests, and beaches. Not only does the trail offer you the chance to observe natural wildlife, but it also presents opportunities for fishing, swimming, kayaking, bird watching, and much more.
Fishing is one of the more popular activities on the section of the MST near Topsail Island. Whether you’re an experienced fisherman or a beginner, there are plenty of opportunities to find the best spots to reel in some fish.
The waters of the Atlantic ocean surrounding Topsail Island provide an ample supply of fish, ranging from flounder, trout, and tarpon to sharks and redfish.
Swimming is a great way to relax, have fun, and cool off while exploring the area. The crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean are perfect for taking a dip and soaking up some sun. If you’re looking to take a leisurely swim, you can take a dip in one of the many coves and inlets that can be found along the trail. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can explore the sandy beaches and rock formations that surround the island.
Kayaking is another excellent way to explore the Mountains to Sea Trail near Topsail Island. This serene area offers calm waters to paddle through, perfect for a relaxing day on the water. Whether you’re looking to take a leisurely kayak trip around the inlets and coves of the island or you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that lives around the area, kayaking on Topsail Island pairs well with a day hike along the trail.
Bird watching is also a fantastic pastime along the Mountains to Sea Trail. Keep an eye out for shorebirds and raptors that can be seen flying around the island, not to mention the wide variety of songbirds and wading birds that call Topsail Island home. There are also plenty of opportunities for spotting brilliant wildlife and plants, so take your binoculars with you and get ready for an exciting journey.
Notable Spots Along the Trail
The entire trail has interesting historic and natural areas to check out, and the section near Topsail Island is no exception.
Here are some of the most notable spots on the section of the Mountains to Sea Trail near Topsail Island:
Sneads Ferry Big Ferry Bridge
Located near the town of Sneads Ferry, the Big Ferry Bridge was built in 1887, the bridge has since become popular amongst fishing and recreational enthusiasts. The bridge connects Sneads Ferry to the mainland and can be accessed from the Mountains to Sea Trail.
Views from the bridge offer stunning views of the New River, surrounding marshes, and the Intracoastal Waterway.
South of Topsail Beach
This southern portion of Topsail Island is home to some of the most secluded sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail. The trail provides access to miles of unspoiled beaches, pristine marshes, and a diverse array of wildlife.
From the trail you can take in the scenes of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, catch a glimpse of passing dolphins or enjoy a peaceful stroll through the winding boards of the Topsail Beach area.
Camp Davis Trail
Located just north of North Topsail Beach, the Camp Davis Trail provides an excellent opportunity to spot diverse wildlife in its natural habitat. The trail runs for about 4 miles, passing through an extensive Longleaf Pine savannah and some of the last remaining sections of maritime forest in the area.
As you explore the trail, you will find several observation platforms where you can pause and take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Surf City Inlet Trail
This three-mile stretch of the Mountains to Sea Trail near Surf City winds its way through the lowland wetlands of Bogue Sound. As you walk along the trail, you will have the opportunity to observe a variety of wildlife including egrets, herons, and osprey.
The trail also passes through several marshes and dense forests, making it the perfect spot for nature lovers.
Who Should Hike the Trail?
The North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail is a great option for both experienced and novice hikers alike. With plenty of scenic overlooks, historical sites, and rest areas, this trail offers something for everyone. The trail is well-marked, many sections are easy footpaths and there are plenty of trail guides and maps available to help you on your journey.
Topsail Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in North Carolina, and the Mountains to Sea Trail offers you an incredible way to explore them. As you follow the trail, you may even be lucky enough to stumble upon some of the most secluded beaches the state has to offer.
Plus, the trail passes through a number of small towns, villages, and other public areas, making it an ideal way to explore the island and learn more about the local culture.
Enjoy Your Hike!
No matter how you do it, if you’re looking for a hiking adventure that offers incredible views, plenty of wildlife, and a variety of experiences, look no further than the Mountains to Sea Trail in Topsail Island. With plenty of rest stops, fishing locations, and other attractions, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.