Four Long-Distance Trails in The Great Trails State

Exploring North Carolina’s Long-Distance Trails…

North Carolina boasts a diverse landscape, from the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to the shores of the Outer Banks. Among its natural wonders are its long-distance trails, offering adventurers a chance to immerse themselves in the state’s beauty while traversing longer distances than the more typical day hike lends itself too.

Long-distance trails stand in a category of their own. While plenty of sections of the trails can be explored in a day, they oftentimes take several days or longer to complete in their entirety. These trails can range from tens to thousands of miles and span multiple counties, regions, and land management areas. There are often dedicated shelters or campsites for sleeping, planned resupply points, and water sources along the way. You can find entire guidebooks and websites dedicated to specific trails and plenty of stories from those who have traversed the trail before you. They also oftentimes have organizations that work with the various land managers to steward and maintain the trail to ensure it stays safe and passable for all.

Here are a few of several of North Carolina’s remarkable long-distance trails worth checking out, whether you do the entire trail or just a section.

A trail sign of the MST

The Mountains to Sea Trail spans the entire Great Trails State – Photo by The Backslope

1. Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST)

Spanning an impressive 1,175 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a testament to the state’s natural diversity. Envisioned as a connector of the state’s natural and cultural heritage, this trail meanders through national parks, state forests, charming towns, and historic sites, providing an immersive opportunity to experience the unique character of North Carolina.

One of the highlights of the MST is its accessibility, with numerous access points and trailheads scattered throughout the state. Whether embarking on a day hike or a multi-week adventure, hikers can tailor their experience to suit their preferences and abilities. From challenging mountain ascents to leisurely strolls by the riverside, the MST offers something for everyone, beckoning outdoor enthusiasts to explore the wonders of North Carolina’s wilderness.

Learn more about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the organization that builds, maintains, and advocates for this 1,000+ mile trail HERE

A photo of a trail through the mountains

Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands – Photo by Brianna Haferman

2. Appalachian Trail (AT)

No discussion of long-distance trails in North Carolina would be complete without mentioning the iconic Appalachian Trail. Stretching over 2,000 miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine, the AT traverses approximately 96 miles of the breathtaking Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, offering hikers a challenging yet rewarding adventure.

Beginning at the southern terminus in Springer Mountain, Georgia, the Appalachian Trail enters North Carolina near the quaint town of Hiawassee. As it winds its way northward, it traverses some of the most rugged and scenic terrain in the eastern United States, including iconic landmarks such as Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies, and Roan Mountain, famous for its stunning rhododendron blooms.

Learn more about The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and get involved HERE

Art Loeb Trail sign

The Art Loeb Trail starts in Pisgah Forest and ends on the other side of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Canton – Photo by The Backslope

3. Art Loeb Trail

Nestled in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest, the Art Loeb Trail is a hidden gem that stretches approximately 30 miles from the Davidson River Campground to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp, offering a rugged and remote wilderness experience. Named after the late Art Loeb, a renowned conservationist and outdoor enthusiast, the trail traverses through some of the most scenic landscapes in western North Carolina.

What sets the Art Loeb Trail apart is its challenging terrain and panoramic views. Hikers navigate steep ascents, rocky ridgelines, and dense forests as they make their way across the rugged terrain. Along the way, they are rewarded with sweeping vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, cascading waterfalls, and pristine alpine meadows. For those seeking solitude and adventure, the Art Loeb Trail offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in the untamed beauty of North Carolina’s wilderness.

The Carolina Mountain Club is one of the main organizations who maintain the Art Loeb. Learn more about volunteer opportunities with the CMC HERE

An areal view of the American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail provides miles of smooth and relatively flat terrain – GTSC Photo

4. American Tobacco Trail

North Carolina is also home to the American Tobacco Trail (ATT), which connects with the Neuse River Greenway, forming a network of off-road trails spanning approximately 60 miles in the Research Triangle Park area. The American Tobacco Trail, a former railroad corridor converted into a multi-use recreational path, offers a serene journey through diverse landscapes, including woodlands, wetlands, and open fields.

The trail’s historical significance adds another layer of interest for visitors, as it follows the route of the former Norfolk Southern Railroad’s New Hope Valley line. Along the way, hikers and cyclists can spot remnants of the railroad’s past, such as trestles, bridges, and old rail beds, providing glimpses into the region’s industrial history.

Learn more about the American Tobacco Trail and the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy HERE

North Carolina’s long-distance trails provide opportunities for adventure and exploration, inviting hikers to discover the state’s natural heritage. Whether trekking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, conquering the Appalachian Trail, or traversing the Art Loeb Trail, each journey celebrates the beauty of the outdoors. As we embark on these adventures, let us cherish the memories and embrace the discoveries awaiting us in the wilderness.