Mountains-to-Sea Trail (French Broad River to BRP Visitor Center) Hike Route Map

MST - French Broad River to Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center

Upon reaching the French Broad River the eastbound Mountains-to-Sea Trail has thus-far traversed over 130-miles of some of the most remote, rugged, and lofty terrain along its entire length. That all changes at the French Broad, however, as the MST now needs to find a way across the highways and through the neighborhoods of suburban Asheville. As a result, the next 15-miles (just over 11 of which are included in this album) take on the feel and form of a suburban walkway rather than a mountain footpath. Solitude is fleeting, the sounds of traffic are ever-present, and views are non-existent…which certainly makes this a less-desirable segment of the MST. However, this is still the mountains, so forests and creeks and hills still abound helping an otherwise unremarkable stretch of trail to be much more tolerable.

This section hike starts off along the Blue Ridge Parkway where the MST reaches the west end of the long bridge over the French Broad River. The views of the wide river are beautiful from the bridge, perhaps some of the nicest natural scenery you’ll see along this entire section. After crossing the bridge the trail departs the south side of the Parkway into the woods and begins a mile-and-a-half undulating journey through a mixed forest of pine and hardwoods. This will become standard fare for the hike. The trail crosses to the north side of the Parkway briefly before, a short distance later, returning to it at the towering bridge which you’ll now need to cross to get past Interstate 26. As of this writing a widening project was underway along the Interstate and preparations for the replacement of the Parkway bridge were just getting underway. This means that within a few years the route of the MST along this stretch will be a tad different as on my visit I had to follow detours around the construction zone. After crossing I-26 the MST re-enters the forest on the south side of the Parkway.

The route now begins a gradual descent towards Dingle Creek, which the trail crosses via a sturdy wooden footbridge. Continuing east the trail continues to roughly parallel the south side of the Parkway, threading a narrow stretch of woodland between the road and fenced private property which runs adjacent. One mile eastbound from Dingle Creek the trail makes a crossing of gravel Fish Pond Road (no access), then resumes its meandering route through the woods for another half-mile before reaching another sturdy footbridge…this one over tiny Four Mile Branch. By this point you can tell the trail is heavily used. Fortunately, it looks to be well-maintained as well with numerous erosion berms and stabilizing logs. Another half-mile past Four Mile Branch the trail once again joins the Parkway, this time to follow it over Highway U.S. 25. As with all the other Parkway bridges on this hike, a raised concrete shoulder provides a measure of safety from passing vehicles.

The next ¾-mile is more of the same. The MST stays to the north of the Parkway now, joining it briefly to pass over an active railway cut before entering the woods a short time longer and then utilizing it again to cross Sweeten Creek Road via another bridge. Beyond Sweeten Creek Road the trail embarks on its longest stretch without crossing a roadway. Over the next 4-ish miles the trail stays comfortably distant from the Parkway, following the side of the ridge to its north. Once again there’s not much to see along this stretch, though passing through the deep ravine containing Sweeten Creek is mildly interesting as is a small power line cut, near the segments north end, which allows for a brief view of some neighboring hills. Other than that it’s a twisting, undulating walk in the woods. The final major road crossing is reached with just a mile left in the hike, where the MST once again uses a Parkway bridge to cross Highway U.S. 74. At the far end of the crossing the MST joins the Visitor Center Loop Trail to the south side of the road. You can take the loop off the north side to reach the visitor center quicker but, to follow the route of the MST drop south. This will be, by far, the busiest stretch of trail walked along the route. The trail is wide and winding as it continues paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. At a Y-intersection 6/10-mile after joining the loop the Mountains-to-Sea Trail breaks right to continue its journey east. Head straight-left to continue along the Visitor Center Loop, passing through a cool tunnel under the Parkway, to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center Parking Lot in just under a half-mile. Segment complete.

This is probably the least-desirable segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the mountain region. For all the reasons I listed at the beginning of this intro…busyness, noise, roads…it’s not a great experience on the whole. There’s plenty of bits that could provide short, relaxing strolls but in its entirety this is a hike I am all but certain I won’t repeat. That said it’s still my pleasure to invite you along on another of my MST section hikes, from the French Broad River to the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. It’s not one of my most exciting but, as always, I still hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.499631, -82.593306  (French Broad River Bridge)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.565011, -82.487696  (Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center)

Section Length:  11.6 miles                

Difficulty:  EXTREME (Petzoldt Rating:  13.40 )

Min. Elevation:  2,080'  (French Broad River)                 

Max. Elevation:  2,470'  (near Sweeten Creek)

Total Vertical Gain:  900'  (Eastbound)         

Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  78'  (Eastbound)

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