MST - Cherry Cove Overlook to Pisgah Inn Hike Route Map

MST - Cherry Cove Overlook to Pisgah Inn

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is North Carolina’s premier long-distance hiking trail. Stretching 1,175 miles from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. Lovingly known by its abbreviated name, the MST, the footpath crosses the Pisgah Ranger District along roughly the same route as the Blue Ridge Parkway. It enters the District from the west at Haywood Gap on the Parkway and departs it, around 50 trail-miles later, at NC-191 by the French Broad River south of Asheville. This hike was the third in a series of five section hikes exploring the MST through the Pisgah Ranger District. Starting where I left off on my last hike, the Cherry Cove Overlook at MP 415.7 on the Parkway, this 10-mile stretch is quite likely the quietest section of the MST within the District. The westernmost portion of this hike closely follows the Parkway itself but, due to any major natural attractions along it, garners almost no attention from the throngs of visitors who drive unknowingly right alongside it. The easternmost two-thirds of this section is quiet for another reason…it’s remote. Along the 6-plus miles of trail between the MST’s crossing of US-276 and the Pisgah Inn there are only two minor trail junctions and NO roads to cross. It’s just a meandering journey through unbroken forest along the southern face of the Pisgah Ridge. To some, the lack of any major views or waterfalls might be a turn off when considering a hike along this stretch of the MST. I’d highly discourage those thoughts, however. This a pristine stretch of trail…easy to follow and providing access to an all but unseen corner of Pisgah National Forest where the forest itself is the attraction. If you love solitude as I do, this will be a section of trail I guarantee you’ll enjoy.

As mentioned this is a section hike so, as a reminder, you’ll need a partner or someone to taxi you to make it work. The start is at the aforementioned Cherry Cove Overlook at MP 415.7 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The first thing you’ll notice (or rather, won’t notice) is exactly where to pick up the MST heading east. Facing the Parkway, look down the road to the right and you’ll spot a small grassy area a short distance away on the opposite side of the lawn. Head there and the MST eastbound will be easy to spot as it dives into the woods. The first three miles of the hike never strays far from the Parkway. The trail remains distant enough that it doesn’t feel like a roadside walk but the sound of traffic is rarely far off. The MST makes three crossings of the Parkway along this stretch as well…at an unnamed gap at 6/10-mile, then Bennett Gap at 1-mile, and finally at Pigeon Gap at 3-miles. This stretch is generally along rolling ridge tops with minor gains and losses in elevation. One exception, however is the ascent and subsequent descent of Green Knob between Bennett and Pigeon Gaps. The upside of the effort required to cross Green Knob is the reward of an unexpectedly scenic viewpoint from just east of its summit. You should take it in though, it will be the last serious view until the end of the hike. The descent to the Parkway from Green Knob is the steepest of the day, and the moderate descent continues after Pigeon Gap as the trail drops to cross US-276 1/3-mile later. If you’re sick of seeing roads by this point, don’t despair…this will be the last pavement you’ll see until the end of the hike.

Your surroundings become decidedly wilder as you continue east on the MST from the crossing of US-276. You’ll also still be losing elevation at a steady rate. You’ll also begin the repetitive routine of passing through narrow drainages, rounding minor ridges, entering back into another drainages, then another ridge, and on and on. It’s also quickly apparent you won’t be sharing the trail with many folks. The trail is easy to follow, mind you, but the footpath has a narrow appearance that tells of relatively little foot traffic. A mile-and-a-half past 276 the first of two trail junctions (in quick succession) are reached. Alongside a tiny tributary of Barnett Branch the Buck Spring Trail joins in from the west. In fact, for the remainder of the hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the Buck Spring Trail share the same route. If you’re pursuing the Pisgah 400, as I was, that means you’re logging two trails at once from here on out! Perhaps 2/10-mile after the Buck Spring junction the MST passes the upper end of the Barnett Branch Trail also. Beyond this junction the real wild part of the hike begins. Between the Barnett Branch Trail and the Pisgah Inn you won’t cross any paths or roads…it’s just one long unbroken walk through thick southern Appalachian forest which means there’s not much to mark your progress as a result. If you’ve packed a good map (which you ALWAYS should!) you can trace your way along the ridge as you pass in and out of the numerous drainage’s along the way. There’s at least seven major ones, a majority of which should contain pretty little streams during periods of at least normal rainfall. Unfortunately, when I went, we were in the middle of an extended dry spell so I wasn’t able to enjoy as much water as one might otherwise. As mentioned earlier there are no views to be had but there is a decent variety of environments to see…from thick rhodo and laurel tunnels to mature cove forests…which keeps things somewhat interesting. The solitude is the best part about this part of the hike though. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll have this piece of the forest all to yourself most of the way. The grade as you wind your way along the ridge stays pretty easy until you approach the end of the hike. The final 1.5-miles involves an 800-foot vertical climb to reach the crest of the ridge at the Pisgah Inn. Your reward at the end though is spectacular. Grab yourself one of the Adirondack rockers out front of the inn and enjoy the sweeping panorama of forested mountains stretching out before you to the southern horizon.

Overall this was a very enjoyable hike and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, particularly the section of it between US-276 and the Pisgah Inn. Admittedly there isn’t a whole lot to see but, as I’ve said a couple times already, the solitude of the deep forest is the main attraction with this one…if that’s something you can appreciate this trek will be a fantastic experience. That all said, bring a good map and plenty of water and you’ll be all set. So, without further ado I present a section hike of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Cherry Cove Overlook to Pisgah Inn. As always…ENJOY!!

Cherry Cove Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.335990, -82.815101

Pisgah Inn Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.403694, -82.753336

Route Type:  Point-to-point        Difficulty:  EXTREME  (Petzoldt Rating:  14.60 )

Hike Length:  10.3 miles               Hike Duration:  4:30

Trailhead Temp:  65'F                  Trail Traffic:  1-5 people

Min. Elevation:  3,780'                   Max. Elevation:  5,056'

Total Vertical Gain:  2,150'            Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  209'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Mountains-to-Sea Trail (white)

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