Linville Gorge fr. Kistler Highway

MST - Dobson Knob to Pinnacle


Those thru-hikers about to pass through Linville Gorge deserve a bit of a breather first, and that is exactly what this section offers. After a brutal climb from US-221 up to Dobson Knob (see separate album) this 5+ mile stretch is relatively level by mountain standards and is a nice lull before the challenges of the gorge begin. This is also yet another section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail with a split personality, following both footpaths and roadways. It's not exactly the most scenic section but it goes quickly and, if you tack on the Pinnacle at the end, the scenery rating jumps exponentially. Easy walking and solitude...that's good stuff any way you slice it.

The section hike begins at the south end of Forest Service Road 106 near Dobson Knob. The MST arrives at the muddy turnaround here beyond a metal gate and a couple large campsites sit nearby. The first three miles of the hike simply follows dusty 106 along the undulating ridge extending north from Dobson. There's not much to see along this stretch as the road is surrounded by thick forest. In the winter, though, you may get a few tantalizing glimpses of surrounding peaks through the barren treetops. About halfway along this stretch you'll pass through another gate, which is occasionally closed making this section hike a bit more unwieldy and much longer. Just before reaching the junction with the Overmountain Victory Trail a large grassy clearing is passed by on the left. A gated two track just beyond is where the OVT arrives from the west. There's a couple interesting interpretive signs here as well, telling of the trails Revolutionary history. The OVT crosses Forest Service Road 106 here and the MST now turns sharply east, into the woods, following it.

The next mile-and-a-half of this section is once again along a traditional footpath. The Mountains-to-Sea and Overmountain Victory Trails coincide as they head in a southerly direction across the valley separating F.R. 106 and the Kistler Highway. After an initially steep drop, the trail soon crosses Yellow Fork (a rock hop at normal flow) and then begins a gradual climb. Every so often Dobson Knob can be seen through the trees but, other than that, pines and rhododendron remain the usual scenery. As the trail nears the Kistler Highway it steepens a bit...the sharpest climb of the day, though that's not saying much. One last steep switchback and the trail pops out on the Kistler. Turning north, there's now another 3/4-mile of road walking to do before reaching the north junction of the Kistler and the MST. This likely will be the least enjoyable part of the hike as the road is a fairly busy one and the dust rarely settles if it’s been dry. Most of the way is a gradual ascent and unremarkable. The one exception is a small pull-off, just before the north MST junction, where a stunning view to the south can be enjoyed. The MST once again leaves the Kistler at a small parking area where it turns east to begin its traverse of Linville Gorge.

You could end this MST section hike here but I'd advise against it and walk the additional quarter-mile out to one of the most stunning overlooks at Linville Gorge...a high rock outcrop simply known as 'Pinnacle'. The sandy path gradually leads up along a narrow ridge before circling to the south of the open crags above. There are stunning views to the south and east directly from the trail...particularly of nearby Shortoff Mountain...but the finest views can be had with a short scramble to the open rocks above. At the summit one can enjoy vistas towards all points on the compass. Lake James can be seen to the south, Shortoff Mountain rises 1,500' from the Linville River to the east, the heart of the Gorge is to the north while in the west rise the distant and dark peaks of the Black Mountain Range. For the effort, I don't know that a better viewpoint exists at Linville Gorge. After Pinnacle's grand finale, return back to the Kistler and the end of this section hike.

This is definitely not the most exciting section of the MST in the North Carolina Mountains (with the exception of Pinnacle, of course). It's easy though and, with the incredibly challenging segments which adjoin it to the east and west, it is a welcome respite from tiring mountain terrain. Next up...Linville Gorge itself...and some of the most rugged hiking along the entire Mountains-to-Sea Trail...


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.813562, -81.980456 (Dobson Knob/F.R. 106 Trailhead)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.822263, -81.930456 (M.S.T./Kistler Hwy North Junction)


Section Length:  5.6 miles

Difficulty:  CHALLENGING (Petzoldt Rating: 6.60 )

Min. Elevation:  2,400' (Yellow Fork)

Max. Elevation:  3,250' (Dobson Knob Trailhead)

Total Vertical Gain:  500' (eastbound)

Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  89' (eastbound)