Carter Falls (Upper) -- 1,010'

MST - Traphill Ridge Road to Carter Falls


After over 350-miles, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail departs the mountain region and officially breaks out into North Carolina’s Piedmont. This is also, as of this writing, the segment where the relative continuity of the trail as a footpath comes to an abrupt end. The abundance of public land in the mountain region means that, west of this segment, road walks are far more an exception than a rule. Here, as the MST emerges into a new region mostly dominated by private land, roads frequently provide the only right-of-ways currently available for the trail to follow. The ultimate goal is, of course, to eventually move the entirety of the MST off-road…that’s a future that’s a long ways off at this point, however. Therefore, in my pursuit of section hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, albums like this one will become more and more frequent as I move east.

This section “hike” is almost entirely routed along the winding backroads of rural Wilkes County. Starting where it emerges onto Traphill Ridge Road the MST, for the better part of fifteen miles to Carter Falls, only spends a mile-and-a-half following established trail. Because of this I decided not to hike this section, but to bike it…with the exception of the aforementioned trail segment…the lack of scenery allowing for faster progress and more mileage. The first stretch of road, mostly paved, lasts for about 6.5-miles. I won’t explain all the intersections and turns here but have rather decided to denote them as captions throughout the album. The scenery is of rolling farm country, completely rural, with occasional views across open fields to the nearby Blue Ridge. The 1.5-mile trail portion of this section begins at the northern trailhead for Wells Knob, a small monadnock which the Elkin Valley Trails Association maintains a multi-use route over top of. Starting with a short walk along a private drive the trail soon veers into the woods along the steep banks above Elkin Creek. Soon thereafter the trail begins to climb, getting ever steeper as it goes. After a mile of walking the first in a series of steep switchbacks is reached, which assist with the remaining 300-vertical feet of climbing (in only ¼-mile). The trail tops out on Wells Knob just south of the actual summit, with only limited views available through the treetops when the leaves are down. Passing the summit the trail now descends steeply for a brief time, then curves along the crest of the ridge before emerging from the woods at a metal gate marking the upper end of Wells Knob Road.

With the trail portion of the segment complete there’s now another 6.5-miles of road to travel before reaching the end of the days trip at Carter Falls. The hike down Wells Knob Road is steep, at which point the scenery and terrain return to the rolling, bucolic farmscape from earlier. Again, for turn-by-turn directions (w/ mileages) scroll through the album. The Carter Falls Trailhead sets alongside Pleasant Ridge Road directly across from its intersection with Martin Byrd Road, which the MST turns onto to continue east. Though this spot is technically where this section hike ends, I’d highly recommend adding the one mile loop down to see Carter Falls itself before heading home. The Trail gets a bit steep down towards the creek but it’s suitable for just about anyone and offers prettier scenery than at any other spot in the previous 15-miles. The upper falls is particularly pretty, with Elkin Creek fanning out over a washboarded rock face between high cliffs. It’s a great reward for a day on the road.


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  36.351837, -81.011292 (MST @ Traphill Ridge Road)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  36.288997, -80.880069 (Carter Falls Trailhead)


Section Length:  15.7 miles

Difficulty:  EXTREME (Petzoldt Rating: 17.60 )

Min. Elevation:  1,000' (Elkin Creek @ Lower Carter Falls)

Max. Elevation:  1,840' (Wells Knob)

Total Vertical Gain:  1,300' (eastbound)

Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  83' (eastbound)