Mountains-to-Sea/Shut-In Trail -- 4,120'

MST - Pisgah Inn to Bent Creek Gap

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 fourth in a series of five section hikes I was making, exploring the MST through the Pisgah Ranger District. Starting where I left off on my last hike, the Pisgah Inn at MP 408.6 on the Parkway, this near 10-mile stretch continues with the quiet nature of the section I completed previously from Cherry Cove Overlook.  There's far less wildness to enjoy along this section, however, as it for the most part holds close to the Blue Ridge Parkway along much of the way.  That's not necessarily such a bad thing though as numerous Parkway overlooks are passed offering up stunning views one might not otherwise be able to enjoy due to the ever-decreasing elevation.  This section may not be the flashiest of the four I had completed thus far but, as you'll see, I believe you'll agree with me that it still has a unique beauty all its own.

Starting from the Pisgah Inn parking lot the trek would begin across from the camp store beside a large sign depicting the trail system surrounding nearby Mount Pisgah.  The going starts with a steady climb as the Mountains-to-Sea Trail climbs the western slopes of Little Bald Mountain.  There's at least one nice viewpoint along this stretch before the trail begins a short descent passing the Pilot Rock Trail on the right at the 2/3-mile mark and the Laurel Mountain Trail, also on the right, soon thereafter at around 3/4-miles.  At one mile the trail passes a large grassy opening with a beautiful view south over the valley of Big Creek.  This is the former site of the Buck Spring Lodge, build by George Vanderbilt of the Biltmore Estate to serve as a hunting lodge for he and his guests.  Little but a small section of stone foundation remains today.  After the lodge site the trail quickly arrives at Buck Spring Gap, with similarly beautiful views as what was just seen.  Quickly passing through the parking area at the gap the MST quickly re-enters the woods to make a quick climb over a wooded knob separating the Buck Spring Gap Overlook from the smaller overlook at the far end of the Mount Pisgah Trailhead.  Here a rather dilapidated old sign informs you that you're now setting foot on the Shut-In Trail, which in a former life was the road George Vanderbilt constructed to connect the Biltmore Estate with the Buck Spring Lodge.  No need to get confused at the name change however, the MST is simply henceforth going to coincide with the Shut-In Trail.  Trail markers will still mostly refer to the trail as the MST and the blazes will all remain white.  Now following the MST/Shut-In Trail the route now begins one of the more significant climbs of the day up (nearly) over the summit of Little Pisgah Mountain.  At 5,285' Little Pisgah will mark the highest elevation reached along this hike.  Unfortunately, save for a couple small breaks in the trees, there's little in the way of views to enjoy for your effort as the peak is thickly wooded.  Beyond Little Pisgah the trail makes a rather steep descent before easing up a bit before reaching the beautiful forest populating the ridge near Candler Knob.  After topping Candler Knob there's another moderate descent to enjoy before the trail once again emerges at the Blue Ridge Parkway at Elk Pasture Gap, at about the three-mile mark of the hike.

Elk Pasture Gap marks where Highway NC-151 arrives at the Blue Ridge Parkway from the north.  The MST crosses the gap at an angle re-entering the forest on the south side of the Parkway alongside one of the MST marker stakes which should be familiar to you by now.  Over the course of the next 2.5-miles the trail stays south of the Parkway...first making a wide curve around Stony Bald, bumping up against it at the beautiful Mills River Valley Overlook, then curving out once again around another arm of the ridge before arriving at Glady Fork Gap and the Big Ridge Overlook.  This is a fairly easy portion of the hike as elevation gain is minimal and the trail remains smooth (for the most part) and easy to follow.  At Glady Fork Gap the MST returns to the north side of the Parkway, but only briefly, as it swings around another minor peak known as Shell Knob (Fork Mountain).  A half-mile from Glady Fork Gap it crosses the Parkway yet again, follows it closely for another rolling 3/4-mile, before arriving at the Stony Bald Overlook which offers incredible views back west of the Pisgah Ridge.  The trail crosses to the north side of the Parkway for good here and, after another undulating 8/10-mile arrives at Beaverdam Gap where the last good views of the day can be enjoyed.  There's only a little under  two miles of hiking yet to go at this point but there's one major obstacle yet to overcome...that of Ferrin Knob.  Departing Beaverdam Gap you'll be making one of the biggest climbs of the day as the trail ascends nearly 500-feet in the next 2/3-mile.  Don't expect a reward at the top either, Ferrin Knob is thickly wooded.  The only thing of interest at the summit are the concrete footings of a former fire tower which once stood there.  After Ferrin Knob it's pretty much all down hill for the final 1-1/4 miles.  After a brief, steep, descent from the summit the trail joins the route of the old road up to Buck Springs Lodge for a flat to gently descending walk all the way to Bent Creek Gap.  The end of the hike is located at the MST's crossing of Forest Service Road 479 just below where said road passes under the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Overall this is a very enjoyable hike.  Though the ever-present company of the Blue Ridge Parkway may be a turn-off for some, this piece of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail still involves enough natural diversity and scenic beauty to overcome that drawback in my humble opinion.  It's not an easy walk, so I can't recommend it for everyone unfortunately.  The nearly 10-mile length of the hike combined with the large elevation changes (only 1,150-feet gained but nearly twice that lost) would make this a bit punishing on those not accustomed to such treks.  With all that said I now invite you along with me on my section hike of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Pisgah Inn to Bent Creek Gap.  The MST rarely disappoints and this trip, as I think you'll see, is no exception.  As always...I hope you ENJOY!!


Pisgah Inn Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.403694, -82.753336

Bent Creek Gap Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.403694, -82.753336


Route Type:  Point-to-point        Difficulty:  VERY HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  11.80 )

Hike Length:  9.5 miles                Hike Duration:  4:15

Trailhead Temp:  55'F                  Trail Traffic:  5-10 people

Min. Elevation:  3,260'                  Max. Elevation:  5,285'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,150'            Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  121'


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


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