Segment 1B: Peak to Peak
Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob: River Valley Route
- Alternate Route: Segment 1A: Great Smoky Mountains
Distance: 49.5 miles (24.3 on roads; 25.2 on trail)
Easy on-road sections to strenuous on trail
Trail Communities: Dillsboro, Sylva
Check Trail Updates before starting your hike.
By Kate Dixon and Jim Grode
From the temperate rainforest of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) to working farmland and small towns, from broad flat rivers to steep mountain streams, this 49.5-mile segment captures the variety of western North Carolina. It follows trails in GSMNP for approximately 19 miles before leaving the park at the Deep Creek campground near Bryson City. (Stop at GSMNP Visitor Center and pick up a Great Smoky Mountains Trail Map for $1.00. Note that this alternate route differs from the MST depicted on the map.) Leaving the park, the route follows backroads along the Tuckaseegee River where Swain and Jackson Counties plan to build a greenway.
The trail then leads hikers through the small mountain towns of Dillsboro and Sylva and onward to the trail system in Sylva’s Pinnacle Park to reach Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) near Milepost 450.
Many maps, including the Great Smoky Mountains map and National Geographic map #229, show a different route for the MST than the one detailed in this guide. The “ultimate” route for the MST is under discussion, and this route and the alternate “Great Smoky Mountains” route are ways that you can use to complete Segment 1 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail now.
This route is approximately 20 miles shorter than the “Great Smoky Mountains” route, with less elevation change and easy resupply. The most challenging parts of the hike are very steep climbs and descents at the beginning and end of the segment. Overall elevation gain on this segment is estimated at 9,396 feet and elevation loss at 9,851 feet.
- The observation tower atop Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet the highest point in GSMNP, where you can see seven states on a clear day (although, sadly, pollution often limits visibility to 20 miles or less)
- The deep forests of GSMNP, one of the most biodiverse places in the world, with more tree species than all of Europe
- The tumbling waters of Deep Creek, a favorite spot for tubers on hot summer days
- Campsite #57, Horace Kephart’s last camp, and the historic millstone put up in his memory
- The broad but shallow Tuckaseegee River, where the train-wreck scene from the 1993 movie The Fugitive
- The galleries and artisan shops of downtown Dillsboro
- Downtown Sylva, presided over by the dome of the historic Jackson County courthouse, now repurposed as a library
- The 1.4-mile side hike to the Pinnacle, in Sylva’s Pinnacle Park, with spectacular views of Sylva, the Scott Creek valley, and the surrounding mountains
Segment 1B Eastbound Elevation Profile