Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Wilson Creek Day 1

Starting with 355.6 miles, 54,950 ft. ascent

MST11-Crotch crossing 

NC 181 to Fr-464

14.3 miles, 2,000 ft. ascent

It feels so good to hike a defined section in one shot. Sharon and I just finished the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Wilson Creek – about 24 miles in two days. To be most efficient, we probably should have backpacked it but this project is not just about efficiency. After all, if we wanted to get to the North Carolina coast efficiently and quickly, we could just fly. It’s about seeing back roads, small stores and meeting North Carolinians and we sure did this.

My destination on Tuesday is Mortimer Campground in Wilson Creek off NC 90. To do that, I drive to Morganton and then north on Brown Mountain Beach Road. I understand the Brown Mountain part – people have seen mysterious, magical lights off Brown Mountain for decades. But what’s with the beach? We’re hours away from a beach.

I stop at Wilson Creek Outfitters on Brown Mountain Beach Road because they’re advertising ice cream. Though I haven’t done much exercise today, I’m thinking ahead. Joe, the owner, explains that there’s a natural beach on Wilson Creek in back of his property. The area was a swimming hole, picnic area and general family fun place until the past owner sold the land to developers. Now they’re going to build environmentally friendly cabins to summer people. Joe buys two copies of Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage and gives me a free ice cream bar. It was a good stop.

The road turns to gravel right after the store. The Creek, on the left, has many pull-outs and steps down to the water. Wilson Creek has been protected as a Wild and Scenic River since Aug. 18, 2000. The river flows from Grandfather Mountain for 23.3 miles to Johns River. The area is not a wilderness but seems more remote and isolated than Linville Gorge.

By the time I drive past Wilson Creek Visitor Center, the building is closed. But a sign puzzles me. No NADAR – on a sign at Wilson Creek Visitor Center. Any idea what that is?

MST12-WilsonCreek boiler roomJust before I get to the campground, I pass a large ruin of a boiler house. It’s the remains of the logging industry in this area. Mortimer was a logging camp, then a CCC camp. The white building outside the campground dates back from the CCC days.

MST12-Cascades Day 1The trail from NC 181 to FR 464 (Hunt Fish Falls) is a combination of trails and old roads. Scot’s MST book warned us of many creek crossings and we count 21 – any crossing where water is flowing was counted as a crossing. But ten of them are serious water fords – even Sharon gets her feet wet today. One is a crotch crossing for me – see the picture above. The trail crisscrosses Harper Creek and climbs on rocks. Harper Creek Falls is the highlight.

The area is lush with pines, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and sourwoods that have already turned red.

MST12 - sourwoods What is also interesting is what we don’t see – no hemlocks, one small patch of poison ivy and galax only at the end of our 14 miles. Summer flowers hang on – cardinal flowers, jewelweed, cone flowers – and autumn asters line the trail.

We meet only one person, Bob from Fort Bragg who’s camping and taking day trips from his base camp. If you want solitude, Wilson Creek is it.

Cumulative after day 31, 369.9 miles, 56,950 ft. ascent



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