Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Crossing the Linville River

Starting with 424.1miles, 68,650 ft. ascent


Kistler Highway to Blue Blazed Trail on Wolf Pit Road

6.8 miles (round trip), 2,500 ft. ascent

With all our drama on our last MST trip, Sharon and I had not yet crossed the Linville River. There was a 3.3 mile section from Kistler Highway to the blue blazed trail which starts at Wolf Pit Rd. This small section was gnawing at me. I could see us getting further and further away from the mountains and thinking “I’ve got to do this small section.”

Well, it’s not gnawing at me anymore. Today, we met at the Forest Service Office for Pisgah National Forest Grandfather Mountain District to hike this section. In order to leave a car at the Forest Service station, Sharon had to give them a page full of information and impress on the clerks staffing the desk that we were only leaving the car there for the day. Her reply was “it’s  going to rain.”

When her coworker heard that we were going to walk the MST and cross the Linville River, she wrinkled her nose and said that “we’ll be walking on private property”. Neither statement was true. The weather was beautiful and the private property signs were on the side of the trail, not the trail itself. The people working for Pisgah Forest seems to discourage use of their resource. Those at the desk know little and they certainly have not explored the section of forest they’re supposed to advise visitors on. Today was no exception.

MST15-windypinnacleWe start on Kistler Highway and climb to Pinnacle Overlook, a wooden platform. It offers an exceptional view of Shortoff Mountain, Table Rock, Hawksbill and the Linville River. The river is a long, long way down there. Lake James is spread out below.

We had decided not to shuttle to Wolf Pit Rd. It would have taken at least two extra hours of driving – we wanted to hike instead. We start down the steep trail, knowing that we will have to go back up in a few hours. Acorns act like metal balls and at one point I slip and scrape my elbow. But the colors are outstanding. If this is not the peak of color, it’s darn close. The trail alternates between a wide trail and a forest road – down, down, down and a couple of ups to break up the monotony. The trail is well blazed.

Finally we reach the Linville River. I had worried about this crossing and lost sleep over it last night. But the river is shallow; it’s a muddy start but the water stays below my knees. Sharon and I trade cameras so we can take pictures of each other crossing the river. I even stand in the middle of the river taking scenery shots.MST15-middleoflinvilleriver

But the river crossing is not the end of the trail going east. We then need to climb up to reach the blue blazed trail. Once across the river, we see signs of the 2007 fire. The trail could use some serious maintenance. We see several blue blazes and declare that we’re ready to go back.

MST15-Chair on the banksOn the way back, we notice a large campsite on the river. We’re close to a forest road and it’s obvious that people drive here. The campsite has two chairs on the banks.


Here the trail skirts the tiny section of private land that we were warned about. Soon we start our serious climb – no diversion, no telling stories or jokes, no singing; we need all our breath for the climb.

MST15-confusing sign A sign on a tree says “Wolf Pit .2 Kistler Hwy 2.5 miles”. Another trail leads into the woods and we certainly don’t have the energy to chase it down. We keep climbing.


Somewhere on this climb, I realize that it’s a good thing that we came out today. Bear hunting season starts on Monday. Unlike popular parts of the Pisgah District, hunters may figure that no one really hikes in this section of the gorge.

Finally we’re back at the Pinnacle, a pile of rocks that gives us a 360 degree view. We climb and snap away. Three young people with a beautiful dog follow us and take our pictures.

It feels good to finally put the Linville Gorge map away. Lenny says that finishing Linville Gorge is like finishing the 100 miles of wilderness in Maine on the Appalachian Trail. We now know that we’ll finish the trail

Conquering Linville Gorge means that we probably finished the most difficult physical parts of the MST. But I emphasize physical; the logistical challenges are just starting.    

Cumulative after Day 37, 430.9 miles, 71,150 ft. ascent

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