The Mountain to Sea Trail in the Greater Topsail Island Area

From the mountains of western North Carolina to Topsail Island and the coastal beaches of the Outer Banks, the Mountain to Sea Trail (MST) offers an incredible experience for you to explore our amazing state. We are fortunate in the Topsail and mainland area to be able to enjoy a 90-mile segment of the trail that will take you through wooded areas, parks, lakes, and, of course, along our beautiful North Carolina beaches on the Atlantic Ocean!

The Mountain to Sea Trail and the Onslow Bight

by Pat Fontana

Known as Segment 15, the portion of the MST trail that passes through our area runs for 90.6 miles of the total 1,175-mile-long trail. Described as “family friendly,” the trail will take you through the Onslow Bight, formed where the coast makes a shallow bend or “bight” between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. With its barrier islands, marshes, riverine wetlands, pocosins, and longleaf pine savannas, the Onslow Bight is considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the United States.

The highlights of the MST section that runs through Surf City, North Topsail Beach, Sneads Ferry, and Jacksonville include:

  • The beautiful beaches of Topsail Island, including Surf City and North Topsail Beach
  • Several public parks
  • The Karen Beasley Turtle Hospital, where our treasured turtles enjoy rest and rehabilitation
  • Nineteen miles of forest road through the 64,743-acre Holly Shelter Game Land, where you will see vast expanses of pocosin as well as savannas of lush grasses and native plants flourishing under towering longleaf pines
  • An eight-mile beach walk on Topsail Island that passes:
    • Two of seven concrete observation towers built by the US Navy in World War II for Operation Bumblebee, a secret guided-missile testing program that operated on Topsail Island from 1946-8
    • The Ocean City community in North Topsail Beach, founded in 1949 as one of the first family-oriented beaches for African Americans who at the time could not usually purchase beachfront property
  • The Onslow County Environmental Education Center’s “Discover Onslow” exhibit, a great way to learn about the ecology, flora, and fauna of the Onslow Bight
  • Stones Creek Game Land, nestled in Camp Lejeune, which provides a scenic walk past lakes and pine woods
  • The Lejeune Memorial Gardens, with moving tributes to our nation’s servicemen and women.
Photo from Trails.NC.Gov

The trails through Holly Shelter and Stones Creek Game Lands are marked with the MST blaze, a 3-inch white circular marker. There are also signs at certain places in Stones Creek Game Land.

Road portions of this segment are marked with blazes and signs. Blazes are on the left shoulder of the road in the direction of travel, and signs are on the right side. Note that signs are often a target of theft and vandalism and should not be relied upon exclusively for wayfinding.

Some fun facts about the MST:

  • The trail was proposed in 1977 and added to the state park system in 2000
  • The MST is North Carolina’s state trail and longest marked footpath
  • It takes approximately 2,112,000 footsteps to complete
  • The trail climbs both the tallest mountain peak and the highest sand dune in the Eastern United States
  • Highest elevation: 6,684 feet — on Mt. Mitchell
  • Lowest elevation: sea level — Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • The MST passes through four national parks and two national wildlife refuges
  • It connects to ten state parks and meanders through three national forests
  • The trail passes three lighthouses, including the nation’s tallest.

You will also enjoy some non-human company along your trek. Deer, bear, turkey, fox, rabbit, raccoon, and squirrel are prominent as are quail, dove and waterfowl, along with pine savannah, venus fly trap, and maritime forest. Along the water, you might see fiddler crab, sandpiper, osprey, sea turtle, dolphin, and pelicans.

It’s always a good idea to check for trail updates before you head out. Enjoy the natural beauty of Topsail and the mainland in a unique way on Section 15 of the Mountain to Sea Trail!

Learn more about the MTS Trail by visiting The Friends of MTS online at https://mountainstoseatrail.org/

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