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Topsail Island and The Mountains-to-Sea​ Trail

What is your perfect Rx for rest and relaxation? Is it vacationing on Topsail Island and strolling along its sun-drenched shore? Maybe it’s finding the perfect spot on the sand to plop down a beach chair and enjoy a good book. Unwind. Clear the cobwebs out of the mind.  Some enjoy toasting the sunset with friends and family and sharing a wonderful seafood dinner at a fine restaurant.

Others of you though, may be a bit more adventurous and find that hiking a part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail – that just so happens to include Topsail Island and surrounding areas, is just the prescription the doctor ordered to put you “smack dab in the middle” of your happy place!

If you’ve never heard of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, this information may inspire you to get a good pair of hiking boots, buy yourself a backpack and hit the trail! The good news for beach lovers though, is that part of the trail comes to our back door!

The Mountains-to Sea-Trail (MST) was envisioned years ago by hikers in North Carolina who wanted a trail that extended from the mountains to the sea. Today, much of the dream has become a reality. Beginning in the Great Smoky Mountains at Clingman’s Dome, the MST is a trail made up of simple footpaths and asphalt backroads.

The trail leads up through the North Carolina mountains and down into the foothills and Piedmont regions of central North Carolina. It then enters the coastal plains section, eventually taking the hiker through Pender County and the Holly Shelter Game Land.

This part of the MST is nearby Topsail Island and follows 19 miles of forest roads through longleaf pine savannas and pocosins.  Research shows that Holly Shelter Game Land is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the United States. It’s common to see many types of wildlife and all sorts of plant life, including rare carnivorous plants like the Venus Flytrap.  

Going east, the trail takes you into Surf City, where this section of the MST is very family friendly. If you have the time, it would be a great idea to visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. It’s only about a half a mile off the trail. As its name suggests, this is a sea turtle hospital. The sick and injured sea turtles are treated and restored to good health. After healing from their wounds and diseases, they’re released back into their natural sea environment. Adults and children alike love sea turtles and this excursion off the MST is fun and educational. Find more information about the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center @

By following the MST markers, you will continue east across the Intracoastal Waterway by way of the new Surf City Bridge. Opened in December of 2019, the bridge spans the Intracoastal Waterway connecting the mainland with Topsail Island.  Rising sixty-five feet above the water, the bridge allows boats and ships to pass through the waterway without interfering with the traffic on and off the island. The Surf City bridge is 3,800 feet long (your fitbit will love you ) and has a ten foot multi-use path, accommodating pedestrians and a seven and a half foot bicycle lane. The multi-use path is protected by a concrete barrier separating it from passing vehicles. It’s perfectly safe!

Walking the bridge is the best way to experience the beauty of Topsail Island. The views of the island, sound, marshes, and the ocean are spectacular. Bring your camera. You’re going to want to take pictures. Plus, it gives you bragging rights and proof that you actually made it to the summit of the bridge. If you’d just like to walk the bridge, park your car at Soundside Park in Surf City and begin your journey. The boardwalk will put you in the direction of the bridge.

After crossing the Surf City Bridge, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail meets the ocean and Topsail Island. Another interesting excursion a few miles south of the trail is a visit to the Missiles and More Museum in Topsail Beach. This museum is housed in the old Assembly Building that was built in 1946 and used by the government as the Navy’s secret guided missile testing program (Operation Bumblebee) conducted on Topsail Island. It’s been said that the missile program was the forerunner of the Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral.

The museum also has information about other military happenings on the island such as the women who trained on Topsail Island as Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Find out about the odd airplanes (or are they helicopters) that fly over Topsail Island. Hint: Osprey are not only seabirds! Learn why there are funny looking white, square towers dotting the island. Missiles and More Museum also entertains your imagination about the history of pirates on Topsail Island. Yes, Blackbeard the pirate was definitely “a player” in our history and there is still the potential of buried treasure waiting to be discovered. There is more information on the Missiles and More Museum @

The MST follows Topsail Island’s coastline for eight miles and then heads northward towards Sneads Ferry and Jacksonville. In Sneads Ferry, be sure and check out the “Discover Onslow” exhibit at the Sneads Ferry Public Library. This part of the library is like a natural history museum. In the middle of the room is a wonderful display of natural flora and fauna. By walking from wall to wall, one can see more information on the digital “Naturalist’s Notebook.” Outside, there is a wetlands boardwalk, complete with benches for those who just want to sit and enjoy the outdoors. For more information on the Discover Onslow exhibit, find it @

As you continue on a northeast route,  the Mountains-to-Sea leads to Jockey’s Ridge, the highest sand dune on the Outer Banks. The entire MST spans almost 1,200 miles across our beautiful state, allowing those who travel along its pathway to see a diversity of beauty that will fill you with awestruck wonder!

For all of you locals and vacationers that seek adventure, try hiking the part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that is right at our backdoor. You might enjoy it so much you’ll discover you have a new hobby!

Find more information out about the MST @

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