Thursday, February 15, 2018

Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Stones Creek Game Land - the Six-Lake tour

Five years ago this week I first scouted this little gem of public land near where I lived.  My purpose was to try to get it approved as part of a planned major 500+ mile reroute of the Mountains-to-Sea-Trail. 

I fell in love with it. It just *had* to be part of the trail.

I returned for a more comprehensive scouting trip that fall and documented a route much like the one that is now officially open.  On November 14, 2013 I met Executive Director Kate Dixon and then Board President Jerry Barker of Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail and showed them Stones Creek.

I guess they liked it too.  The board approved it as part of the provisional new route, which was then called the Coastal Crescent Route, within a month or two. 

Four years ago today, on February 15, 2014, I started at the eastern Terminus of the trail, at Jockey's Ridge State Park on North Carolina's Outer Banks, and embarked on an end-to-end hike of this brand new trail.  I was the first to hike this 500+  mile route, finishing it on April 24th at Falls Lake Dam north of Raleigh where the new route rejoins the old established trail. 

Firsts are rare.  In keeping with my new "Life and Legacy" theme, I think this is one of my more memorable accomplishments.

Last year the NC State Legislature finally put its stamp of approval on the Coastal Crescent Route; and now it is an official part of what is far-and-away the most ecologically diverse State Trail in the United States.

Besides the hundred-foot high shifting sand dunes of Jockey's Ridge, the trail features high elevation sub-alpine forests with nearly arctic climate where the trail starts at Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

It passes through one of the most peculiar geological oddities in the world, the so-called Carolina Bays--elliptical lakes and basins of many sizes, all oriented in precisely the same direction.  It passes habitat of rare carnivorous plants including Venus Fly Trap, which can be found in this tract of Stones Creek Game Land along with loads of other rare species (see The Wayfarer's comment below and check his amazing blog).  Here are some mini-venus fly traps with more abundant carnivorous sundews.

And by the time the trail reaches the Atlantic coast at Surf City, NC, the climate is sub-tropical and the trail is lined with Palm Trees.

I can't stress enough what a bold, visionary move it was for Kate and the Friends-of-the-Mountains-to-Sea Trail to undertake this complete reroute of nearly half their trail!  It's unprecedented.  I can hardly imagine the hours of work it has taken.  But Kate has been tireless, enthusiastic, always up to the task, even relishing it.  The part I played pales by comparison; but I sure was glad to have Stones Creek included in the final product.

So, back to today's hike.  Though it's only Mid-February, that's typically the time for signs of spring to begin appearing here in coastal sub-tropical North Carolina.  The red maple trees are in full bloom.

The first of the Carolina Jessamine, this a ground hugging sprig of the normally climbing vine, was ready to burst into bloom.

It was a cool, comfortable day--start of hiking season here.  So glad I got out to enjoy the views.

Here's a GPS Track map of the area.  My route is marked by the red line.  The yellow dots mark the route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

I did about six miles of the official trail, passing six of the seven lakes in this tract of public land and hiking along fire breaks and through long leaf pine restoration areas, not to mention beaver-pond wetlands.

The Diversity, even in this one little tract of just over 2000 acres, is amazing.  Get out there and check it out!


  1. I was at Topsail back in October. Wished I walked Stones Creek when I was there.

  2. I remember following your directions through the Crescent Lakes region - one of my favorite portions of the trail - when I did my thru-hike in 2014. Thank you PJ for proposing this route and mapping it out and of course thank you to Kate Dixon for making this happen. The MST has it all, packaged into just over 1000 miles :) Is this 500 mile route include the Cape Fear Arch? Wondering if I have hiked all of this or if I need to return to the trail a third time!

    1. Heather, you were probably the second person, after me to hike the Coastal Crescent route end-to-end. Yes that is the route through the Cape Fear Arch. You did follow the new trail route and you went on to be the first to hike the entire MST via that new route. Since you hiked it there have only been minor tweaks to the route, including the Stones Creek section in this report. Tim Supple and his gang of dedicated Onslow County volunteers have spent many hours developing the route through there. Wouldn't hurt to return to the trail a third time. I tentatively have in mind doing a thru hike on the 50th anniversary year of the founding of the MST, now 9 years away (if I can still walk--I'll be in my late 70's!). Great to hear from you, Heather.

    2. Thank you, PJ and to all that made this happen! I was hoping that this was the same route only because it was such a beautiful one! I definitely see you on the trail for the 50th anniversary, PJ, without a doubt :)

  3. We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE being your Trail Team, Trail Angels and even Trail Guides for 15B.
    Please send us a msg so we can join you or at least Meet & Greet !!

  4. Thanks PJ for your hike 5 years ago and for again highlighting the beauty of the coastal plains. Keep a'hiking.

  5. The diversity is amazing here! Anyone that decides to hike here please consider downloading the app inaturalist or upload your pictures at and submit your sightings to a project I created to document the biodiversity within the Stones Creek Game Lands. Thank you!!! Mr. Wetzel, I read your blog several years ago when you posted about hiking here. It gave me a blueprint of a route to hike and when I did I found a new county record butterfly, Sleepy Duskywing. Since then I have hiked many, many miles at this location. It is a true gem. Carnivorous plants, Carolina Spreadwing, Little Metalmark, Spotted Turtle, and Bachman's Sparrow are some of the really neat species that call this land home. Thank you for blogging your hike because without having an idea of where to hike I may have never explored this area or at least not explored it as soon as I did because the MST did not go thru here at that time.

    1. Hey, Wayfarer -- thanks for the awesome comments! I love your page, and am going to edit this post to include that link, because comments here apparently don't support hot links. I'm in awe of your knowledge of the ecosystem and its inhabitants.

    2. Thanks, I really appreciate that. The site is only a shell of what I want it to be, but at least I have the framework down. I am not that knowledgeable just learning as I go.