Benton MacKaye Trail Thru-Hikers' Guide


2014 Guides now Available

In 1921 Benton MacKaye proposed building a system of trails along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. His idea eventually became what is today's Appalachian Trail. When he conceived of that system of trails, there were to be feeder trails that would bring hikers from across the region into the main trail system.

In 1979 a group of hikers recognized the need to start building those other trails as part of the trail system that Benton MacKaye envisioned. 26 years later that vision was finally realized with the opening of the Benton MacKaye Trail - a new long distance trail that honors the memory of the father of the Appalachian Trail system by bestowing his name on nearly 300 miles of new trail.

The Benton MacKaye Trail starts on the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia 0.2 miles north of the Appalachian Trail Terminus. From there it generally tracks west of the Appalachian Trail for approximately 200 miles before crossing it again in the Smokies. During this time the Benton MacKaye Trail crosses over 5,000' tall mountains and travels as low as 765' at the Hiwassee  in Reliance, TN. Once it crosses the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies, it continues to the Eastern side of the park, eventually finishing at Davenport Gap on the Appalachian Trail.

"To walk. To see. To see what you see."

-Benton Mackaye on the purpose of long distance trails.

During this passage, the Benton MacKaye Trail strives to give the backpacker a more remote wilderness experience than it's big brother the Appalachian Trail. Nearly 2/3 of the trail passes through designated wilderness areas and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. During this nearly 300 mile route, the trail has only two shelters, many of these miles are not blazed, and there are few, if any, trail structures.

So, if a new wilderness experience is what you are out to find, the Benton MacKaye is waiting for you.

This guide's aim is to help promote the use of the Benton MacKaye trail for the long distance backpacker. At the same time I hope to preserve the feeling of remoteness and maintain the possibility that hikers still have something to discover. In writing this guide I have done my best to balance providing the long distance hiker the tools they need to thru-hike the Benton MacKaye Trail without describing every mile of that trail. My hope is you enjoy what the Benton MacKaye Trail is and what it has to offer as much as I have. I am sure you will find this guide exactly what you need, and find that the Benton MacKaye Trail is more than you could hope for.

Hikers attempting the Great East Coast Trail will also find this guide valuable as it describes the trail the links the Pinhoti Trail to the Appalachian Trail.


Benton MacKaye Trail Guide 2009-2015 Ernest Engman. All Rights Reserved.