Benton MacKaye Trail Thru-Hikers' Guide


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In 1921, Benton MacKaye proposed a system of trails along the Appalachian Mountain range. His idea eventually became what is today's Appalachian Trail. MacKaye also envisioned a system of feeder trails that would bring hikers from across the region to hike the AT.  It took 58 years for a group of hikers and trail maintainers to also recognize the need for this trail network and do something about it.

In 2005, 26 years of hard work and persistence later, they completed a part of that dream with the opening of the Benton MacKaye Trail.  A new long distance trail was created, honoring the memory of the father of the Appalachian Trail.  His name is bestowed on nearly 300 miles of pristine Appalachian wilderness hiking.

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

"For we need this thing wilderness far more than it needs us."

-Benton MacKaye on the preservation of wilderness, 1933.

During this passage, the BMT 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 three shelters.  Many of these miles are not blazed and there are few, if any, trail structures.

If a new wilderness experience is what you are out to find, then the Benton MacKaye is waiting for you.  The intent of this guide is to help long distance backpackers and section hikers successfully enjoy hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail.  I also aim to preserve the feeling of wilderness and maintain the possibility that hikers still have something to discover.  I've done my best to balance providing hikers with the tools they need to safely hike the BMT without describing every step of the trail. My hope is that you enjoy what the BMT has to offer as much as I do.  I am sure you will find in this guide exactly what you need and wish you happy trails on the BMT.

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


Benton MacKaye Trail Guide 2009-2022 Ernest Engman. All Rights Reserved.

Hiking H.Q. PO Box 5031 Oak Ridge, TN, 37830