Why the Benton MacKaye Trail?
Monday, April 1, 2019 2:20 pm

Three years ago, I traveled to Georgia to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail, my first long-distance trail. In 2017, I returned to Vermont to hike the Long Trail, which shares 105 miles with the AT. And in 2018, I took a detour to the west to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Now, time to once again return to familiar ground. In just a few weeks, I’ll be back at Springer Mountain to begin a new hike: the Benton MacKaye Trail.

What is the Benton MacKaye Trail?

The Benton MacKaye Trail is named after Benton MacKaye, a forester and conservationist who, after being inspired by the Long Trail, proposed the idea of the Appalachian Trail in 1921, and then worked to make it happen.

The BMT follows 287 miles of trail in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, forming a somewhat lopsided 512-mile figure-8 loop with the AT.

Starting from Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the BMT crosses and briefly follows the AT northward from Springer, before diverging. As the AT heads east and north, the BMT turns north, and then west through Georgia, entering Tennessee, and then turning north-east to largely follow the Tennessee-North Carolina border on its way to the Great Smoky Mountains.

After joining the AT again near Fontana Dam, the BMT quickly diverges. As the AT follows the TN/NC border and the high ridge of the Smokies, the BMT takes a lower, more southerly route, until eventually terminating near Davenport Gap, the AT’s exit at the north end of the Smokies.

Why the Benton MacKaye Trail?

It’s been three years since I was last in Georgia and North Carolina to hike, and I want to revisit the area I began my first long-distance hike. It’s also relatively nearby, “just” another overnight train trip back to Georgia. And it would establish a tradition: besides being a “short” hike in the off-year between major hikes, it would be my second AT-adjacent long-distance hike.

With the epic-length Continental Divide Trail planned for 2020, I do need something between now and then to keep me in shape.

And, it’s there, so why not hike it?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll have a few more posts about my gear and preparation for the hike. Soon, I’ll be back on the trail, and writing about it, as usual. I can’t wait to be back!