Every long-distance hike requires stopping for resupply. I thought it might be helpful for future hikers if I wrote-up the resupply logistics from my northbound Benton MacKaye Trail thru-hike in 2019. I stopped four times for resupply. Read on for all the details.
On the trail, my food supplies consist of three major components: breakfast, hiking snacks, and dinner. When I resupply, taking into consideration the distance and time to my next resupply, I make sure to have an extra day’s worth of each of those components. This allows a slight delay without worrying about running out of supplies, and a significant delay is doable with some rationing.
This buffer became suddenly important after I injured my back after a week and a half on-trail.
In practice, I often wind up with an additional day of breakfast, and several days worth of snacks, due to packages containing multiple days worth of food. Also, “snacks” are mileage-based, and I habitually overcount mileage to ensure an extra buffer (or an extra treat, on really hard days). Snacks also tend to be more likely to be skipped, as a result of a place on or near the trail to buy lunch.
I describe here an idealized resupply strategy had I not had a back injury that complicated the third leg of my hike, between Reliance and the Tellico River, and delayed the section between the Tellico River and the northern terminus.
My initial supply was from my local grocery store, with 5 days worth of food for a four day, 60 mile hike from Amicalola Falls Sate Park to Blue Ridge, Georgia.
Breakfast on the first day was at an IHOP on the way from the Gainesville, GA Amtrak station to Amicalola Falls.
On the fourth day, a planned lunch break at the Iron Bridge Cafe on the outskirts of Blue Ridge provided extra food and ice cream.
Resupply Stop 1: Blue Ridge, GA
My fifth day on the trail brought me to US 76, about four miles south of Blue Ridge, GA. The trailhead is situated on a relatively busy road, and despite the soggy weather when I was there, it took took less than five minutes to hitch a ride into town. In town, I obtained supplies for a five day, 61-mile hike to Reliance, TN.
Blue Ridge has a full-service supermarket (Food Lion), as well as a laundromat. We stayed at the Days Inn, conveniently located next to the Food Lion and Waffle King, where we got second breakfast when we arrived in town, and breakfast before we left. The laundromat was about a 2/3 mile walk from the motel; on our way back, we got dinner at Blue Ridge Mountain Bar-B-Q.
Rather than try to hitchhike out of town, we called for a shuttle service to pick us up and drop us off back at the trailhead.
Resupply Stop 2: Reliance, TN
Reliance, the next town we went through, is tiny, but almost ideal for hiker resupply. There, we planned for a small resupply, intended to to cover about 43 miles in two and a half days days to the crossing of the Tellico River.
The trail passes directly past Hiwassee Scenic Outfitters (not yet open for the season when we went through in mid-April) which offers food, camping, and cabins for rent,
Past the outfitter, along the banks of the Hiwassee River and just before a bridge across the river, is the Webb Bros. store, a small store attached to a gas station on the banks of the Hiwassee River. It was there we obtained supplies for the next leg of our hike. It was a small store, and a little bit expensive, but with some improvising, we were able to get everything we needed.
Across the bridge is Flip Flop Burgers. We stopped there for lunch, recharging on burgers, fries, soda, and ice cream.
Past the restaurant, and about half a mile off-trail is Reliance Fly & Tackle, which also has food, cabins, camping, and does mail drops.
An alternative resupply option would have been to hitch into Ducktown from the Thunder Rock Campground about a day and a half south of Reliance, but we chose the on-trail resupply option rather than add the complexity of hitching into town and back.
As Reliance was on-trail, we opted to only spend a couple hours in town and put in another nine miles afterwards to camp in the forest.
Resupply Stop 3: Tellico Plains, TN
155 miles north of Springer Mountain, the BMT reaches the Tellico River. About a mile and a half down the road from the crossing is the Green Cove Motel, which has a well-stocked general store, lodging, and the first working payphone I’ve seen in a very long time. Wanting someplace nice to stay and zero, we had arranged rooms at the Tellico Lodge B&B in Tellico Plains, and arranged to call them for a pickup once we arrived at Green Cove.
Tellico Plains is also a small town, but has a full-service grocery store (Save-a-Lot), a CVS Pharmacy, and a post office. There are two pizza places (neither of which deliver!), and a few other restaurants, including the Tellicafe, which we enjoyed. There is also the Charles Hall museum, which features a large and eclectic collection of Cherokee artifacts, historic coins, currency, and stamps, lots of antiques, and (my favorite) a working rotary-dial telephone exchange.
The Tellico Lodge is a bit of a walk from the town center, along a moderately busy road, but we quite enjoyed our stay there, and the breakfast buffet was excellent.
As an alternative to going into Tellico Plains, we could have sent a resupply box to the Green Cove Motel and either stayed at Green Cover, or camped at a campsite a couple of miles away on either side of the river.
From Tellico Plains, three days of supplies would get us about 37 miles to Fontana Lodge.
Resupply Stop 4: Fontana Lodge
Our last resupply came in the form of a mail drop to Fontana Lodge, just off the trail. The lodge makes a great place to zero, ideal as a point to pause just before entering the Great Smoky Mountains.
A general store near the lodge offers limited resupply, but is more geared towards lodge guests than hikers. There are also multiple restaurant options, including a “fancy” restaurant in the main lodge building and a more family-oriented Wildwood Grill. At both restaurants, we had wildly mixed service; supposedly this was due to recent significant turnover in their restaurant management and staff.
We opted to push through the Smokies in one stretch, with seven days of food. While less than ideal — that’s a lot of weight — the first three days of the Smokies largely follow along Fontana Lake, and do not have any steep climbs. This allowed us to shed most of our food weight before we got to the major elevation change on the BMT in the Smokies.
As alternatives, we could have gone in to either Bryson City or Cherokee for resupply, both accessible via side trails and road walk to town.
End of the Trail
The BMT’s northern terminus, at the Baxter Creek Trailhead, ends near the Big Creek Picnic Area at the northeastern end of the Smokies. From there, it was a roughly 3 1/4 mile road walk out of the park to the Appalachian Trail, which we followed another mile to Standing Bear Farm, where we had left our car.
Going southbound, a reverse of this itinerary would likely work, though the seven day stretch through the Smokies would be rough. I’d probably break that up by going into Cherokee after two days, or possibly Bryson City after four, which aren’t too far from the trail if one was successful in hitching a ride.
Either way, resupply on the Benton MacKaye Trail is not especially difficult. I would still definitely recommend a box to Fontana Lodge, since the general store is rather hit-or-miss, but it can be done without a box if you’re willing to be not picky.
Good luck on the trail!