The Best Day Hikes on the North Carolina/Tennessee Section of the Benton MacKaye Trail

Hikers enjoying the Benton MacKaye Trail.
Hikers enjoying the Benton MacKaye Trail. Benton MacKaye Trail Association
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RootsRated has already highlighted Georgia’s section of the Benton MacKaye Trail. Missed it? Read the guide here.

The Benton MacKaye Trail extends beyond Georgia into North Carolina and Tennessee to its end in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most remote areas of the Benton MacKaye Trail are seen in this 108 mile section of the trail before it reaches the Smokies. Hikers can go for days without seeing others on the trail. It is advised to hike with others. Hikers should know that cell service is extremely limited on the Benton MacKaye Trail.

Hikers will find plenty of solitude in the Joyce Kilmer National Forest.
Hikers will find plenty of solitude in the Joyce Kilmer National Forest. Brian Stansberry

Bob Ruby, president of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association is a thru-hiker of the trail. His take on the trail: “The Benton MacKaye Trail is long and challenging enough to be an accomplishment to complete, but it is short enough (at 300 miles) to be backpacked in 15 to 30 days, depending on the speed of the hiker. Similarly, section hikes can be completed in many fewer years with much less travel for hikers from the Southeast.”

Ready to give it a shot? RootsRated offers this guide to the North Carolina and Tennessee sections of the trail.

Most Scenic

Bob Bald in summer.
Bob Bald in summer. Brian Stansberry

Beech Gap to The Hangover (6 miles):  The “mile-high” section of North Carolina’s Benton MacKaye Trail is the hike to Bob Bald (elevation 5,276 ft.) This is also one of the sections hikers will need a map or compass, as the trails atop the bald are nondescript. From the bald, hike east to reach the trail on the other side. At 4.9 miles, hikers will reach Naked Ground, a stellar campsite that offers picturesque views of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Take the 0.5 mile side trail to The Hangover, a rocky outcrop with panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains.

Most Popular

Cherohala Skyway.
Cherohala Skyway. Buddha Dog

Easiest

The Lost Creek section of the trail has little elevation gain but plenty to see.
The Lost Creek section of the trail has little elevation gain but plenty to see. James Lautzenheiser

Lost Creek Campground to Hiawassee River (4 miles):  This section of the trail is known for hardly any elevation gain, but as the trail passes through a limestone gorge, hikers are rewarded with beautiful rock formations. The trail begins by paralleling Lost Creek for 3 miles. Lost Creek is picturesque, flowing over rocky outcrops to form cascades and waterfalls.

Most Difficult

Whigg Meadow.
Whigg Meadow. Jennifer Kelley

Newest

The reroute of the trail has removed some paved sections.
The reroute of the trail has removed some paved sections. Sean Run Bum

In 2014, the Benton MacKaye Trail was re-routed between Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so that hikers did not have to travel on the road. This yellow creek re-route added 5 miles to the trail, traversing Yellow Creek Mountain, Green Gap, the Stairway to Heaven steep trail and Fontana Village. More info on this reroute here.

Detailed trail maps of the Benton MacKaye Trail are available to purchase from the Benton MacKaye Trail Association. Special thanks to authors of the Trail Guides, Elizabeth Carter, Ernest Engman, Kim Hainge and Richard Harris. 

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