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Backpacker Magazine – October 2005

Best Damn Weekend Ever: Hike & Paddle the Benton MacKaye

Link two classic Southern rivers on a trek along the newly completed Benton MacKaye Trail in Tennessee and North Carolina.

by: Christopher Collier

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Dive into the BMT's solitary confines on day 2. First, climb north out of the Ocoee's valley and hike 4 miles up onto a ridge that tops out at about 3,000 feet while skirting 4,666-acre Little Frog Wilderness Area. The trail connects old logging roads garnished with mountain laurel, then descends from the mountains to trace clear-as-moonshine Big Lost Creek. One mile past Lost Creek Campground (and about 12 miles from your starting point), bed down where Big Lost Creek and Little Lost Creek converge, beside a series of waterfalls that drop 10 feet from garage-sized boulders into deep, swimmer-friendly pools.

On day 3, break out the fly rod. Three miles farther along the BMT, the trail opens up to reveal the Hiwassee, surrounded by green mountains and usually shrouded by fog in early morning. That's when fly fishermen unfurl fluorescent tethers to rising rainbow and brown trout. Stop at the old-timey Webb Brothers General Store to check the dam release schedule and pick up flies before crossing over a bridge to pick up the trail on the river's north side. Wade out and drift your bugs through eddies and riffles accessible along this stretch of trail. After camping upstream of the powerhouse where water is released from the dam on the other side of Rock Island Branch (a 7-mile hike along the river), spend your last day exploring 200-foot bluffs along the riverside between Loss Creek and Coker Creek and downstream near Towee Creek. The panoramic views span up the river toward the ancient stretch of isolated mountains you've just traversed.

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