Benton MacKaye Trail: Springer Mountain to Three Forks, Section 1

This 7.1-mile shuttle hike explores the southernmost section of the Benton MacKaye Trail, a long trail linking the Georgia backcountry to the northern reaches of the Great Smoky Mountains.
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This 7.1-mile shuttle hike explores the southernmost section of the Benton MacKaye Trail, a long trail linking the Georgia backcountry to the northern reaches of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hikers looking for a remote alternative to the Appalachian Trail should explore the lesser-traveled Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT). Although this 300-mile trail ends at the northern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it offers a sense of seclusion that can be hard to find on the AT.
This southernmost section of the Benton MacKaye Trail begins on the Appalachian Trail and climbs south to Springer Mountain before turning north on the BMT. Soon afterwards, pass a trailside tribute to Benton MacKaye (the father of the Appalachian Trail) before descending through old growth hardwood forest toward Big Stamp Gap and a rock outcropping overlook.
Tracking west, the route continues under the cover of white pines and eastern hemlocks on a trail lined with mountain laurel. After two more intersections with the AT, the BMT turns north for a ridgetop traverse of Rich Mountain before descending to rhododendron-lined creeks at Three Forks, the confluence of Stover, Chester and Long Creeks.
Nearby shelters: Springer Mountain Shelter and Stover Creek Shelter. Several campsite options can be found near Big Stamp Gap and Three Forks.
View more section hikes along the Benton MacKaye Trail at backpacker.com/destinations/category/2731.
Info: Benton MacKaye Trail Association
-Mapped by Scott Sanders, GroundedGraphics.com

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 11.4

Waypoints

BMT001

Location: 34.6377296, -84.1951218

From the parking lot near FS 42, head down the hill, cross the gravel road (FS 42), and begin climbing. Follow the white rectangular blazes toward Springer Mountain.

BMT002

Location: 34.6298356, -84.1944498

Turn right @ 3-way intersection to visit the official start of the Appalachian Trail. Ahead: Pass a plaque that commemorates Benton MacKaye, the father of the AT.

BMT003

Location: 34.6285629, -84.1944656

Turn right @ 3-way intersection. The trail on the left leads to Springer Mountain Shelter and a water source.

BMT004

Location: 34.6267811, -84.1936558

Springer Mountain (3,782 ft.): Before getting started on the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT), find the plaque marking the start of the Appalachian Trail and a scenic overlook of the surrounding Georgia mountains. Backtrack to Waypoint 2 and turn right on the BMT.

BMT005

Location: 34.6335182, -84.1785202

Turn left @ 3-way intersection. To the right, a dead-end spur trail leads 200 yards to great mountain views.

BMT006

Location: 34.6354065, -84.1741638

Big Stamp Gap: Stop to enjoy above-the-trees views. Next, go straight @ 4-way intersection.

BMT007

Location: 34.6387692, -84.1799712

The BMT passes a water source with a small campsite. Water is not abundant on this trail so it's wise to top off whenever possible. The route's first stream crossing is 0.4 mile ahead.

BMT008

Location: 34.6396696, -84.1916227

Go straight at 4-way intersection, crossing the AT.

BMT009

Location: 34.64011, -84.1955719

Turn right @ 3-way junction.

BMT010

Location: 34.6478254, -84.1921377

Continue straight @ 4-way intersection with the AT. To stay overnight at the Stover Creek Shelter, turn left and hike 0.76 mile north.

BMT011

Location: 34.6623874, -84.1844881

Turn right @ 3-way junction.

BMT012

Location: 34.6632963, -84.1843593

Cross a wooden bridge right before Three Forks and come to the gravel FS 58 (the end of Section 1). Section 2 starts across the gravel road.

Springer Mountain View

Location: 34.6267855, -84.1936022

Springer Mountain View

Location: 34.6267766, -84.1935217

AT Shelter

Location: 34.629253, -84.1936398

Tree Galls

Location: 34.63146, -84.1909361

Benton MacKaye Plaque

Location: 34.6312128, -84.1946697

Into the Woods

Location: 34.6302417, -84.1871595

View from Big Stamp Gap

Location: 34.635406, -84.1740274

The BMT in Fall

Location: 34.6533328, -84.1874599

Fall colors on the trail

Typical Trail Conditions

Location: 34.6609048, -84.1828358