Benton MacKaye Trail
Named for Benton MacKaye, the Massachusetts forester/regional planner who proposed the Appalachian Trail, this trail features remarkable changes in terrain and too many modern intrusions. While the Appalachian Trail follows the eastern crest of the Appalachian Mountains, the Benton MacKaye follows the western crest. The origin of this challenging trail, which can be steep at times, is Springer Mountain at the Appalachian Trail sign. For the first few miles the trail winds down Springer, occasionally rejoining and sharing the same path as the first trail. The BMT follows a portion of the original AT, which was extensively rerouted after 1957. Looping further west, the BMT crosses Chester Creek a couple of times before Three Forks (Chester is one of the creeks that make up Three Forks).
Almost exactly 1 mile past the footbridge over Chester at Three Forks the Benton MacKaye turns left (and the Duncan Ridge Trail begins, leaving the Appalachian Trail for the last time until it rejoins America's Footpath 250 miles further north. The Duncan Ridge Trail shares the footpath with the Benton MacKaye until shortly after crossing Route 60. Unlike its eastern brother the Appalachian Trail, the Benton MacKaye does not wind through federally protected land at all times. Its not uncommon to find yourself in the midst of summer homes and roads with traffic that can be heavy at times. Wind-blown, sun-dried farms and outbuildings can be easily spotted, their dingy gray in sharp contrast to the brilliant greens of summer.
The BMK-DRT undulates, rising, falling and looping much like the AT until it begins the descent to the Toccoa River. A long footbridge spans the waterway. From the river the BMK-DRT rises and follows the ridge of Tooni Mountain. Leaving Tooni the paths descend and cross State Road 60 (a busy road), then climbing Wallalah, Licklog and Rhodes Mountain, where the Duncan Ridge veers off the east. From this point the BMT enters some of the most beautiful country, and the most difficult portion of this long trail south of the Cohutta Wilderness. The trail crosses State Road 60 once again during this portion of the hike.
The Benton MacKaye joins a road to cross the Toccoa once again, this time on Shallowford Bridge. Using county roads for almost 5 miles, the Benton MacKaye leaves Stanley Creek Road just past the Falls Branch Bridge, begining the climb to Rocky Mountain. A short (.25 miles) way up the mountain a side trail leads to Falls Branch Falls. Climbing 1400' to Rocky Mountain, the Benton MacKaye Trail follows ridges to Cherry Log. Here the footpath crosses US 76(515). This is a very dangerous intersection as the crossing is poorly marked and the road is high speed. The path follows state and county roads to Bush Head Gap.
After this the trail only occasionally runs near roads (so much the better) and this portion of the path is only lightly traveled. The BMK continues past Flat Top to Dyer Gap where it crosses old Highway 2 into the Cohutta Wilderness. The path then winds through the wilderness until it returns to old Highway 2 near the sign "Cohutta Wildlife Management Area, Chattahoochee National Forest." From here the path takes a more northern route to the Georgia/Tennessee border, entering a true wilderness area. This is a fairly new part of the trail. The entire trail is marked with white diamond blazes.