Benton MacKaye Hiking Trail Section 10
Introduction to the Benton MacKaye Trail
Benton MacKaye, a forester, was the first to envision a continuous trail along the crest of the entire Appalachian Mountain chain. His completed dream, the Appalachian Trail, is now 60 years old. MacKaye also foresaw the need to create major loop trails that would join the Appalachian. In 1980, a trail association was established to make the idea of a major loop in the South - the Benton MacKaye Trail - a reality.
If it is completed as proposed, the 250-mile footpath will have its southern terminus at Springer Mountain and its northern terminus at Davenport Gap, on the northeastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Completed in 1989, Georgia's 80-mile segment of the Benton MacKaye begins atop Springer Mountain and ends at Double Spring Gap on the Tennessee border. Double Spring Gap is located on the northern boundary of the Cohutta Wilderness near Big Frog Mountain. After being thwarted at the border of the Cherokee National Forest for several years, the Benton MacKaye is again making progress. The trail is now complete to US 64 in Tennessee.
The Benton MacKaye Trail Association, a volunteer organization, is constructing and maintaining the trail.
TRAIL SUMMARY Location: Western Blue Ridge, Cohutta Mountains, Watson Gap to Double Springs Gap; Features: Streams, winter views, wilderness; Distance: 8.5 miles; Difficulty Rating: Easy to moderate; County: Fannin; Nearest City: Ellijay (S), Blue Ridge (E); Maps: Hemp Top Quad (GA-TN); Cohutta Wilderness map; Blazes: White diamonds; Water Sources: Mile 0.8: Mill Branch crossing; Mile 1.0: small stream crossing; mile 2.0: cross fork of Bear Branch; mile 2.3: Bear Branch crossing; mile 8.5: Double Spring Gap - seasonal, sometimes boar-wallowed seepage spring to either side of the gap; Ranger District: Cohutta
Heading north toward Tennessee, Georgia's last BMT section is its first to traverse wilderness. From mile 1.4 to Double Spring Gap, Section 10 remains within the 36,977-acre Cohutta Wilderness.
Although this section passes through some low elevation streamside and cove habitat, beyond the first 3.0 miles it is primarily a ridge and upper slope trail. But unlike other ridge-running sections, this section's grades remain, for the most part, easy or easy to moderate.
Starting at Watson Gap (2,720 feet), Section 10 follows FS 22 for 0.3 mile before angling sharply to the left onto path. Once the trail leaves the road, it rises to a ridge crest through the small timber of an oak-pine forest. The route passes through an old homestead at 0.8 mile, then quickly crosses Mill Branch. Here the walking is easy through a forest where tall eastern white pines are common.
The treadway crosses a fork of Bear Branch in Peter Cove at mile 2.0. Before crossing Bear Branch at mile 2.3, the route parallels a string of beaver ponds downslope to the left. Three-tenths mile after cross- ing the branch, the BMT turns right onto the orange- blazed Jacks River Trail, shares the treadway for 8S yards, then turns left on its own again. These turns are signed and blazed.
Immediately before Section 10 turns left from the Jacks River Trail, there are two magnificent old eastern hemlocks to the right of the trail. The larger of the two is the state record eastern hemlock.
Continuing to the north, the trail ascends a hardwood cove back to ridge top at mile 2.9. Here the route remains on or near the ridge crest as it fol- lows predominantly easy grades over a string of flat- topped knobs, most of them nearly the same height. After gradually rising over the highest knob (3,040 feet) at mile 3.8, the path descends to mile 4.1 (2,940 feet), where it turns left (north) onto the white-blazed (rectangular and infrequent) Hemp Top Trail. Section 10 shares the treadway with Hemp Top Trail all the way to its end at Double Spring Gap (3,220 feet) at the Tennessee line. (See page 142 of Hemp Top Trail for a description of the remainder of Section 10.)
The Benton MacKaye now continues from Double Spring Gap through the Big Frog Wilderness into Tennessee. Write the Benton MacKaye Trail Association (address provided on page 296) for the current location of the trail as it moves toward its completion.
Miles 2.1, 2.2: Trail passes above a string of beaver ponds.
Mile 2.6: State record eastern hemlock to right of trail.
Miles 3.2-8.5: Winter views. Big Frog Mountain is to the north.
From the US 76-GA 5 intersection just north of Blue Ridge, travel north on GA 5 toward McCaysville for 3.7 miles. Turn left onto Old GA 2 at the "Old State Route 2" sign and small Watson Gap sign. Continue on this road for approximately 10.5 miles (the pavement ends at mile 9.0) to the major Forest Service intersection at Watson Gap.
Approximately 50 yards before it reaches the middle of the four-way, dirt-road intersection in Watson Gap, the Benton MacKaye (usually marked with a prominent sign and always blazed with white diamonds) comes out of the woods onto FS 64. The trail follows FS 64 to the gap, where it switches roads but continues straight ahead, uphill, on FS 22. The first 0.3 mile of this trail section is FS 22, usually signed at its narrow uphill entrance. If you take the paved road route (Old Highway 2) from near Blue Ridge, FS 22 will be the hard right turn at the Watson Gap intersection.