Benton MacKaye Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Benton MacKaye Trail travels through some of the most remote and beautiful backcountry in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. From Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Davenport Gap in the northeastern corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the trail runs for nearly 300 miles. Along the way it passes through eight federally designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas.

The trail is named for Benton MacKaye, the forester, conservationist, and co-founder of the Wilderness Society who originally envisioned this route for the Appalachian Trail. In 1979 the Benton MacKaye Trail Association was organized to build and maintain MacKaye's chosen route along the western crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Twenty-six years later, on July 16th, 2005, the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) was officially opened during a ceremony at Mud Gap, just southwest of the Smokies.

midnight-holeThe BMT enters the Great Smoky Mountains at the Twentymile Ranger Station on the southwestern corner of the Park. It quickly rises to cross the Appalachian Trail near the Shuckstack Fire Tower before descending again to the shores of Fontana Lake. After following the lake for more than 27 miles the trail begins to climb again, eventually passing over Noland Divide and Newton Bald, before making a quick descent back down to the Smokemont Campground. From the campground the trail begins climbing once more, first taking hikers past Chasteen Creek Cascade on its way up to Hyatt Ridge. The trail then briefly drops down to Beech Gap before making the long climb up to Balsam High Top, and then onto the highest point along the entire trail at 5842-foot Mt. Sterling. From there the trail makes a sharp descent down to Big Creek, before eventually meeting up again with the Appalachian Trail at Davenport Gap.

Within the Park, the total mileage for the BMT is roughly 97 miles. The trail is marked with a white diamond trail marker with the words "Benton MacKaye Trail" on a green background.

There are only 5 access points for the trail in the Smokies: Twentymile Ranger Station, Lakeview Drive (a.k.a. the Road to Nowhere), US 441 / Smokemont Campground, Straight Fork Road, and at Big Creek/Davenport Gap.

Below are some routing details for the BMT in the Great Smoky Mountains:

LocationIncremental MileageCumulative MileageElevation
20 Mile Ranger Station / Enter Park0.00.01334
Wolf Ridge Trail Jct0.50.51459
Campsite 931.21.71850
Long Hungry Trail Jct1.43.102363
Lost Cove Trail Jct. / Sassafras Gap1.953600
Campsite 91272030
Lakeshore Trail Jct0.77.71839
Campsite 900.58.21760
Eagle Creek Trail0.58.71734
Campsite 88311.71950
Campsite 86112.71680
Hazel Creek Trail0.413.11700
Campsite 813.516.61800
Campsite 774.220.81800
Campsite 764.625.41770
Campsite 982.527.91720
Campsite 746.534.41720
Whiteoak Branch Trail135.42012
Goldmine Loop1.236.62144
Tunnel Bypass Trail0.136.72160
Lakeview Drive0.337.32079
Noland Creek Trail Jct0.537.81800
Campsite 651.339.12040
Campsite 642.841.92540
Campsite 631.443.32920
Campsite 621.344.63160
Campsite 611.546.13560
Pole Creek Road Jct147.14243
Deep Creek Trail Jct3.350.42459
Campsite 560.350.72405
Martins Gap Trail Jct. Camp 570.451.12400
Sunkota Ridge Trail Jct1.552.63394
Thomas Divide Trail Jct4.957.54765
Newton Bald Trail Jct0.457.94959
Campsite 520.1585000
Newfound Gap Road Jct5.263.22184
Smokemont Campground0.363.52180
Bradley Fork Trail Jct0.363.82180
Chasteen Creek Trail Jct2.2662300
Campsite 500.166.12360
Campsite 48268.13320
Hughes Ridge Trail Jct1.9704700
Enloe Creek Trail Jct0.470.44800
Campsite 472.572.93620
Hyatt Ridge Trail Jct1.1744400
Beech Gap Trail Jct1.775.74900
Straight Fork Road Jct2.878.53100
Beech Gap Trail Jct0.378.83100
Balsam Mt. Trail Jct2.581.35069
Laurel Gap Shelter1.7835490
Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail Jct0.383.35500
Mt. Sterling Trail Jct5.388.65679
Baxter Creek Trail Jct. Camp 380.388.95820
Big Creek Road Jct / Big Cr Campground6.1951700
Davenport Gap / Exit Nat'l Park1.896.82000

Additional Resources:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires all backpackers to stay in designated campsites and shelters while camping in the backcountry. The park now requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping as well. As of 2013 the national park began charging a fee to camp in the backcountry. For additional information on reserving a campsite or shelter, please click here. For more general information on camping in the Smokies, please click here.

For more information on the Benton MacKaye Trail, please click here.

The BMT can be combined with the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies to make several long loop hikes. You can click here for more information on hiking the A.T. in the Smokies.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for the Smoky Mountains

Sectional Maps: Western SmokiesEastern Smokies

Backcountry Rules and Regulations for the Smokies

Campsite and Shelter information (GPS waypoints, maps, etc.)

Temporary road, campsite and shelter closures, and water issues

Local Climate and Weather

Bears in the Smokies

Appalachian Trail Shuttle Services

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

Hiking Gear and Apparel