Overnight and Over Bridge on the Benton Mackaye Trail at Blue Ridge WMA

If there is a graph somewhere made by a bored Forestry graduate student that graphs the worst roads in Georgia with the most popular outdoor tourist destinations, where those two lines cross on the graph is the point representing the Taccoa Swinging Bridge trail head. The road in is hell, but the destination is heaven.

The bridge is fabulous. It crosses the river at a slightly suspicious bounce, held in place by a steel web worthy of a nightmare spider. The crossing suspends you about fifteen feet off the flat rocky surface of the river, with spectacular views of the water.

There’s only one downside – the bridge is only 1 person wide. That means squeezing a fat, loaded pack goat on it is a bit like trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube while it nyaahs at you.

Is it goat approved? In the winter, you should be fine and this route has you camping at an excellent wildlife clearing with lots of goat forage for the night. Just cover the goat in orange and don’t bring the deer look alike  one since this is a major hunting area. In the summer, there’s so many people I wouldn’t even attempt a goat. I did have one thru hiker to the AT (Appalachian Trail) that was slightly envious of my weight hauling minion on this trip but no one else in the winter.

How you get there: Google it. Google has a marker for the swinging bridge. Navigate yourself to that marker and you are at your trailhead. If you have low ground clearance vehicles you WILL have to stop about 1.5 miles short of the marker and walk up the road. If it is raining and you don’t have four wheel drive you will also have to stop, park on the side of the road, and get to the trail head on foot. If it’s been the prelude to Noah’s flood the last few days, well, just add 3 miles to your trip, don’t even try the gravel forest road, and park on the paved road.

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Turn off the paved road at this sign to get on the right forestry road
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The Parking Area – make sure you back your truck or jeep in so you can get out!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 11.4 miles round trip. I did it as 5.7 miles out to the campsite and 5.7 miles back in the morning.

Best season to do this hike: Winter. Under no circumstances attempt this trail with a goat in warm regular people hiking weather. The Ben Mackaye trail is VERY popular, and the swinging bridge is a people attractant in its own right. Combine that with the popularity of camping along the Taccoa River on either side of the swinging bridge and…well…just don’t bother with this one in nice weather.


 Trails to Take

Starting off at the parking lot at the trailhead after a fun filled 15 minutes of going oh shit oh shit oh shit was that my oil pan that just tore loose? on the road in, the trail descends down from the end of the road and is readily visible.

The Ben Mackaye Trail will come in on your left. The trail is marked with white diamonds. The trail descends steeply, and within a minute or two the swinging bridge will come into view. The bridge takes you over the Taccoa River. The trail continues on from here straight ahead for a hundred feet or so, then watch for it to veer up the hill and away.

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Taccoa River Swinging Bridge with a goat

Climb the hill, cross over the forestry road, and take a few steps to continue on the white blaze trail. The whole trail is basically a ridge run with lots of little ups and downs. The halfway point is around Bryson Gap, which is marked with a wooden sign, a clear campsite, and also a side trail to a spring. This spring is the ONLY water source on this hike besides the Taccoa River unless you decide to descend to the Appalachian Trail.

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Bryson Gap Sign

Continue onwards past Bryson Gap through a stand of mountain laurel, then more ridge running. Remnants of the original trail will be visible in places – but keep following the white diamonds of the newly revamped trail, not the old blue paint. When the trail suddenly descends steeply via several switch backs you are entering No Name Gap. This gap is also marked by a wooden sign.

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Goat Paradise – the unexpected wildlife opening right next to the campsite off Ben Mackaye

At No Name Gap you are about 1/2 a mile from the recommended campsite. Unfortunately, that 1/2 mile is all up hill. When you finally crest the hill you will be at a large, open field suitable for grazing goats with an adjacent campsite just off the trail.

Enjoy your overnight at this wonderful campsite, or continue on about 1 more mile to meet up with the Appalachian Trail near Long Creek Falls.

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Sunrise on Ben Mackaye

 

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Map of Benton MacKaye Trail

BE WARNED

  1. This trail goes through a WMA (Wildlife Management Area). WMA can also stand for Wildlife Murder Area. Don’t let the goat become a statistic!
  2. Blue Ridge WMA has major open hunt events. Check WMA regulations for dates so you don’t try this trail during one. There is one right around Thanksgiving apparently.
  3. The forest service road is very badly maintained. If you plan to drive all the way to the trail head instead of parking on the road and walking in some be prepared with a pickup truck with high ground clearance and really good insurance. Renew your AAA membership beforehand too. This road is bad enough to break an axle if you get in a hurry. Four wheel drive is required in wet weather.
  4. For those redoing this trail after several years of absence – the old Ben Mackaye route has been changed! The new blazes are white diamonds and the old blue paint is defunct. Further, I think the route is longer now than it used to be based on an old timer I met on the trail’s memory of it.
  5. The swinging bridge is one person wide. You will need to cross single file, and a heavily laden pack goat will have to have the panniers removed to fit on the tiny walk way.
  6. Train your goat to cross suspension bridges before tackling this one! This is probably one of the worst bridges to have a goat freeze or fall on because of the high traffic, the height, and how skinny it is. It also swings a lot, further increasing a newbie’s fear of suspension bridges.
  7. Don’t overload the goat or yourself – walking up and down over ridges is fun with a light pack, but demoralizing with a heavy pack because you never really finish the “climb” you just climb up and down again and again.
  8. The only water source on this hike besides the river you pass at the start is a small spring in Bryson Gap. In drought conditions this spring may not be active!
  9. In winter these ridges are very exposed to high winds. Bring a wind breaker or something.
  10. Back your truck in if you park at the trail head. Otherwise you may be blocked in.
  11. It is another mile from this campsite DOWNHILL to the Appalachian Trail. While there is a waterfall down there…you do have to climb all that again the next morning…
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Taccoa River

In sum: If the screaming, groaning agony of your vehicle being torqued two different directions at once is sufficiently loud and painful that bystanders are wincing, you  might be having too much fun.

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