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.

Turn off the paved road at this sign to get on the right forestry road
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.

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.

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.

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.

Sunrise on Ben Mackaye


Map of Benton MacKaye Trail


  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…
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.

Star Gazing at Sugar Hill State Forest


If part of the fun of getting lost in the middle of nowhere lies in using the stars to navigate yourself back to civilization, or just if you’re an amatuer star gazer who packs the telescope in on your four legged cud chewing assistant, star gazing is at its best in the woods. Sugar Hill State Forest boasts one of the highest spots on public land near Lake Seneca that is also a significant distance from town, ( thus low light pollution). On a good clear and very cold night the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy are clearly visible to the naked eye at the tent horse camping area at Sugar Hill State Forest. So enjoy a good hike and a late night watching stars to celebrate the beginning of the thaw!

(http://cnyhiking.com/NCT-SugarHillStateForest.htm has an excellent walk through of the section of the FLT described)

Location: Sugar Hill State Forest

Is it goat approved? Yep. This park is primarily devoted to horseback riders, (since New York State took the enlightened approach of giving the two trail users that hate each other most – bikers and horses – their own separate parks), so goats are totally cool. I have camped here twice, once in the winter and once in the summer, and had no real issues. I even had a park ranger come over and say she thought the goats were cool.

How you get there: You want to get on Tower Hill Road inside Sugar Hill State Forest. Near where Tower Hill Road intersects with Maple Lane there is a small gravel parking lot off to one side of the road. Next to the parking lot is a road going out through the woods perpendicular to Tower Road. If the gate is across the perpendicular road you can park at the small parking area. If the gate is not across the perpendicular road, you can drive up this road to the camping area and fire tower, (if you see the tower you are in the right spot).

Be careful using google maps for roads in the park as google has a distressing tendency to think power line cuts and other non-road artifacts are roads for some reason in Upstate New York. Sometimes it doesn’t show the full length of a road either, so to be safe use the official park maps from the department of natural resources.

The Fire Tower. Yes, you can go up it!

Time for hike: The distance is approximately 4 miles one way, so 8 miles total.This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: If you really want to star gaze after you finish the hike, go in late winter when the snow has begun to melt. The skies are at their clearest, the park at its emptiest, and the snow is gone enough you can actually get to the camping area.

Look for columbines and grouse (the bird)  in the park if you go in spring

Trails to Take

There are many roads in the forest which are worth walking, but I like the FLT because it lets you go through the woods rather than down roads. I have done the roads, visited the many primitive camping shelters in the park, and also done the FLT, but still the FLT remains one of my favorites.

Dogo does some light lawn maintenance at the camping area

To start the hike, there is a trail running out of the campground area. It is a big cut through the woods down hill from the main camping field, almost directly east of the shed with all the tie stalls for horses. Follow this definitely a logging trail that someone just repurposed because it was convenient until you run into a graveled road.

Ninja photography is possible along the many roads in the park
Signage for the FLT is a godsend

Now, I’m never quite sure how I do this, (because my navigation relies more on luck and prayer than I like to admit), but as the gravel road kind of comes around a corner it runs into the FLT. You want to go left on the FLT, which is initially headed south, but will eventually become east. Mostly this is going to be a walk through the woods. You’ll cross county road 21, then cross the abandoned section of Locust Lane.

Man made watering hole (one of several along trail)

As you travel through this area you will run across lots of singing/croaking/getting their freak on frogs if you come at just the right time in the spring. These will be especially apparent around the old rock lined hollows that you will run across. Someone told me that those were originally water collecting pools to water cattle that were kept far from the few rivers/creeks in the area. Not sure if this is true or not… There were also some small trees that reminded me of balsams, which are not usual in the area.

Ruins as you approach Buck Settlement Lean-To

In any case, as you approach the Buck Settlement Lean-To you will be walking on what was a pre-1850s road, and there will be some stone ruins in the area, so keep an eye out. Once you pass the Buck Settlement Lean-To you’ll run into what looks like a road, (and is another historical road remnant), and you go left to go down the road, passing by a cemetery. Then, go on to cross a small creek next to a horse camping spot on Templar Road. The FLT crosses the road, but I like to turn around here and head back up hill.

Once you’re back at camp, gather some downed wood, start the fire for dinner, and make the goat haul the telescope up from the car. Get out the star charts, line ‘er up, and wait for the show to start.

Dogo enjoying the moss



  1. The restrooms at the camping area, and the road up to the camping area off of Tower Hill Road, are closed during the winter season.
  2. I don’t recall ever paying to camp here, but make sure that’s still the case before you go.
  3. The roads into and around the park area are poorly maintained, (they even have signage telling you they don’t do a lot of road repair). I got a Ford Focus hatchback in, but I won’t say it was pretty.
  4. There are coyotes in the park that can be heard talking sometimes at night, but they do not seem to enter the camping area.
  5. There is a permanent wooden trail map at the camping area. Be careful of this map! One of the roads on the map actually runs exactly where two pieces of wood are joined to make the map. If you aren’t paying attention you can do what I did, which is not realize that it’s a road, not just a joint, and get really confused on where you are.
  6. The fire tower is a popular place for locals to visit, so expect to see some possible foot traffic to it even in winter.
  7. The camping is really only set up for tents and is basically camp where ever you want to in a big open field. Though I have seen people pull small trailers out there too.

In sum: Man has gazed at the stars for eons, but never before has one had to fight a goat that’s trying to eat the tripod for the opportunity.

Wake Up and Walk Into Watkins Glen with a Goat

If you know what Watkins Glen is, then you’ve already spotted the issue with this title. If you’ve not been there, Watkins Glen is probably the best and most gorgeous gorge within reasonable driving distance of Ithaca, NY, and is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.

However, it is, without a doubt, the biggest of the many tourist magnets in the Finger Lakes Region. Fear the legions upon legions of visitors. The towering monstrosity of staircases loaded with camera toting kids and day tripping house wives. This is not a place where goats are particularly welcome, much less there actually being any space on the trails in the gorge for them.

The beauty of Watkins Glen, though, is that everyone goes to the front part of the park where the gorge is deep and has lots of waterfalls. They pretty much never make it to the back of the park, much less to the Finger Lakes Trail that comes into the back of the park. There’s some pretty nice stuff to see on the back side as well, and thanks to the FLT there’s even places to camp.

*It has been a while since I’ve done this hike, so be prepared for the unexpected! CNY Hiking is a great resource for this and other FLT hikes (http://cnyhiking.com)*

Location: Sugar Hill State Forest, then the Finger Lakes Trail, followed by Watkins Glen.

Directions to Trail Head: The “trail head” is actually a parking location to use a rustic trail shelter on the FLT within the Sugar Hill State Forest. On Templar Road where it runs into Van Zandt Hollow Road, (which runs along the southern edge of Sugar Hill State Forest), there is a spot where a rough two track road branches off going up hill. At this location there is a sizeable creek running right next to the road that the two track road coming off Templar Road crosses. This is the place to park! You’ll need to park along the road side. This trail head can drive you insane trying to find it, so leave extra time.


Is it goat approved? Yes, there are no anti-goat rules and the trail itself is out in the country. However, a short section of the FLT does go through private property that is actively hunted for deer in season, and if you go much further into Watkins Glen you’ll probably want the goat on leash just to keep up appearances.

Time for hike: I don’t know the exact mileage, but it’s something like 4.5-5 miles one way down into Watkins Glen (the town) and of course, then it’s 5 miles back to the shelter.

Best time of the year to hike: Hike this one any season but summer. The insects can be very intense in the summer.

Trails to Take

Cemetery renewal project

I usually start out by parking my car on Templar Road, crossing the creek, and going up the two track. This passes a neat little graveyard, and then the FLT heads off the roadway to your right, through the woods, and you’ll see the shelter come up off the trail on you right, just before the trail swings to the left to avoid plowing straight into the river/creek ahead. Leave something at the shelter to indicate that you will be there later should any through hikers arrive so they’ll save you a spot out of the rain, (I left my heavy pack with all my gear, but something less stupidly risky might be better). Most FLT guys are pretty chill, so if you don’t leave anything and show up at 6 pm at night they’ll probably still let you bunk somewhere. Though, this is a great opportunity to make the goat carry the gear in for a change.

Primitive shelter to sleep in off FLT (its on the river actually)

Go back down to the car, cross Templar Road, and continue along the white blazed FLT trail, (the trail head should be almost directly across from the two track road you just came down). You’ll walk through a short section of Sugar Hill State Forest land, then cross Van Zandt Hollow Road. Continue up the trail on the other side of the road and you are now on private property (remember hunting season!). The trail meanders along a ridge line and the remains of deer may be present here. The trail is not as well marked and pretty easy to loose during this section. Continue to follow the river if in doubt.

River crossing
This is what the trail head looked like on the opposite side of the river in 2012

Eventually you will go down a steep hill to a river with obvious signs of past flooding and a potential maze of downed wood. This is Townsend Creek. You can look for white blazes, but given all the flooding the trees that were blazed may be gone! You are looking for a white blaze on the opposite side of the bank near some evergreen trees, (if those are still there!). Take your time finding this one!

Unused stone pathways on the backside of  Watkins Glen

Once you cross Townsend Creek you are basically inside Watkins Glen State Park. Continue onward and the trail will start crossing sections of obviously dressed and human set stone, including occasional staircases. All show little signs of use. You will pass by Hidden Valley Camp which has bunk houses and other camp structures. It can be a nice place to stop and grab a bite to eat if not otherwise occupied by campers. Odd structures (like temporary fire rings, symbols, and other random artifacts) may be present in the vicinity of the camp.

Hidden Valley Camp bunk house

The trail will cross Whites Hollow Road near where the road crosses a pretty stone bridge. There is a historical marker somewhere around this crossing that talks about the history of the Watkins Glen racecourse. Once you cross the road, continue down the edge of the paved access road, which will lead you to a dilapidated parking area. Past the parking area you will enter a picnic area, with the foundation ruins of a bathroom to your right against the hill. A huge picnic shelter will be sitting on the edge of pond.

Picnic Shelter

The trail continues around the edge of the pond, goes up some short uphills, and then runs along the edge of the river. Eventually it crosses under a maintained rail line on a metal trestle bridge. Once you pass under the rail line you are in the busy part of Watkin’s Glen. Proceed at your own risk.

One of the dams on the ponds in Watkins Glen
Active rail trestle

The FLT runs all the way through Watkins Glen and down to the actual road that runs through downtown. If you have someone to hold goats you could run into downtown and get some take out, but otherwise I like to turn around at the rail road bridge, save myself 2 miles of travel time, and get back to the campsite early.

Usually I turn around, wander back, set up camp and eat dinner, then hike back out to the car in the morning.



View of parking area for Watkin’s Glen State Park and part of Watkins Glen (the town).


  1. The rustic shelters available on the FLT must be shared. If the members of your party do not completely fill the shelter you will be asked to share space with complete strangers. Be prepared with a tent or tarp should you arrive at the rustic shelter and find it occupied or semi-occupied with those unwilling to share a campfire with a goat. There is a horse camping location right after you cross the creek at Van Zandt Hollow Road on your right if needed.
  2. The crossing of Townsend Creek on the FLT is not possible after heavy rain (and it rains ALL THE TIME in the Finger Lakes region).
  3. The FLT crosses through private property that is hunted for deer in season (during deer season the trail is closed).
  4. Goats (and dogs) are not allowed to sleep inside rustic trail shelters on the FLT. Probably because animal funk is even worse than sweaty-ain’t-seen-a-shower-in-3-days hiker funk.
  5. Is your goat a binge eater? In the winter there isn’t much to eat around the trail shelter…so I hate to say it but you might want hay.
  6. This camping area is out away from civilization. Great for solitude, but also great for coyotes and other critters. During my stay we had some really surprised deer that got close up into camp trying to figure out what the goat was. Oh, and a skunk.


In sum: If you ever run into a Boy Scout Troop leader camping out on the FLT, ask him about the time he spent a really long night teaching a weird chick with a goat how to start fires with flint and steel.

How Not To Hike the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks With a Yearling Doe

Want a nice scenic hike with some interesting water crossings to a lovely lake side campground? Or want a death defying mountain climb through obvious bear country with minimal trail markers and peat bogs that suck you, (but not the goat who is much smarter than you), in? You can choose, or if you are really crazy, try both!

Location: High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks (New York State)

Is it goat approved? Not exactly. These are foot trails, so be happy that goats live in a little place I like to call “Limbo” right now with the Park Service. Respect other users and be ingratiating and maybe we can all stay in Limbo permanently.

How to get there: Start at the Tahawus mine trail head, which is just beyond a blast furnace and the ghost town that once belonged to this now closed iron/titanium mine. Excellent parking with a gravel lot.

Time for the hike: For the “hard way”, I started at 9 am, reached campground at dusk, passed out, and took about 3 hrs slowly limping back out the next day. This hike is a loop. 

Directions to Trail Head: Exit 29 (from I-87) turning W onto Blue Ridge Road, Rte 84. Follow this route for 17.4 miles to an intersection with Tahawus Rd. (CR 25). Turn right for 6.3 miles and then left at a sign for High Peaks Trails. The blast furnace is 2.8 miles up this road. (Road right and across a bridge leads to the old mining area, which is closed to the public).

Trails to Take

THE HARD WAY:  Upper Works Trail from the parking lot. When the trail forks, go left onto Indian Creek Pass. Indian Creek Pass includes many exciting features, including lots of bear sign/scat, a peat bog area in the middle of the trail that will suck you in, giant toads, scenic river crossings, and water hazards. Expect to climb up rock falls and do a lot of elevation gaining. THIS TRAIL HAS A 10 FOOT LADDER. If you are leading a heavily packed goat take off the pack, carry it to the top of the ladder, then have the goat climb to the left of the ladder. If the ground is wet you won’t be able to get past this ladder as the rock face is almost too slippery in dry weather to get a goat up. If you have a dog, the dog won’t be able to get up at all. Next, take a right on Cold Brook Trail. THIS IS A HIGH PASS. You will be doing even more elevation gaining! Watch out for boggy areas, and keep to the river. As you crest the pass and begin down towards the lakes the trail will begin to wind and twist around the river. I personally lost it about a mile out from the campground and resorted to climbing down the river itself. When you finally get to the bottom of the valley you will be at a beautiful camping area around Lake Colden and Flowed Lands lakes.  This is a popular camping location, so the lean-tos are likely to be taken. I personally recommend the area at the southern tip of Lake Colden, but suit yourself. Watch out for nude swimmers, drunk hikers, and wave at the 46ers who are worn out from summiting all day. Don’t plan on getting a lean-to. Bring a tent (or if warm, a hammock with bug shield). This is New York, so be prepared to share a communal fire, talk to people, and brush up on your knowledge of wines. Oh, and keep your goat(s) away from other camper’s toothbrushes. Remember to bring a tarp for the goat(s) if its going to rain.

If you are not familiar with loons, just remember there aren’t any wolves in the Adirondacks High Peaks region when the crying wakes you up at 5 am. Get breakfast, saddle up the goat, and take Algonquin Peak Trail to the southern end of Lake Colden. Continue on Calamity Brook Trail along the edge of the larger bodies of water, and eventually along the edge of “Flowed Lands”, AKA a large river/marsh like area. Somewhere in here is a short suspended bridge over the river. Wait for all hikers to cross it and then carefully lead one goat at a time across. It is an easy bridge, especially for inexperienced goats, to fall on or off if they spook and the river can be too high for them to swim or pack across. Look out for the funeral monument in this area. Otherwise, all of this will be relatively flat, easy, and enjoyable. Eventually you will hook back into Upper Works Trail and that will take you right back to the parking lot. Just make sure you don’t turn right back onto Indian Creek, (unless you want to have all this fun all over again! Hahahaha).

THE EASY WAY: Just take Upper Works Trail, STAY LEFT so you don’t take Indian Creek, and hike a pleasant flat stretch to Colden Lake. Snag a good camping spot and spend an enjoyable day exploring the lake side and doing some small side hikes. Hike back out the next day.


  1. For some reason, Adirondack trail maps seem to be rarely made with the actual GPS coordinates of the entire trail mapped out. Use them as a very loose guide of where you are going, the terrain, and the mileage you will be covering. Very very loose. You will feel at some point that the best use for the map instead of direction might be as a fire lighter, or perhaps even in the outhouse. But remember, the elevation may be wrong, the mileage inaccurate, and the actual location of the trail intersections totally misrepresented, but usually the lakes and the rivers are not entirely fictional.
  2. Watch out for bear sign. You are hiking with a hamburger on 4 legs. Even if your food is in a bear canister (hint: those are required to camp in the park) the goat is not! This is serious bear country!
  3. Watch out for boggy areas. If the goat won’t go, ask yourself why! I did not, being young and oh so stupid, ask myself why and spent twenty agonizing minutes standing on my toes up to my shoulders in a peat bog that sucked me in trying to figure out how to not die and get out with my shoes. Note that this peat bog was in the the middle of Indian Creek Trail. That’s right. You’ll walk right over it and get sucked in! Think of it as Hunger Games Adirondacks style.
  4. INSECTS! Oh, did I mention the INSECTS?! If you are going in the summer bring the DEET, Citronella, and possibly an atomic bomb. This place has deer flies, biting flies, midges, mosquito, and all of them are huge! If you go in the summer, be prepared!
  5. While not as true in High Peaks due to the large number of casual hikers, in many areas of New York if your party does not fill a lean-to you will be expected to share the lean-to with strangers until maximum capacity is reached. So bring friends, bring a tent, or be prepared to stay up late in the night as the lovebirds next to you in the lean-to sweet talk each other to sleep.

IN SUM: Does life bore you? Are you in need of excitement? Well we can do this the easy way or the hard way. It’s up to you.

Dogo with her soft trainer pack as a yearling
The maps may suck, but the trail intersections for the main trails are well marked. Usually...
The maps may suck, but the trail intersections for the main trails are well marked. Usually…
Unattended goats may browse on trail markers, bridge posts, and signage
Unattended goats may browse on trail markers, bridge posts, and signage
Just beyond this is the parking lot
Just beyond this is the parking lot
Lake Colden shortly after the loons woke me up
Lake Colden shortly after the loons woke me up
For a man who died in a hunting accident.
For a man who died in a hunting accident.
Bright orange means
Bright orange means “don’t shoot. I’m not a deer”
Boggy area in Flowed Lands