The journal from my 2009 thru-hike of Benton MacKaye Trail. This article also has planing info.
February 6th, 2009 – Colorado
In 2009, I became a casualty of the economic recession: I was laid off.
My first thought? What mountains are relatively snow free in February?
My mind wandered and I thought of the Benton MacKaye Trail .
At 300 miles, it is the perfect length to thru-hike before obligations in early March occur.
The BMT meanders through a part of the southern Appalachians that is a bit more isolated and less well traveled than the more famous Appalachian Trail.
During my time on the BMT, I hope to again see the subtle beauty of the southern Appalachians. A land of thick forests, flowing creeks and mist forming over the hill sides. It will not be like the Rockies…and for that I am grateful.
I’ll return to the place where I more or less started my current life. I will again look north and follow a long brown path. Last time it lead me to moving out to Colorado and starting a new life. Who knows where the path will lead this time?
The many thanks….
I was able to plan out and implement this hike in less than four days, but I had much help from many people in the hiking community. In no particular order I’d like to thank:
Ernest Egman (aka Sgt. Rock) : A recently retired First Sergeant in the US Army and an active maintainer for the BMT, he provided much helpful information for this trek
Gordon Dunn (aka Egads): Another active BMT hiker over at Whiteblaze who provided some great info
Curt Owen of Standing Bear Farm hostel: Besides providing a safe place to park my truck at the end of the trail, have gave some ideas that made much logistic sense!
Jeff Hunter (aka Little Bear): PR director for the BMTA and someone I’ve known for a while in the hiking community. He’s going to shuttle me from Standing Bear Farm hostel to Springer Mountain. Wow!
Benton MacKaye Trail Assn: The ones who made this trail possible!
Feb 9th – Final thoughts before leaving Colorado
The journey on the BMT is considerably shorter than other journey’s I have taken. In less than three weeks, I’ll be done with this little walk.
However, the feeling is the same as whenever I start a journey on a foot. A certain amount of excitement, anticipation and a slight “What the hell am I about to do?”
I am unemployed, not sure of what I want to do when I grow up (at almost 35 yrs old no less!) and am about to take a 22 hr (total) drive so I can walk 300 miles.
Most mature adults my age would be sweating bullets. Wondering about their 401k, how to get through this (perceived) financial crisis and getting some stability in their lives.
Instead, I see this lay-off is a blessing. It has reaffirmed one of my deepest loves is perhaps the path I should pursue. Not just as recreation, or a hobby…but as something I am committed to with all the passion I bring to the rest of my life.
As I was making my trip preparations this week, I received a call. A woman I haven’t talked to in almost two months left a voice mail. She apologized for not getting back to me, said she had a lot of personal issues crop up in her life..and would I like to get together for a drink?
Timing is everything. The get together went well. Perhaps if she called me a month ago, my current plans would differ?
It call comes back to what I thought almost three-years ago when I walked the Continental Divide: How do I balance the opposing desires of wanderlust and a deep need for a community in my life? This journey is only about three weeks total. But, part of me is going to miss the weekends of backcountry skiing, grabbing a few beers post-ski, playing with my surrogate “nephew” and (seemingly) having a great time on an impromptu date. The normal day-to-day activities that can’t be had when on the trail. The journey is only three weeks, but time dilates on the trail. Three weeks in the so-called real world is not like three weeks on a journey. Every day is something different. Every week seems like so much longer in a good way.
I love my long walks to the point where I need them. I need to be immersed not just for a weekend in the wilderness, but for days at a time. I need the pace that comes from having my belongings on my back and traveling on foot all day for an extended period of time. I need the journey that comes from solo pilgrimages in the mountains.
I guess, as the cliche’ goes, I want to have my cake and eat it too.
As I get up at 5am MST, drink my coffee, drive on I-70, and make my way back to the Appalachians, it will be something to think about. I suspect I still won’t have the answer at the conclusion of this and other possible journeys.
One thing I am certain of, though: My time on this trail will be just as memorable and rewarding as my other treks in the mountains. Once I am on foot again, all worries and cares go away. I am again where I love. It is simply walking…and it could not be better.
Feb 11th – Standing Bear Farm Hostel, Hartford, TN
I had the “good fortune” to drive, more or less, in the same freakin’ storm all day.
Not as bad as Vail Pass on a snowy day..but pretty tiring none-the-less.
Needless to say, the beer is good.
The journey starts tomorrow…
Feb 12th – Black Gap Shelter
~7 miles today. ~7 miles total
The storm of yesterday moved out leaving behind clear blue skies, warm weather and about the perfect way to begin a journey in the southern Appalachians.
Jeff Hunter is the PR person for the BMTA.
The drive down was pleasant. Besides talking trail, we discussed music, New York, food and local history.
After a pleasant lunch stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, we quickly arrived at Amicalola Falls.
The requisite photos were taken and then I started up the blue-blazed approach trail.
The walk was gradual and enjoyable. Thick woods, moss and sunlight streamed through the branches with views of undulating in the distance. I had forgotten just how beautiful the southern Appalachians can be. Rather than the dramatic panorama of the Rockies, it is a subtle, more intimate beauty.
I did not start my hike until almost 4PM. Just past 6, I spotted the campsite.
Not quite at the summit of Springer Mtn, but after 1400 miles of driving (and an inordinate amount of gas station coffee), I am still quite tired.
A good night’s sleep in the cool night air will not only be refreshing, but it will also be the perfect way to end my first day on the trail.
Feb 13th – Just Past Lick Log Mtn
23.4 Miles Hiked Today 21.7 BMT Miles 30.4 Miles total
Simply put, I am loving this trail.
Though it is only my first official day on the BMT, I can already see it is of a much different nature than the AT. I only saw two backpackers today, and was just off the AT. The BMT really does have a remote feel.
Tonight, I am camped under the stars. I have the same tired, yet exhilirating, feeling I always have on long hikes.
My BMT journey “officially” started at 8:15 AM this morning when I again followed the white blazes north from Springer. Rather than starting a five month journey through the Appalachians, I will be on a shorter, but still satisfying, journey.
I have not been to the summit of Springer Mountain in almost eleven years.
In 1998, I was excited, nervous and full of raw energy. Today? Rather than raw intensity, I had a feeling of of contentment that I only get on extended backpacks.
The highlight of the day was crossing the Taccoa River. Rambling, wide and full of force. It was mesmerizing to watch. All along the river bank were lush groves of rhododendrons. Raging water and the lush greenery. Two facets of nature not found often in Colorado but are in abundance in the southern Appalachians. Simply beautiful.
Feb 14th – North Fork Laurel Creek
24.0 Miles today 45.7 BMT miles 54.4 miles total
The day started off shrouded in fog. The bare trees were in sharp contrast to the moss and lichen found along the trail corridor.
On my BMT trip, I did not expect to see grand vistas. Rather I am seeking to enjoy the more intimate beauty found in these hills. And on a foggy day, a hiker can’t help but notice but notice these subtle details. Not the just views of the lush greens, but the interplay of the brown leaves against the grey rock. The slight swoosh as you move along the carpet of leaves. And the slight, yet unmistakable, smell of wet vegetation.
The first part of the day was somewhat difficult with the many of the continuous ups and downs Eastern hiking is known for.
The second half was mainly a gradual descent with some moderate climbing and a four mile road walk as well.
The road walk did feature a little restaurant where I not only chowed down on a burger an fries, but downed my favorite daily vice: COFFEE!!!!
The road walk also went by a gated community called “The Forest Has Eyes”. I gather that “A planned, private, gated Orwellian Community” was too long to fit on a sign?
Back in the woods, the fog cleared, the sun came out and made for another satisfying day on the trail.
Feb 15th Top of Un-named Knob
25.7 miles today 71.4 BMT Miles 80.1 Total Miles
The first part of the day was not the best to be hoenst. All long trails have portions of hiking I call “connector trail”. Trail needed to keep a continuous foot path, but not much else. There was quite a bit of road walking and the trail was often literally feet from vacation homes.
However, even this stretch had its scenic points: Moss covered rocks in flowing streams and the occasional thicket of rhododendrons.
Once past Bushy Head Gap, the trail again became isolated in feel. More single track and abandoned woods roads where I could not see any sign of people.
Towards the end of the day, the trail meandered through more thickets of rhododendrons. I am beginning to feel that this type of scenery is the perhaps the highlight of this section of the BMT. I can only imagine how wonderful area must look in Spring.
The historian in me would love to know the history of this cemetery. What community did it serve? It is reatively remote now…how remote was it back in the past? I snapped some photos and left quicky. I felt like a bit of an interloper in this serene setting.
And tonight? I am on a knob catching the first rays of the setting sun. The light is washing over the hill side. The clear night sky is starting to show and a late winter chill is in the air.
The trail continues to beckon.
Feb 16th Ducktown, TN
20 miles today 91.4 BMT Miles 100.1 Miles Total
Today I crossed into TN and also into the Big Frog Wilderness. For quite a few miles, there were no blazes. I actually had to pull out my map and compass to be sure I took the correct trail at the junction. A little CDT-like experience in the Southern Appalachians! Easy enough navigation but a little different than most Eastern hiking.
One of the highlights of the day was a surprisingly long ridge walk along the Chimney Tops. Ridge walks are perhaps my favorite hiking experience. Not only is the hiking enjoyable, but the views are rewarding as well.
The other highlight was seeing wild boar! When I saw the black hump moving through the brush, I thought it was a black bear. Then I spotted an animal with black and white spots. It was a piglet! The boar grunted a warning. No more needed! I gave the family a wide berth. (I had my revenge tonight, though, I had pork for dinner! )
I had not planned to stay in town today. But, I did not arrive in town until almost 6PM.
It worked out well. I am staying at a local B&B that only gave me a deep discount, but also a shuttle to and from the trail, laundry, two meals and (most importantly) the hospitality of the Kaufmans.
Mardee and Dan are on my long list of people who have helped me on my journeys throughout the years. Their generosity, welcoming manner and friendliness made this part of the journey very memorable.
Feb 17th Near Towee Creek Picnic Area
23.1 miles today 114.5 BMT Miles 122.2 Miles Total
The day featured a mix of of mountain views and river walks. Not only was the hiking easy, it was exceptionally pleasant too.
The highlight was a nearly 3.5 mile walk along an old jeep track that meandered along Lost Creek and was in a pretty gorge. The cascading water and water dripping from the lichen made the area seem remote.
The river walking motif continued along the Hiawassee River. Though it was paved road walking, it was very enjoyable. I imagine it is much like what the AT was 40+ years ago: Backcountry roads in rural Appalachia. The walk went by a few low-key rafting/fishing stores that are not quite open for the season.
The day ended with a delightful walk along the John Muir Trail.
Rather than the High Sierra, this JMT continued to stay close to river.
All in all, a wonderful way to experience a part of the mountains I often miss on my long walks – the river valleys.
Rivers define a region as much as mountains. I am pleased the BMT is letting me explore, at least a little bit, this important part of Appalachia
Feb 18th Old 4WD Road
22 miles today 136.5 BMT Miles 149.2 miles total
A look a the map will the tale of the trail today – ascend up one knob and then down into a gap. Repeat. Throw in some rain for the whole day and it made for some…interesting…hiking.
In its own way it was still enjoyable. I am in an isolated part of the NC/TN line. And it feels like it. The BMT is proving to be a great way to explore the southern Apps a bit off the beaten path. Towards twilight, I even saw a black bear today. As I looked down below the wooded slope, , I saw the distinctive shape of a black bear bounding through the woods.
Towards the end of the day, the sun broke through and made for some interesting lighting. The clouds would drift through the ridge and the sunlight would tinge the clouds and the trees with an orange light.
On top of a knob, I looked into the Hiawassee Valley and saw that quintisential southern Apps view – the green hills surrounded by the clouds.
The hill tops are poking through the rollings mists. It is a view that perhaps photos can not do justice.
Dinner is cooking. The sun has set. And all I hear is the wind and remnants of the rain falling on my tarp. A quiet and relaxing way to end this difficult but rewarding day.
Feb 19th Somewhere on the BMT – old Railroad Grade
20 Miles today 156.5 BMT miles 163.4 Miles total
I have been at or close to 4000 ft most of the day. It made for a large difference in the climate. Below, it is very early spring. Up here? Late winter. A bit cold all dayh. First time I had to wear my balaclava all day while hiking.
Cold enough where I decided to hit a well known motel 1.5 miles off the trail. Alas, it is not open for about another month. It cost me ~45 minues and 3 miles of hiking.
No matter; the day was almost Colorado-like with the sky above an intense and clear blue. Another day where I can’t believe how isolated I feel on the trail. It is not only a bit of wilderness, but also wildness as well.
Feb 20th Along Slickrock Creek
22 miles today 178.5 BMT miles 185.4 miles total
It was unbelievably cold last night and well into today. I am guesstimating that it plunged into the single digit temps. I barely stayed warm enough and really pushed the edge of my three-season equipment. Made for a slow morning breaking camp. I wore most of my clothing today as well.
But the cold weather made for some fantastic ridge line walks that had views astoundingly far and clear for Eastern hiking.
I saw some trail maintainers today. Only the second set of people I’ve seen on the trail. I thanked them for their work and relayed how much I am enjoying my trail experience.
Tonight I am nearly 3000′ lower than last night. It is perfect sleeping weather tonight. The sound of of the stream is steadily lulling me to sleep. Above me is a blanket of stars unmarred by light pollution. I am quite content right now and looking forward to the final days of my BMT experience.
Feb 21st Maryville, TN
10.5 Miles today 189 BMT Miles 196.7 Miles Total
Today, I witnessed the trail grapevine personally. The trail mainters I met yesterday notified my friend Jeff on the BMTA board. He in turn notified Enrest Engman (Sgt. Rock). Long story short? When I was doing the portion of the BMT at Deals Gap, I heard a beep behind me. Who was it? Sgt. Rock!
Sgt. Rock is one of the main admins at Whiteblaze.net and also maintains his own site at HikingHQ.net. Though we have never met, we “knew” each other for a few years now via the online hiking community.
Besides being a very knowledgable backpacker, he is also a maintainer for the stretch of the BMT I just hiked yesterday. When he heard I was hiking the BMT, he offered to to pick me up and let me crash at his house near the edge of the Smokies.
He, his someone Dixie and both his sons have been generous and warm hosts. Not only letting me gear up for the last stretch of trail and sharing their knowledge of the Smokies, also sharing stories, anecdotes (and few glasses of whiskey with Rock) over what we love: The long trails.
The BMT has been a wonderful experience. And days like this are part of the reason why I am loving not only the BMT, but the life I have spent on the long traisl in general. I hike for the views, for going along a trail in the deep woods and being immersed in nature day after day. But I also hike for the people I meet on these journeys. The people who share part of my journey with me.
The BMT may be a comparatively short journey, but it is becoming every bit as memorable and rewarding as every other time I have taken a wilderness pilgrimage.
Feb 22nd Hazel Creek
15.4 miles today 204.4 BMT Miles 213.1 Miles Total
I had a leisurely morning before hitting the trail today. I could not have asked for more kindness from Sgt. Rock and family. It had snowed overnight so a warm over my head was quite welcome. I downed one final cup of coffee and left for the final push for this trip – the Smokies.
The area I walked today was mainly old road bed and went by the remants of one of the last communities to be in the Smokies. I briefly paused at an old cemetery and noticed the age of the graves; along with how well the area was still maintained. Reminded me of Dyer’s Gap earlier in the journey.
I have some aggressive days planned ahead, but some lower mileage days, too. A loping pace to end my time on the BMT.
The weather has been cold, but I have no doubt I will enjoy my time on this last stretch of trail.
Feb 23rd Lower Forney Creek
21.2 miles today 225.2 BMT miles 233.9 miles total
Another day of walking an old road and past remnants of old homes. Pleasant, if unventful, walking.
The day was a fair bit warmer than yesterday. Warm enough where I could take off my balaclava and wear my bandanna.
The were views of Fontana Lake for most of the day. I also spotted some wild turkeys just off the trail. The main highlight was spotting some daffodils. Planted many years ago by the the inhabitants of the woods I am now walking. Old walls, chimenys and even parts of cars may be spotted. But it was this bright patch of yellow that is perhaps the most poignant legacy that these inhabitants left. A little bit of their lives still live on in these woods that have reclaimed the land a little at a time.
Feb 24th Bryon Place Campsite
13.7 Miles today 241.9 miles BMT miles 248.0 miles total
Hard to believe that there is only 2.5 days left in the journey.
Though the journey is considerably shorter than most of my journeys, it seems I have been out here for a while now. One of the reasons was the drive from Colorado. The other reason is how time dilates out here. Two weeks out on the trail is not like two weeks in a cubicle.
The BMT has been an enjoyable experience. I was curious how I’d find the mountains with my lighter gear, higher experience level and better overall physical condition vs my 1998 self. I find that the mountains are not so much easier, but that I enjoy the journey more.
I’ve also been enjoying this trail that no has no defined culture. The AT, the PCT and even the CDT all have this almost mythical quality about them that is hard to escape. A hiker knows who is ahead or behind them. On a trail with no real window of hiking, you can simply hike and enjoy the trail. And on a trail such as the BMT, where the amount of thru-hikers is low, the solitude is bliss. I love being just a hiker and not part of a linear community.
My BMT journey has help clarify what I’ve felt my future is for long hikes – smaller, less well known trails. Trails that can be done in two months at the most; prefarbly less.
I loved my time on the “Big Three” trails and I will always treasure the camraderie I made on the trails. But my need for a hiking community is felt more so via on-line hiking forums and hiker gatherings.
Perhaps someday I will again have the urge to hike one the Triple Crown Trails.
But now? I will enjoy and savor the smaller trails. Trails without the mythos of the “Big Three”; trails just as beautiful and rewarding in their own right.
Feb 25th Enloe Creek
21.6 miles today 263.5 BMT miles 272.2 Miles total
Today was an easy-going, uneventful, day. In an odd way, I felt as if I was hiking back in my home state of Rhode Island. All the oaks and flat, old, wooded road walks. Only the steep grades and higher elevations seemed different.
I did go by an almost two-hundred year old church that was interesting. Another piece of history that I plan to discover more about once this journey is over.
At this point, there are about 26 miles left to hike. If the weather does not cooperate, I may bypass my last planned campsite and end this journey a little earlier.
Mount Sterling is supposed to have phenomenal views. But if the mountain is in the fog, I gain nothing by being up there (in terms of a view). I’ll see what Ma Nature brings me and take it from there.
Feb 26th Mount Sterling
15.8 miles today 279.2 BMT miles 286.9 total miles
On the advice of Sgt. Rock (who knows these mountains very well), I making this spot my last campsite on the BMT.
What a fitting place for my last night on the trail – the highest point on the BMT with an easy, almost all downhill finish back to the Mag Wag (my truck).
The weather cooperated for last part of the day. The warm sun felt good as I made my way down the trail.
At over 5000′ for a good portion of the day, the thick conifer forest reminded me of nothern New England. A bit of a different environment than the oaks below.
Tomorrow my journey on the BMT ends. It has been a wonderful experience that I will always look back on fondly.
Feb 27th Standing Bear Farm Hostel
~12 miles today ~288 BMT miles ~300 miles total
At six in the morning, the wind whipped and I could feel moisture in the air. Time to get a move on! I quickly packed up my gear, shouldered my pack and headed down the final stretch of trail.
The trail down was easy. The rain considerably picked up though and made for a wet morning. No matter; I knew warm and dry cotton clothing awaited me down below!
Just before I reached the trailhead parking lot, I saw four backpackers – almost as many people as I saw on the entire trail!
A short while later, I reached the boundary of the Smokies and posed for a last (precarious and slippery!) photo on an embankment. For all intents and purposes, the BMT was over. All that was left a mixture of road walking and AT hiking.
After the road walk, I hiked onto the AT. Made on final climb and tagged my truck (and took out my duffel of containing dry clothing).
My hike was over. Time to shower, shave and leave my brief foray back into hiker trash mode behind…at least until the next journey begins.
Feb 28th – March 3rd Post Trail back to Colorado
After showering and shaving, I sent out e-mails to various hiker bulletin boards, friends
and other places.
One e-mail I saw was from my good friend Nahum.
He announced that he and Patricia just had a baby girl….the day before!
Did my friends really want unemployed hiker-trash showing up for a visit? The reply was an unequivocal YES!
Many of us in Boulder miss Patricia and Nahum quite a bit. We are happy for the lives that have made for themselves in Blacksgburg, but on a purely selfish level we miss them in our daily lives.
Being so close to Blacksburg (only a 3 hr or so drive from the Smokies), I was easily convinced that I really should go see them (Big thanks to the Zapins for giving me a metaphorical slap on the head! )
Off I went on Sunday. Had a great big breakfast (my appetite was through the roof!) and made the drive to the hopsital. Knocked on the door of their birthing suite and saw the tired, but beaming, parents.
It was touching to see Nahum speaking Hebrew to his daughter. And though I know very few words of Hebrew, it does not take a translator to tell that the words were ones of warmth, love and delight. Little Shayna was born to two parents who will give her the world.
I was happy to meet Shayna…and even held the little one. If my Mom could see the photo below, she may get way too excited.
After a nice visit, I took advantage of having laundry, WiFi and the other accoutrements of staying at my friends’ home in Blacksburg. Nahum showed up and both talked well into the evening about out friends in Boulder, the economy and World War II history (I think Nahum and I have re-hashed every conflict several times over ..and we never get tired of the discussion!).
The following morning, I drove back to the hospital, had a few more hours with the Aravs and then said my “until next times”.
I was going to visit some more friends..but the storm moving in made me decide to get out of the East. Good thing…the East Coast was blanketed with snow. I believe there was a FOOT of snow in the Smokies. Great timing!
The day before I made it back to Boulder, I stopped at another friend’s house: Yogi.
Yogi live’s just outside of Kansas City and was on the way back. Many in the hiking community know her as the author of THE guidebooks for the PCT and CDT. Me (and other close hiker friends), we know her as a good friend whom we’ve shared miles and smiles with over the years.
I think she appreciates the friends in the hiking community who knew her as a hiker first..and think of her as a guidebook author second.
In any case, it was great to see her. She lives on the edge of open space and it seems like a chill place to live.
We caught up and then she took me to the restaurant where she worked. When in KC, you must steak or BBQ. Since I am a commited carnivore, I was happy. 🙂
The smell of charred meat permeated the downtown area. Mmm…charred goodness.
When my order of pork ribs came, they practically fell off the bone when I looked at them.
It was perhaps the best post-trail meal I’ve ever had! Washed down with a couple of beers and I was a happy man!
The following day, I made it back to my apartment. Pulled a beer out of the fridge..and did nothing.
Time to unwind, relax..and thihk 0f what I want to do next.
The Benton MacKaye Trail is an excellent trail for anyone who wants to explore the southern Appalachians and see something a bit more off the beaten path than the Appalachian Trail.
It is a trail that only has 3 shelters (one of which is .2 from the start!) so primitive camping needs to be done. By eastern trail standards, the trail is sparsely marked and in the wilderness areas, you actually need to pull out your map at the junctions.
The BMT reminded me a little bit of the PCT in terms of skill sets needed as far as camping and navigation goes.
Comparatively few people use the trail. Not counting road areas, I saw six hikers and four trail maintainers. The backpackers were within a mile or less of a parking lot at that!
The BMT is NOT a social trail. If you are looking for a trail culture, you may want to do another trail.
Ideally, the trail would best be done in Fall (the colors) or in Spring (flowers blooming). I am not going to quibble with the gift of time I received, though!
As I mentioned earlier in my journal, I was curious how I would find the southern Appalachians more than eleven years after I first hiked the AT.
In 1998 , though I was younger, I am not the shape I am in now. I am also a much more experienced outdoors person and carry a much lighter load than eleven years ago. With the exception of the stretch between the Hiawassee and Deals Gap (edge of the Smokies), I found the trail relatively moderate overall in terms of grade. If I was new to backpacking, I suspect I’d find the trail every bit as challenging as I found the AT in 1998, however. (As an aside, I did some hiking in New Hampshire this past fall. The tread and grades were every bit as hard as I remember! Northern New England still has the toughest trails (at least physically) of any I’ve ever hiked)
The BMT, and eastern hiking in general, is not hiked for awe inspiring views and grand moments. Rather, eastern hiking is done for the subtle, more intimate moments. The sun filtering through the leaves. Hiking through a tunnel of rhododendrons and listening to the nearby creek. The subtle smell of vegetation in the air. The interplay of dark greens, soft greys and browns on a foggy day. What I also enjoyed about the BMT is how you’d often look off the ridges and see NOTHING but woods. Very rare out East. The BMT has a remote, almsot wild, feeel that is not often seen in the Appalachians.
If you want a southern Appalachian hiking experience that is more wild than the Appalachian Trail, hike the BMT! I loved the trail and would not hesitate recommending the experience. You do need a little more skills than the typical shelter-to-shelter hiking of the AT, but the rewards of hiking the BMT are wonderful for anyone who cares to open themselves up to the BMT experience.
Benton MacKaye Trail Association – The first place to stop for info
Whiteblaze.net – Has an active BMT board and many active members of WB are also regular hikers and maintainers for the BMT. When I had questions on the trip, many of the members were extremely helpful! http://whiteblaze.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=415
The BMT Facebook page is fairly active and may be of use as well
Maps: Free topos of the entire trail available at http://parkaymaps.110mb.com/BMTMaps/BMTMapsIndex.html
If you want more more an overview than just the trail corridor, then use these maps:
Trails Illustrated Map #777 – Springer and Chohutta Mountains. Cover the first 44 miles of trail from Springer Mountain and the Amicalola Falls approach trail
Trails Illustrated Topo Map #781 – Tellico and Ocoee Rivers covers from Scroggin Knob (mile 44, near Rich Mt. Wilderness in Georgia) all the way to the Smokies (mile 190). New edition (released June 2006) shows BMT in continuous yellow highlight across both map panels. $9.95
The Smokies: The only area where you need a permit is in the Smokies. An easy to use self-registration permit is at the 20 Mile Ranger station just before you enter the park. If you are going southbound, you can obtain a permit at the Smokemont campground or at the Big Creek Ranger station. Some sites (denoted as RATIONED) must be reserved ahead of time on the BMT in the Smokies. The Smoies TI map shows the campsites and which ones must be RSVPd ahead of time. This link is also useful for Smokies info. http://www.bmta.org/sections/BMT-SecDescrip-Smokies.pdf Call the Backcountry Registration Office at 865-436-1231 to reserve a site. Non-rationed sites DO NOT have to be RSVPd in advance and can be signed up for at the places mentioned earlier.