Hike the Benton MacKaye Trail near Blue Ridge, Georgia to a long suspension bridge over the Toccoa River, and a small waterfall on the opposite bank.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map
From a trailhead shared with the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, the Benton MacKaye Trail stretches an epic 300 miles from Georgia to the Smoky Mountains. This short, kid-friendly day hike on the BMT journeys to the beautiful, wide-flowing Toccoa River southeast of Blue Ridge, Georgia. The hike explores the banks of the Toccoa before crossing the river by way of a 270-foot-long suspension bridge – an adventure itself, as the swinging bridge bounces with every step.
The hike crosses the swinging bridge and explores a small waterfall on the Toccoa River’s opposite bank, set in a shady grove of fragrant hemlock, before making an optional climb to a nearby mountain summit. Spanning only .5 mile (to the Toccoa River swinging bridge and back), or 2 miles (with the mountain climb), the hike explores some exceptionally beautiful North Georgia wilderness, catches beautiful river views and adventures over the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi River. If you’re in the Blue Ridge / Ellijay area and looking for some family-friendly outdoor fun, this hike is pretty much a must.
Toccoa River Swinging Bridge via the BMT: the hike
The hike departs the parking area at the end of the gravel FR 816, east of Ellijay and Blue Ridge (view maps and driving directions), trailing southeast. The hike quickly reaches the Benton MacKaye Trail, marked with white diamond trail blazes, turning right on the BMT to continue southeast-bound toward the Toccoa River.
The trail’s bed is sandy as it makes a gentle descent to the river, meandering through a mixed forest of mountain laurel, pine, and deciduous trees.
The trail levels at .25 mile, reaching the banks of the Toccoa River. The lengthy bridge spans the river ahead, and the hike begins to cross, making a suspended trek across the river. The swinging bridge sways with every step, hence its name, making the crossing both fun and slightly challenging. A plaque on the bridge commemorates its origin, built in 1977 by the USDA Forest Service with the cooperation of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. It’s beautiful, rustic and offers great mid-river views.
The hike reaches the end of the swinging bridge, grabbing firm footing on the non-swaying ground. A side trail departs the Benton MacKaye Trail to the left, descending a rocky outcrop to a small, cascading waterfall.
The waterfall and the surrounding river plain make a great place to picnic mid-hike, shaded by a sweet-smelling grove of hemlock trees.
From here, this hike’s shorter option doubles back over the Toccoa River by way of the swinging bridge, retracing its steps to the trailhead and finishing at .5 mile.
Extend the hike on the Benton MacKaye Trail
A longer and more challenging option continues to follow the Benton MacKaye Trail southbound from the Toccoa River, crossing a gravel road at .4 mile. (You’ve made it this far… why not explore a little?) The BMT courses through a shady, mossy, particularly beautiful slice of North Georgia forest, climbing to an adjacent ridge.
The trail gains elevation quickly – 500 feet in the course of .75 mile – as it climbs from the river’s banks before cresting at 1.1 miles. There’s no view from the summit – in fact, the nearest worthwhile vista on the BMT is 2.7 miles further south, near the ridgeline at Bryson Gap. But the rich forest, blanketed in mushrooms and moss, is worth the journey. The hike departs the summit and retraces its steps, thankfully downhill this time, to the Toccoa River, crossing the river via the swinging bridge and completing the adventure at just over 2 miles.
More Benton MacKaye Trail adventure near Blue Ridge
In the area with energy and daylight to spare? Don’t miss the short, family-friendly half-miler on the BMT to the double cascades of the Fall Branch Falls waterfall. It’s a short drive from the Toccoa River swinging bridge, and a can’t-miss, beautiful waterfall.
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Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available at the USFS trailhead. Trailhead access is via gravel roads.
34.739017, -84.170200 // N34 44.341 W84 10.212