Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Big Frog on the BMT

A short overnight backpacking trip on the Benton Mackaye Trail Section 11 in Tennessee provided two favorite summertime treats: swimming holes and ripe berries. Perfect for the intense heat!

Section 11 of the BMT climbs gradually from a low point at the Ocoee River (1120 feet) up and over the summit of Big Frog Mountain (4224 feet), namesake mountain of the Big Frog Wilderness, and then down to Double Springs Gap at the Georgia/ Tennessee border.

Ocoee River
The start of the hike crossed over several dirt roads but then finally entered the wilderness. Following old logging roads made for easy hiking.

Former logging roads turning back to nature.
 Ripe red raspberries grew in thickets along the old roads. Sweet and juicy. The taste of summer.

All mine.
It felt great to enter into the wilderness area. The Big Frog Wilderness of Tennessee borders the Cohutta Wilderness of Georgia. Combined, they form the largest tract of Wilderness USFS land in the eastern US. This section only had "winter views" which meant that there were only partial views obscured by leaves. But at least I could imagine the vastness.

Once in the wilderness, the BMT follows the West Fork of Rough Creek, one of the prettiest places I've been to in the southeast. Hemlock and great rhododendron in full bloom line the banks of this sweet bubbling stream.

Massive pink blossoms filling the air.
Plunging into a bubbling creek on a hot summer day might just be one of the greatest pleasures in life. I splashed around for what seemed like hours, with butterflies and jewelwings dancing around my head. A lazy lunch on mossy rocks while soaking my feet, until my feet turned to prunes. Even though I've had some pretty epic swims in the last few years, this one stands out for the lovely wildflowers, insects, and jacuzzi-like water, and because it was so intensely hot out.

Definitely one of the best swims EVER!
Azures all around.

Long tunnels of mountain laurel
Even though there were only obscured views through the trees, the ridgewalking went on for miles. And there was a wonderful sense of being up high.

 Big Frog Mountain (4,224 feet elevation) is named by the Cherokee for the spring frog, which emerges early in the season. I didn’t get to see any frogs, but salamanders were out roaming before the storm.

A woodland salamander prowling around
Other wildlife was abundant. I startled two black bears who ran off.
This timber rattlesnake stayed put on the trail. So I was the one who went the long way around.
On the approach up Big Frog Mountain
Once I got to the top, I continued south down over the crest. A steep mile or so that descended a bit over a thousand feet. The turn around point of my trip was Double Springs Gap, which indeed has two springs, one on either side of the Tennessee Divide. One side goes out the Conasauga River to the Tensaw River to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay. The other spring flows to the Ocoee River and eventually to the Mississippi. After cooling off at both springs, I turned around and climbed back up Big Frog, and descended more gradually going northbound.

Storms came rolling through in the evening, but not before I had set up for the night. I'd forgotten just how much I love the sound of rain on my tarp. The skies cleared the next morning for the quick hike back to the river.

A sub-24 hour trip, but it was good to get out!

Red-spotted purple butterflies are a great example of a Batesian mimic. They show similar coloration to the unpalatable pipevine swallowtail, so predators are fooled into not eating them even though they are palatable.

More information 

I did this as an out and back from Thunder Rock Campground, which has good parking for BMT hikers.

Here is the trail guide from the BMT association

A Quick and Dirty Guide to the BMT


  1. Mmm, loving your eastern posts, Joan! What a gorgeous hike.

    1. Aww thanks Misti! Nothing like the long green tunnel and gorgeous wildflowers and roaming salamanders!

  2. Beautiful images and great story. Bet that is a great swimming hole.

    1. Perfect temperatures for swimming for sure.

  3. Hi Joan , this looks a lot like where I come from in SE Queensland , Aust . Quite beautiful and such a change from where you were last .

    1. Hi Steve, Interesting that the scenery is similar. This area gets more rain compared to other areas even around here. Yes, quite a change. :)

  4. Is that salamander missing its tail?

    1. Yes! Good spot.

      The salamander was missing its tail, but seemed to have healed up nicely and was very active. Likely had a close call with a predator.

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