Where to Lie Down on the Appalachian Trail
The chain of shelters and lean-tos along the length of the Appalachian Trail is a blessing to hikers. From Springer Mountain Shelter in Georgia to the lean-tos at Katahdin Stream Campground in Maine, the shelter system is an important part of hiking the AT.
A shelter is often a welcome sight at the end of a day's journey. In fact, it is not uncommon for hikers to be looking around every corner for the shelter that marks the day's end as they hike their last mile. A lean-to can be a dry place to rest or seek cover for the night during a storm.
Originally intended to be a day's walk apart, the distance between shelters varies from under a mile to more than 30 miles. The shelters are made in a variety of styles and hold anywhere from 4 to 20 people.
Most shelters have established water sources nearby. The source is usually a spring or stream, but may also be a pond or other source. Having an established source of water makes shelters a good place to camp even if you don't intend to stay in the shelter itself, and many shelters have cleared tent sites nearby. But don't count on it. Although a rare occurrence, it is possible that you might have to push on another couple of miles (sometimes in the dark) to find a decent camping spot after coming upon a full shelter with no available camping sites. Some guidebooks state whether or not a shelter has spots cleared for camping.
While the water source is identified, the water's purity is never certified. Treatment is at the hiker's discretion.
There is a good deal of variety in the design of the shelters. For example, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will find three-sided stone shelters equipped with fireplaces and wire bunks for 12 hikers, plus a chainlink fence front to keep the bears and humans aparta preferable arrangement, which is secured only when the gate into the shelter is shut. In the Smoky Mountains, many shelters do not have privies, though this is changing.
In contrast, the lean-tos in Maine are Adirondack-style, three-sided wood shelters. They are constructed with trees felled on the site. All the shelters in Maine have established fire-pits and latrines. Most of these shelters have been built to accommodate six hikers, although some are larger.
Shelters can also be wooden or stone cabins. Many shelters have latrines, although there are very few in the southern Appalachians (Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee).
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication