Appalachian Trail Shelters

In an initial armchair approach to preparing for some longer and tougher hiking trails (I’m starting to train for Mount Whitney), I’ve been reading some great books on people tackling the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The popular book “Wild” was fun, but I am really enjoying “Awol on the Appalachian Trail” by David Miller.

David’s 2003 hike is documented in this beautifully written story that really brings the trail to life. He also goes into details about his “homes” along the trail since he rarely used a tent: the AT shelters that dot the 2,172 mile long passage across the mountain range. There are around 250 backcountry shelters along the trail where both section and thru-hikers can stay for free. Most of them are basic and open to the elements, but some are actually beautifully constructed and take advantage of views, light and airflow. Most of the shelters are near a creek or a stream and some have a privy or basic toilet nearby. They are kept clean and in shape by hikers and trail volunteers.

The Long Branch Shelter in North Carolina. Photo by

Most of the shelters have basic sleeping platforms, but no cots or beds. Food is either kept away from bears and other critters in boxes or hung from strings on the ceilings. Some shelters have picnic tables and food prep areas and most of them do not allow open campfires.

The Icewater Spring shelter in North Carolina. Photo by Deep Creek Cabin Rental.
A shelter in the Matane Wildlife Reserve, an extension of the International Appalachian Trail. Photo by the Ottawa Rambling Club.
A shelter in Rangeley Lakes, Maine. Photo by Rangeley-Maine.
The Derrick Knob shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Wikipedia.
The John Springs shelter in Virginia. Photo by Virginia Places.
The Chestnut Knob Shelter in Virginia. Photo by Barbara Council and


Top photo: William Penn Shelter. Photo by White

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

12 thoughts on “Appalachian Trail Shelters”

  1. If you’d like to read a book that really gives you the feel for hiking the AT, check out “Wild Birds’ Song” by Jim Coplen. Very well written.

  2. I just wanted to touch on your great story if I could.
    I’m a fellow Appilacian born in the Ohio Valley and raised there. We are so proud of our heritage and our mountains but as I got older and traveled the country I realized I wasn’t the only one Blessed with a beautiful mountain range to brag about. Over the last 5 years I’ve lived in Vermont home of The Green Mountsins. Vermont is actually spelled a little different and in the French Canadian accent. 🙂 it means Green Mountains. I haven’t done a lot of research as how to spell it I admit because I enjoy exploring their Green Mountains so much. The Long Trail which runs the ridge line is an extension of the Appilacian Trail and you can walk into Our great neighbors forest Canada. That’s is if you young and fit enough. Thanks for you great story and good luck. Keep Hiking!

  3. Great post. One trail shelter that I’ve always loved is called the Chestnut Knob shelter. Do a quick internet search and check out that one. It has a flagstone exterior with a simple asymmetrical roof. Simple and quite appealing to the eye from the outside. Not sure about the interior… but it’s a trail shelter after all.

  4. You got the location of the first two wrong. Long Branch is in NC, but south of the Smokies. Icewater Spring is in the Smokies (you can see the brown Nat’l Park sign on the side).

  5. These shelters are beautiful. Not at all what I experienced when I was hiking during high school. One night we came upon one that had really battered chain link fence across the front. It was to protect against bears. Sadly, the shelter was full and we had to camp outside the shelter. Not a lot of sleep happened that night LOL.

  6. There is a shelter on top of Mt. Whitney. Had a foot of ice on the floor my first time up there. We camped twice on the way up. The surprising thing at the upper camp was that every rock had decomposing TP under. Pack light.


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