Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trail Shelters

Whenever we wander by a shelter I usually make a picture then post it along with the story of that hike.  One of our faithful followers, Rick (Rick and Paulette’s RV Travels) usually makes a comment about the shelter.  The last shelter I mentioned in the blog was Mt Collins shelter in the Sugarland Mountain Trail post a few days ago.  Rick commented that he thought the shelters were a nice thing for hikers.

Thunder Hill Shelter in Virginia
You are absolutely right, Rick.  Most hikers really appreciate the shelters.  They’re certainly a welcome sight at the end of a long day, especially if it’s been raining.  Since Gene and I usually just stop in a shelter for lunch or a short break, I usually don’t say much about the shelters in a post.  So I thought I’d just share a few of my thoughts about trail shelters.

Trail Shelters are not the same as the “huts” in the High Sierras, Colorado, or the White Mountains.  Those huts are owned by Clubs or concessionaires and must be reserved and paid for to stay.  Trail shelters I’m talking about are structures along trails for overnight stays by hikers and usually require not reservations and are usually free.

Blood Mountain Shelter in Georgia
Trail shelters are not exclusive to the Smokies.  Although they can be found across the country, they are more common in the east and particularly along the Appalachian Trail.  Perhaps the model for the most common type of shelter was the “lean-to” found in the Adirondacks in New York.  Although we’ve seen many sizes and shapes of shelters constructed of various materials, by far the most common are the 3-sided log structures with a wooden sleeping platform, usually large enough to sleep six.  Often a second sleeping deck is added above making a “bunk bed” and doubling the sleeping capacity.  If you’re lucky, there’ll be a ladder to the upper bunk.

Deer Lick Twin Shelters in Pennsylvania, I think.
Gene and I don’t like to sleep in the shelters.  However, when on a long distance hike on the AT, we usually pitch our tent near the shelters.  The reason we don’t like to sleep in shelters, besides not wanting to sleep with 8 to 10 snoring strangers, is that shelters are rodent-ridden hovels.  The mice are bad enough, but I draw the line with the snakes that come for the mice.  Mice are definitely a problem; snakes not so much.  I’ve seen a few snakes at shelters, therefore, in my mind, they’re always there just lurking in the shadows waiting for me to fall asleep.

Tumbling Run twin shelters separate snorers and non snorers.
I especially like the clothesline in back.
The shelters offer some advantages when backpacking.  The main one, of course, is water.  Water is not just everywhere on the trail.  The shelters are built near a water source. The water still needs to be treated before drinking, but at least it’s usually easy to get.

Quarry Gap Shelter in Pennsylvania
Another advantage is often a picnic table or sitting log which makes cooking easier.  Many shelters along the AT now have cooking porches added which gives hikers a dry place to cook if it’s raining.  Cooking and eating in the sleeping area is a big “NO-NO” as food odors attract wildlife (bears).

Some may say the best advantage of being at the shelter is the camaraderie with other hikers.  It is nice to have company in the evening to swap tales of the trail.

Privy in 100 mile wilderness in Maine

I also like camping near the shelter because most have privies.  Personally, I hate digging a cat hole.

Icewater Springs Shelter in the Smokies
The shelters along the AT are the ones we’re most familiar with.  The AT Clubs have constructed shelters about 10-15 miles (one day’s walk) apart for the entire 2100 plus miles of the trail.  Some of these shelters are getting pretty old now.  Smoky Mountains Hiking Club maintains the AT through the National Park and in recent years renovated the shelters we’ve been stopping in on our day hikes.  They’ve added skylights, cooking porches, and replaced the roofs and sleeping platforms.   These shelters are very nice now.

Partnership shelter in Mt Rogers Recreation Area.  This one has a shower.
Along the AT it is permissible to pitch a tent in the vicinity of the shelter.  In some places there are even wooden tent platforms or gravel pads for tents.  There are some exceptions; however, and the Smokies is one of those exceptions.  The only time tents are allowed at shelters is during thru-hiker season and the shelter is full.  On our first section hike we were heading to Newfound Gap from Springer Mountain.  That meant 2 or 3 nights in shelters in the Smokies.  I worried from the time I got on the trail at Springer Mountain all the way to Fontana Lake at the edge of the Smokies about staying in a shelter with the mice and snakes.  I finally came up with the idea to sleep inside the tent body.  Gene used rope to attach the tent to the upper sleeping platform.  The tent wasn’t pitched inside the shelter and I wasn’t taking up any more space than I would have with just my sleeping pad. The best thing--nothing could crawl on me.

My nest safe from creepy crawlies
Here are a few pictures of shelters we’ve been privileged to pass by.  Some we’ve stayed near; some we’ve stayed in.

Ed Garvey Shelter
Privies are as varied as the shelters.  They range from the open air style (great views) to the new ones which must be handicap accessible.  We came across this new privy at the Matts Creek shelter in Virginia.  The trail crew (all volunteers and all senior citizens) were just putting on the finishing touches.  For privies built on federal land, handicap accessible regulations apply.  It doesn’t matter that the nearest road is 5 miles away.

That’s about all I know about shelters and it's probably way more than you ever wanted to know.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. Wow! I love seeing the variety :) I've only seen the ones in the Smokies and one close to Max Patch. I still can't get over the fact that privies have to be handicap accessible... makes no sense what-so-ever. Government regulation at it's best..ha! Good luck getting a wheel chair up the AT. Though I admit, sometimes after a day of hiking, a handrail would be appreciated for lowering and pulling up when using the potty...oh my legs! Ha!!

    We'll be staying at the Laurel Gap Shelter this weekend...thankful it has been recently renovated!

  2. great variety of shelters, warming huts..what ever they are called!..a place to come in from the bad weather..never thought about the rodent or snake issues..until now..ewww

  3. Boy those are some nice shelters! We don't have anything like this in Oregon. In fact the only shelters I've ever seen were on the Oregon coast near Ecola State park. Backpacking here in the PNW means bring your own tent.

  4. Thanks for the mention and all the info and pics about shelters. I have to admit I'm a little less enthused about staying in them overnight after your stories about snakes, mice and snoring! But, they are still a great idea for day hikers like ourselves. Great post!

  5. These are really interesting! I don't think we have anything similar in the Sierra Nevada. But since I'm on a Appalachian Trail book kick it's really fun to see so many different ones!

  6. These are great shelters, I know of a fantastic business that manufacture a variety of all weather shelters - http://www.allshelters.co.uk/

  7. Just getting caught up on your blog. As a non-hiker I am certainly learning a lot. I am impressed with your dedication and loved your solution to not sleeping with mice or snakes. Probably didn't help with the snorers.