USFS opens shelters along the southern Appalachian Trail

It’s on the bucket list for a lot of people – hiking part or all of the Appalachian Trail.  And in 2020, the AT felt the impacts of COVID lockdowns in the form of shelters and trailheads on the trail being closed.   On April 21st, the US Forest Service announced that shelters along the trail in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia are now available for use.  Hikers are encouraged to bring their own personal tent and face coverings.

The shelters are located on national forest land, managed by the Forest Service, and the US Dept of Agriculture. Forest service officials say there are hundreds of shelters averaging about eight miles apart along the trail, although the intervals may vary.  And shelters may not be frequently maintained at all locations.

Dispersed camping in designated areas is another option available to overnight or multi-day hikers.  These are camp sites in designated areas of the national forest. Hikers should be prepared to tent camp if social distancing in shelters is not possible.  Forest Supervisor Joby Timm says in addition to the shelters and dispersed camping sites, hikers can also stay overnight in nearby communities.

The Appalachian Trail is a popular hiking trail stretching more than 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. About 344 miles of the trail are in Virginia.

“In the spring, our stretch of the Appalachian Trail typically sees a continuous stream of hikers all day long. It can get crowded,” Timm said. “The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have many hiking trails. If you prefer more solitude, choose a trail that’s less busy. The entire forest is open for recreation and nature viewing.”

Hikers are encouraged to recreate responsibly, maintain a safe social distance and follow health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health authorities.

Hikers can plan ahead by checking forest websites for site-specific details before their trip. The southern portion of the Appalachian Trail runs through four national forests in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Tennessee:, Cherokee National Forest

Georgia:, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests

North Carolina:, National Forests in North Carolina

Virginia:, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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