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: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/cherokee/recreation, Cherokee National Forest
Georgia: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/conf/recreation, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
North Carolina: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/nfsnc/recreation, National Forests in North Carolina
Virginia: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/gwj/recreation, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests