Guide On Appalachian Trail Shelters


You will find many simple wooden shelters on Appalachian Trail which are necessary for any hiker doing this route. They come in many different sizes and styles. Some have bunk beds or porches for hikers to hang out. Others have one wall open to the weather conditions, or even a second floor. No matter how exactly your shelter is designed, you will certainly have a wood floor to sleep on and a roof over your head.

Some Appalachian Trail shelters are built near water sources, but that is not always the case. Make sure to check your map or guide before settling in a shelter to avoid any unpleasant surprises. In this article, we will talk about what the shelters are like, where they are located and how are they equipped among other things. So, everything you need to know!

What Are the Shelters Like?

Usually, shelters on Appalachian Trail have a flat floor where usually up to 8 people line up their sleeping bags one next to the other with their feet toward the door. They also have a broom so you can easily clean up the floor before you lay there for the night, or before you leave as well. Also, there’s usually a shelf with the trail register. You are expected to read what has been written and add your entry – something about your hike or anything you feel like writing.

Appalachian Trail shelters usually have some kind of a map or arrows on the outside walls which point to the privy (which is used as the bathroom) or the nearest water source.  Lean-to shelters have a sloping ceiling so you should be careful not to bang your head against one of the beams. Some older shelters have leaks in the ceilings or leaks in the walls which are usually placed in the middle.

You may even find a picnic table outside the shelter to cook on, play cards, or simply socialize. If that is the case, take out your backpacking chair or an alcohol stove to use the full potential of your shelter.

Why Sleep in Appalachian Trail Shelters if You Have a Tent?

There are many different reasons why hikers choose shelters over tents. You can opt for an AT shelter if you would like to socialize with fellow hikers, or if you cannot be bothered with setting up your cover in bad weather. Sleeping in shelters can be comforting as well, especially if you hike in remote areas, such as Maine.

If you plan on sleeping in shelters on Appalachian Trail, there is no need to bring a lot of stuff with you. You can simply pack a lightweight tarp because there is no point in carrying heavy items you are not going to use.

Sleeping in shelters is safe, but you may get disturbed by other hikers or even non-hikers. It may be more difficult to fall asleep if you are close to a road. Many hikers avoid shelters because of this reason but they can be a nice place to rest during weekdays.

There are some options for you even if you do not want to sleep in the shelter but still want to be near water, people, and the privy. Most shelters usually have an area created for setting up tents that are located next to them.

Where are the Shelters Located?

There are around 260 shelters along the whole Appalachian Trail. Because the trail is 2,190 miles long, it seems like there is one shelter every 8.5 miles on average. But, sometimes they are located closer together (around 5 miles) and other times they are farther apart (around 15 miles).

It is important to mention that the shelters are usually located directly on the trail, or just a few feet away. They are rarely located 0.1 to 0.5 miles off some smaller trails. If you perhaps do not get a chance to sleep in a shelter, make sure to follow the ‘’leave no trace’’ principles.

Do You Need a Reservation?

You do not need a reservation for the Appalachian Trail shelters. These facilities are open to the public. You do not have to pay either – everything is free! However, there are some exceptions. Certain sections (The Whites in New Hampshire and The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina) require some planning. To use a shelter there, you must get a permit for the Smoky Mountains. Those who are not thru-hikers need to reserve and pay for a shelter in the Whites as well.

You might be wondering what to do in case the shelter is full. If you are out of luck, there are usually tents outside the shelters on Appalachian Trail. You can safely spend the night there and hope for the best in your next shelter. But, it is best to carry some other form of shelter to avoid any problems.

What about Your Food at Night?

Some shelters have special bear boxes – places to store your food during the night. If that is not the case, you could hang your food in a nearby tree. Or you could hang your food on a string near the front of the shelter with tuna cans to prevent mice from jumping to the string and eating your food.


Some hikers report only seeing a few mice inside the shelters on Appalachian Trail. But, they are common in some shelters. Since a lot of people have used those shelters, mice have been trained for a good opportunity. The good thing is those shelters have mouse lines to prevent any mice-related problems. Mouse lines are strings hanging from the ceiling which have some block in the middle to prevent mice from reaching your food.

Make sure you do not forget about some leftover hiking snacks. Mice can sense the smallest crumbs even if you leave an empty granola bar wrapper in your pocket! Hang everything edible on the lines to avoid any incidents, such as waking up and realizing you have a big hole in your hiking pants.

Appalachian Trail Shelters Etiquette


  1. Always make room for other hikers if the weather is bad. It is not uncommon that more than eight people try to cram into a small shelter due to heavy rain. You can always try to squeeze a bit more or place someone at your feet. Be considerate before taking out all of your gear inside the shelter.
  2. Stay quiet at night. Most hikers are too tired to stay awake after the sun goes down. ‘Hiker midnight’ happens a lot earlier – when it becomes dark outside – so be careful if you arrive during the night.
  3. It is a good idea to bring earplugs in case there is someone who snores. But, you could try gently rolling that person over if you forget them. If nothing helps, simply set up your shelter in front. Staying awake and angry all night will get you nowhere because you need to rest to continue your journey.
  4. Cook outside. Whether it is alright to burn a fire at shelters on Appalachian Trail depends on the area regulations. But, burning fire at a shelter scars the ground, even if it has a fireplace. That is why it is highly advised to cook outside in order not to damage the shelters. You could take your stove and cook on the fire pit, or the nearby forest floor. Be very careful wherever you choose to place your cookware.
  5. Be tidy. Even the smallest crumbs can attract all kinds of animals, such as mice. This can cause a big problem for both you and the next hiker after you. Sweeping before you leave the shelter is advised, even if you do not make a big mess. Also, make sure you clean everything up after cooking. Respecting this rule is essential for a comfortable hiking experience.
  6. Graffiti is not allowed. You may be feeling creative, but your names, phrases, expressions, carvings, and drawings on the walls are not appreciated. It is a better idea to bring a notebook and simply release your creative energy there. Some of the landmarks on the Appalachian Trail are almost 100 years old and are maintained by volunteers. Make sure you do not make it more difficult for them.

Appalachian Trail Shelters Pros

  • There is no rain. You will not have to deal with packing your tent in the morning in case it rains during the night. Packing up in the rain is even worse because everything gets wet. Shelters on Appalachian Trail are the solution to this problem. You will have a dry place to get ready in no matter what the weather is like.
  • You have your own space. Tents can be claustrophobic, not offering enough space. Also, they do not offer the best cover when the weather is bad unless you get a waterproof tent. In shelters, you will even be able to stand up, and that is a huge advantage.
  • You can meet a lot of people. You will make many unforgettable memories on the Appalachian Trail because of the beautiful landscape as well as the amazing people! Shelters are the best meeting place on the trail. It is where hikers hang out, eat, and sleep. Feel free to join a shelter if you are ever feeling isolated in your tent because other hikers will be more than willing to welcome you.
  • They are very practical. If you decide to sleep in a shelter, there will be no need to set up your tent in the evening and pack it up in the morning.
  • Shelters offer certain amenities. You will usually find a ‘bathroom’, a water source (water filters can come in handy), and a picnic table which is more than any tent can offer.

Appalachian Trail Shelters Cons

  • The locations are not flexible. Shelters are permanent structures. They cannot be moved so your hiking revolves around them. For example, you may wake up sluggish and feel like walking only 10 miles. There may be two options available – a shelter that is 5 miles away and a shelter that is 15 miles away. That is not the ideal situation. The weather could also become nasty in a matter of minutes, so you may be forced to hide before reaching the shelter.
  • They do not have enough space sometimes. Even south-bound hikers are likely to experience overcrowded shelters on Appalachian Trail. North-bound overcrowding is very common and can cause many problems. If SOBO and NOBO hikers collide, 20 people may try to fit in a 10-person shelter.
  • You might need to walk extra miles to reach them. As mentioned before, some shelters are located off-trail. If you are not feeling great about walking an extra mile each way, you may rather want to set up your tent. That is why it is recommended to bring your shelter options, such as a tent, tarp, or hammock.

Globo Surf Overview

Appalachian Trail Shelters can offer you some great advantages, such as rain cover, a place to cook, a water source, and a place for your bathroom needs. What is best about it is you will be able to meet other hikers, share your experiences, and safely spend the night free of charge! They are not the most glamorous places you will see, but they are certainly something all AT hikers need.

Even though there are many shelters along the way, they can be overcrowded so you might not have a lot of space for yourself. Also, you have to carefully store your food to avoid potential problems with wild animals. But, that is not a big price to pay when you are getting all those benefits for free! However, it is advised to bring your shelter options (tent, tarp, hammock) in case you simply cannot fit into a crowded shelter.

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Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!