The Appalachian Trail or A.T as it is commonly referred to, is an amazing hiking trail situated in the eastern part of the United States. It extends from northern Georgia to Maine. This magnificent trail traverses over 14 states and is over 2,180 miles long. Imagined back in 1921, constructed by private citizens, and finally finished in 1937, today the A.T. is overseen by a number of agencies including, the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and thousands of unpaid helpers. Stretching through a variety of rough country, small towns, back roads, and over rivers; the A.T. is a hiker’s paradise. While many hikers attempt to trek only sections of the trail, there are a brave and motivated few that attempt the entire trail at one time. This is commonly called a Thru-hike. A.T. camping allows one to truly connect with Mother Nature in all her plentiful glory and celebrate in that which is the great outdoors.
Appalachian Trail Planning
In order to have a really gratifying hiking adventure and get the absolute best out of your trail hiking/camping experience, you need to be sure that you plan it well. For starters; before setting out, you will need to learn what all of the regulations and permits that are required as it pertains to the trail, as well as find out the latest and most current updates concerning any safety and weather concerns. You will want to file a hiking plan with the ranger station and be sure to identify a contact person, in case of an emergency. You will want to call and check in at various intervals, making sure your contact knows approximately when to except to hear from you. This way they can alert authorities should you fail to check in or if something should happen back home.
Of course you will want to determine exactly how to get to the trail depending on where you wish to start from; what transportation you can take to get there, or if/ where you are allowed to park while on the trail. Find out if you need a parking permit and make arrangements to pick your vehicle up at a later time once you have finished your journey. The purchase of an Appalachian trail map is a must, and if the trip is a long one, be sure to gather plenty of information about all the available shelters and camping areas. Remember, there is little to no cell phone usage, so depending on your phone for mapping or calling for directions is simple not an option.
Two specific books that are key to an A.T. hiker’s success are the ‘Appalachian Trail Guide’, containing actual stories by real through-hikers and the ‘Official AT Data Book’ which is updated with regularity with information about trail distances, water availability, road crossings, shelter locations, etc. Both are published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) which is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the trail.
Shelters for Camping
If the idea is for you to backpack the Appalachian trail, then you need to figure out how and where you will spend your nights. If you prefer a schedule that allows for more flexibility and are don’t have any issues with carrying a little the extra weight in your pack, then you could certainly consider pitching a tent in the wild. Now the ideal place to stay is as close to a shelter as possible, or you could also make use of one of the selected campsites that have a flat, cleared, and even surface. In certain areas of the trail, like in the southern Appalachian region or the national forests of Virginia, you are permitted to pick your own campsite, just as long as you are cautious to clean up all of the affected the area and leave no trace behind. The ideal scenario is to mitigate any human effect on the environment. Campers are discouraged from building any camp fires due to the harmful impact it could have on the local eco-system and are suggested to use a small backpacking stove as an alternative. If you absolutely have to have a campfire, then you should be sure to build one in a conventional fire pit and follow all of the fire regulations and restrictions posted on the trail.
You do have another choice as it pertains to camping along the A.T. and that would include the more than 245 back country shelters that exist along the Appalachian trail. The majority of these shelters are comprised of just three basic walls, a wooden slat floor and a metal or tin roof. They are usually located close to some type of natural water source and several have a pit toilet or outhouse close by. The shelter tends to fill up quickly with hikers as they stop by. Because of this, it is wise that you carry a tent as a backup just in case the shelter is at capacity when you happen to reach it. The shelters are constructed to offer a camping space for the individual hiker. So, if you are part of a larger group that would take up the entire shelter, then you are instructed to camp outside instead.
Shelters do provide good protection during bad weather conditions and also serve as a good occasion for hiker’s to get to know one another and swap stories from the trail. You should know that shelters located in heavy-use areas generally require some type a reservation, and/or fee to stay. Also, don’t be surprised to find very filthy conditions and even rodents in some of these shelters, given that some hikers don’t take the time to clean up after themselves.
In the end, when you set out to hike the A.T., it is important to make sure that you abide by the ‘leave no traces’ mind set. Please do not to walk on plant life or use any live wood for building campfires. Do not leave trash behind, chop down or remove trees, or destroy any of the structures or shelters. Appalachian trail camping brings with it a large responsibility towards the preservation of the trail and an enormous respect towards others that are hiking and camping on the trail. When enjoyed responsibly, the views are stunning, the experience is breathtaking, and the idea of being one with the trail is type of physical and spiritual journey that is sure to life altering and inspiring.