Have you ever wondered what long distance hiking amenities look like on the Appalachian Trail (AT)? The AT offers more than 250 shelters between Georgia and Maine where backpackers can rest their weary heads (and feet!) after a long day on the trail. As you can imagine with rustic, remote shelters the quality, size and overall experience of these shelters can vary - some are a bit on the dirty and mousey side while others are almost a second home. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, along with hiking clubs and thousands of volunteers, are always working to improve these shelters. Want to see one for yourself? Michaux State Forest boasts some of the nicest and most pleasant shelters on the entire Appalachian Trail!
Grab your Michaux Lizard Map and join us on a 4-mile hiking adventure to experience the shelter many AT hikers consider to be the best of the entire 2,200 mile long trail!
The adventure begins at the gated intersection of Quarry Gap Road and Greenwood Road on the northern end of Caledonia State Park. Driver's who don't like gravel roads can also park at Hosack Run parking area and walk along Quarry Gap Road if preferred. Begin the hike by stepping around the gated Greenwood Road, which is also blazed and signed as Locust Gap Trail. Enjoy a couple vernal ponds on the north side of the trail, and DCNR car campsite #12 on the south side. This campsite is free, with a permit from DCNR.
Shortly, arrive at a signed trail intersection. Hosack Run Trail leads left, while Locust Gap Trail continues straight. Locust Gap Trail will eventually lead to Long Pine Reservoir, but that is a trail for another day. Today, we'll turn left and follow Hosack Run Trail upstream into the mysterious Dark Hollow.
The trail crosses Hosack Run twice, winds through a rhododendron tunnel, passes a campsite that features several ginormous old growth trees, before climbing uphill to the Appalachian Trail. The 400 foot climb is made easier with several well maintained switchbacks.
Another dry campsite can be found in the top of Quarry Gap Hill. Continue past this site on Hosack Trail until reaching a T-intersection with the Appalachian Trail. If the season is right, flowering mountain laurel and/or blueberries will be seen lining the trails in this area.
Have a look back at Hosack Trail while taking a break on the bench below the AT sign. This may be another good time to open your Michaux Lizard Map; be sure to head south on the AT towards the Quarry Gap Shelter after the break!
The AT descends to Hosack Run, crosses Hosack Run, and shortly thereafter reaches what a lot of hikers consider the nicest shelter between Georgia and Maine. Remember, most hikers walk over 1,000 miles to see this shelter, which boasts clean floors, seasonal potted plants, board games, brain teasers, and more.
How and why is this shelter so nice? Enter Jim "Innkeeper" Stauch. Jim has been managing this shelter for over 35 years. He and other volunteers from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club keep tidy sleeping areas, a privy, a swinging bench, bear box, and more so hikers can feel at home in the woods of southern Pennsylvania.
Spend some time exploring this shelter area and look for some of the finer details that make this place so special. Like turtles on a rock...
...and a sun dial...
...and yellow duckies strewn about the area...
...and a beautiful natural spring.
When it's time to move again, head back on the AT southbound and descend a gorgeous set of stone stairs that are surrounded by rhododendron.
The stairs lead hikers through the bottom of Quarry Gap. At the bottom of the gap, take notice of a man-made crossing of Hosack Run. Explorers who follow this short path through a thick patch of rhododendron will shortly come upon old structures and foundations from times long ago.
Back on the AT, southbound, the trail quickly comes upon an old dirt road. Our adventure turns left (east) here on the blue blazed Locust Gap Trail. This trail leads back to the beginning of our hike and Quarry Gap Road.
Inspired by the AT hikers and want to add some more miles?
Pull out your Michaux Lizard Map and make this loop longer by adding on miles of the AT southbound and other trails such as Three Valley Trail and Ramble Trail. From here, return to the gated intersection by walking through Caledonia State Park back to Quarry Road.
Etiquette for camping at the shelter areas
AT shelters are designed for backpackers to rest on a first come-first served basis. While most shelters are free and open to anyone, it is general practice to allow space for long distance hikers. Backpacking dogs (like the tuckered out pup pictured below) may enjoy sleeping in shelters too, but dog owners must be especially mindful, respectful, and courteous towards all other trail users. The AT is open 24/7, and many backpackers enjoy night hiking, so always be prepared for visitors at anytime in shelter areas. Always keep dogs under strict control, which means being within arms reach to be be able to grab your pet and keeping pets on a leash no longer than 6-feet long. Honestly, the best idea is to keep dogs out of shelters, and rather sleep with them under a tarp or in a tent.
The ATC and affiliated organizations work hard to provide alternative camping near shelters for other users and groups. For instance, groups are expected to bring their own backpacking shelters and camp in the signed 'group tenting areas'. Many AT shelters also include tent platforms for individuals who don't want to sleep in the shelters. Most importantly, all visitors on the AT follow a strict moral code known as 'Leave No Trace'. More information can be found here: AT Shelters.