The good folks of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the New York / New Jersey Trail Conference – our local trail maintaining group – make sure that there are three-sided lean-to’s positioned every 8-12 miles apart along the Appalachian Trail.
This one pictured at left is named “Wildcat Shelter” and it’s the only official shelter located within the borders of Warwick, N.Y. It is fairly new, having been constructed in the 1990’s and is just one of the more than 250 shelters from Maine to Georgia.
The next shelter southbound from Wildcat is “Wawayanda Shelter” located within the confines of New Jersey’s Wawayanda State Park.
The next shelter northbound from Wildcat is “Fingerboard Shelter” within the boundaries of New York’s Harriman State Park and one of the oldest shelters to be found anywhere on the AT.
Of course, there are rules for camping and using the shelters along the Appalachian Trail. And if you think those rules are “first-come, first-serve” – then you would be wrong.
Generally speaking, shelter use is for one night and one night only – no all-weekend-long camping is allowed inside shelters. (One night, move on.) Thru-hikers have first dibs on shelter space – followed by section hikers and lastly weekend warriors. You must make room or move out if thru-hikers show up and ask – nicely – and you must make room for others in inclement weather, no matter how cozy it gets inside the shelter.
And no hanging hammocks or setting up your tent inside a shelter and taking up all the space.
Them’s the rules.
You wanna set up your tent or hammock outside of the shelter? Knock yourself out – the rules are much less strict: Make camp 200 feet off the trail and/or 200 feet from any water source and you are good to go.
The exception to that rule is that you may find a designated campsite closer than 200 feet, which then makes it okay. And sometimes you may find yourself near a ecologically sensitive area and then you must camp more than a quarter-mile away.
On most sections of the A.T., you have two potential choices for camping: staying in a shelter or pitching a tent. Back-country camping is available at about 100 specially-designated camp sites and is also allowed in the immediate vicinity of most of the 250 shelters along the Trail.
In some states you can choose your own campsite (called dispersed or stealth camping), but hikers are always encouraged to use designated sites even when you can legally choose your own. Using designated campsites means you will have fewer impacts on vegetation and wildlife habitat and will keep the Trail corridor looking natural and pristine.
National and state parks – like Harriman, Wawayanda and Sterling Forest – may have their own sets of rules for camping and we urge you to check with them first.
Designated campsites along the A.T. are usually very simple. They have relatively flat areas where you can pitch a tent. A natural water source such as a spring or creek is usually nearby, but these sites seldom have privies.
Wildcat Shelter has both. In June and July, when the thru-hiker bubble comes through our area, Wildcat Shelter and the surrounding area fills up with hikers in the lean-to and tents and every morning in empties out.
Camping regulations on the A.T. are complicated because the Appalachian Trail consists of a patchwork ribbon of many different types of lands managed by more than 75 different agencies.
Some areas are managed as federally designated wilderness, some as multi-use forests, some as game lands for hunting, some as wildlife refuges, some as watersheds and others as farmland.
Always check before you go.
(Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy)
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