17 Miles of the AT Temporarily Closed to Overnight Camping in Virginia Due to Bear Activity

Due to increased bear activity, 17 miles of the AT are closed to overnight camping in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park in Southern Virginia. The actual closure runs from Elk Garden/VA-600 to Fox Creek/VA-603. The stretch includes three shelters: Thomas Knob Shelter, Wise Shelter, and Old Orchard Shelter.

The area and shelters inside it have had bear activity warnings since early this season, but the situation has only recently escalated to require this step. The ATC and Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club have several alternatives for hikers who don’t want to hike the entire stretch in one day. You can read those in their entirety on the ATC’s trail updates page, as well as find more information about the closure.

The area has no current timetable for its return to normal use. In the meantime, the ATC asks that hikers not leave packs unattended and keep all dogs on leash. Hikers are also asked to report all bear incidents to the ATC.

Hikers not following proper LNT food-storage principles can lead bears to develop a taste for human food and be attracted to gatherings of hikers. While it is commonly believed that hanging food is a measure to protect hikers from bears, bear hangs also help protect bears from people. Eventually a fed bear can become so persistent and aggressive that drastic measures must be taken, such as relocation or euthanasia.

Featured image courtesy Jim Rahtz

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Comments 7

  • Tom : Sep 2nd

    I blame the lazy thru-hikers who sleep with their food bags or keep it close by in the shelters. Lots of stupid AT vloggers have bragged about that too. Idiots!

  • Nate : Sep 2nd

    This area is also one of the most beautiful weekend or 5-7d backpacking destinations in the Mid-Atlantic with over 200mi of potential loop hikes in the highlands and along iron mountain trail. The area affected is the most spectacular section for camping. Hopefully next year people will be more responsible with their food.

  • Hank (Hawk) Markison : Sep 2nd

    This would be a straight forward, though long term, fix if folks would take LNT to heart and learn to hang a food bag properly. Of hundreds of bear hangs that I’ve seen, I could count on one hand the ones that were done according to suggested techniques. On the other hand, I’ve only seen a few shelter areas that had workable trees within a 100′ radius. I understand the expense and effort involved in placing bear hang cables or, preferably, bear boxes, but something needs to be done on one of those issues. Either that or we’ll all need to start carrying bear spray.

  • Ruth Morley : Sep 2nd

    I recommend Bearikade’s smallest canister, the Scout. Weighs less than 2 labs. I fit it in my 40 liter bag without a hitch. Problem solved.

    • Ken : Sep 3rd

      I’ve always felt it’s the hiker’s responsibility to protect the bears. You have to hang your food bag correctly. It hard on some areas. And no one solution is correct for everyone. Personally I find bear canisters bulky and cumbersome. I really like my Ursack. I found out much easier to pack and to hang. All good, soiled cooking pan and utensils, snacks and food trash. That’s what works for me. And saved me and my son’s food while hiking in the White Mountains this summer.

  • Doreen : Sep 3rd

    Safety is number 1 always be aware of your surroundings travel in numbers and if you hike alone just be safe watch for bears mountain lion moose and wach for animals with young ones stay away dont leave trash behind and respect the trails leave no sign you stayed some where always carry water know how to find water sources be careful out there eyes on where you walk and snakes have fun make your adventure one to remember

  • jen : Sep 10th

    I hope this does turn out like Watauga lake and remain closed for years to come.


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