Park Service Closes Appalachian Trail Shelters in Eight States Due to COVID-19

(Updated 6 p.m. MT, March 30) The National Park Service has closed all overnight shelters and privies on land administered by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail Park Office, effective immediately.

The shelters and privies are in Virginia (11 shelters, 12 privies), Maryland (one shelter, two privies), Pennsylvania (eight shelters, six privies), New Jersey (one shelter, one privy), New York (five shelters, five privies), Connecticut (seven shelters, 16 privies), Massachusetts (one shelter, four privies), and Maine (22 shelters, 29 privies).

The Park Service said in a statement here that closing shelters “will prevent trail users from congregating in close proximity to one another and encourage proper social distancing recommendations. Overnight trail users are encouraged to use a tent, and tent usage is authorized in the area surrounding the shelters. Closing of privies will prevent trail users from entering confined spaces where disease spreads without proper sanitation, and will discourage visitors from using facilities that do not meet cleanliness standards. With privies closed, hikers should dig a cat hole more than 200 feet from water sources and camping areas. The use of tents instead of shelters, and cat-holes for human waste disposal, is a reasonable mitigation to help protect our visitors.”

Also on Saturday, Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina and Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee announced they were temporarily shutting down trailhead facilities and other access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to prevent groups from congregating and to protect public health and safety.

The statement here said the following sites were affected:

Wayah Bald: Nantahala National Forest

Cheoah Bald: Nantahala National Forest

Hampton and Dennis Cove Trailheads (Laurel Falls): Cherokee National Forest

Osborne Farm: Cherokee National Forest

Max Patch: Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests

Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap: Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests

Lovers Leap: Pisgah National Forest

The moves follows action by  Shenandoah National Park to close the park to all overnight backcountry camping effective Thursday, March 26.

A statement from the park said that includes cabins, huts, and shelters on the 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the park.  The closures are until April 30.

The park, Skyline Drive, and most trails remain open, according to the statement.

On Friday, March 27, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests in Georgia temporarily closed trailhead facilities and other access points to the AT and nearby trails to prevent groups from congregating and to protect public health and safety.

“We realize our communities and our visitors value the recreation opportunities the forest has to offer,” said Edward Hunter, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests supervisor. “A lot of discussion and consideration went into this decision. The health and safety of our employees and the public remain our top priority.”

Trailheads include Dicks Creek Gap, Hogpen Gap, Neel Gap, Springer Mountain, Tesnatee Gap, Unicoi Gap, and Woody Gap

Trails include Andrews Cove Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail (Springer Mountain to Falls Branch Falls section), Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Trail, Dukes Creek Falls Trails, Duncan Ridge Trail, Dockery Lake Trail, Freeman Trail, Jacks Knob Trail, Jarrard Gap Trail, Logan Turnpike Trail, Long Creek Falls Trail, Panther Creek Falls Trail, Slaughter Creek Trail, Springer Mountain Trail, Raven Cliffs Falls Trail, and Yonah Mountain Trail.

The Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia said it would enforce the closure by towing cars parked on roadsides, with emphasis on Neel and Woody Gaps.

Other closings are:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park , closed to all use, including Appalachian Trail hikers.

“All areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, excluding the Foothills Parkway and the Spur, will closed today at noon through Monday, April 6, 2020, to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This includes trail and road closures,” the park said.

The closure includes the Appalachian Trail through the park in North Carolina and Tennessee, a highlight for thru-hikers as they head north from Georgia to Maine. AT shelters also are closed.

The park said that about 30,000 people entered the park daily the week of March 15, resulting in congestion in popular areas.

Graham County, North Carolina, at the southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has closed roads at the county’s borders to nonresidents and banned access to the county for all nonresidents. Nonresidents will need to apply for permits to drive on roads through the county.

The county posted on Facebook the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s request for hikers to get off the AT.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said the Pochuck Boardwalk on the Appalachian Trail in Vernon, a 1-mile section off Route 517 in Glenwood, is closed. This trail’s boardwalk and bridge are too narrow for visitors to maintain the required six feet of social distancing. There is no parking allowed on Route 517 adjacent to the boardwalk. The remaining 19 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Wawayanda State Park remain open. The Appalachian Trail and other trails can still be accessed from other parking lots in Wawayanda State Park.

The ATC has created a list of closings along the Appalachian Trail that can be found here.

Maryland and New Jersey closed shelters on the Appalachian Trail, three days after the ATC asked hikers to stay off the trail because of the coronavirus.

And the iconic Trail Days celebration in Damascus, Virginia, has been canceled for this year.

The Maryland Park Service closed shelters and camping areas along the AT through May 11, but warned that the closure could be extended.

In Pennsylvania, AT shelters on DCNR Bureau of Forestry lands are closed until further notice: Deer Lick Shelter, Tumbling Run Shelter, Rocky Mountain Shelter, Quarry Gap Shelter, Birch Run Shelter, Toms Run Shelter, James Fry at Tagg Run, Eagles Nest Shelter, Leroy Smith Shelter, Kirkridge Shelter.

New Jersey also closed shelters and privies on the AT until further notice. Overnight camping is discouraged, but still allowed around shelters. Camping in areas other than those designated by signs is also prohibited; campfires are also prohibited.

The trail remains open in both states.

The town of Damascus said it was canceling Trail Days, scheduled for May 15-17 this year, on the advice of the Virginia Department of Health, with the support of the ATC and the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association.

Massachusetts has also temporarily closed AT shelters, campsites, and privies on Massachusetts Forest and Park lands. Camping is also prohibited outside of these areas along the AT in Massachusetts.

The ATC sent out a notice on Tuesday, March 17, asking 2020 Appalachian Trail thru-hikers to postpone their section hikes and thru-hikes due to the spread of COVID-19. Hikers on the trail have been asked to leave.

The habits of thru-hikers—including congregating at shelters, around picnic tables, shuttling in vans, or staying in hostels—goes against the “social distancing” measures recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ATC states that they “do not make this request lightly,” and they are aware of the time and investment that goes into a thru-hike. 

The ATC also said in a update on Thursday, March 19, that all ridgerunners and caretakers have been recalled from the trail until further notice, and that ATC visitors centers have been closed.

If hikers insist on continuing their hikes, the ATC has a suggested protocol they are asking hikers to consider, including:

—Not starting hikes at the southern end of the trail, including Amicalola and Springer.

—Have enough financial stability to potentially self-quarantine for 14 days if necessary.

—Understand that their hike will have reduced on-trail and localized support, and to be prepared to handle that.

—Avoid congregating at shelters and high-traffic areas.

—Take note of small and vulnerable communities with fewer healthcare resources.

Keep up with the latest developments from the trail by subscribing to The Trek’s weekly newsletter.

Read the full letter below, and view the ATC’s COVID-19 page here.



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Comments 11

  • MannDude : Mar 17th

    Still playing it by ear before I call off my SOBO hike. A lot can happen between now and June. For better, or for worse.

    What I do know is that I’m still leaving my job in May. I can’t check back in to what I’ve already mentally checked out of.

    • Alex Wnorowski : Mar 17th

      Dude, you can definitely start caring again. That’s a pretty bad excuse.

      • Avery : Mar 18th

        Some people hate their jobs. I think once you quit there’s no reason to go back to something you hate

  • Dave : Mar 18th

    Seems a thru hike is likely the maximum social distancing that can occur.

    • Seeker : Mar 19th

      Not really. You go into town every 2-4 days and sleep with strangers in shelters and share bathrooms.

      I’m on trail right now,trying to figure out how to navigate this.

      • Chill Bill : Mar 21st

        Navigate yourself to the nearest trail head and get off trail. This isn’t that hard.

  • JohnM : Mar 19th

    This article explains a lot why we need to quarantine a bit. To keep infections low so the healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

    Do we want to have to make difficult decisions? Italy doesn’t have enough equipment to handle the fast increases of infection.

  • Ohio Hobo : Mar 25th

    Planned to start an AT through hike on April 3. I have postponed my hike at request of ATC. This Wasn’t an easy decision after all the prep but, the health and safety of everyone is most important and the ATC wouldn’t make this request lightly. Many of the people involved at the ATC have through hiked the trail themselves. They know exactly what they are asking people to do. Another factor for myself is that I volunteer to maintain a section of trail and, as a result I meet regularly with representatives of the ATC. I wouldn’t want to explain to them why I ignored their request.
    Maybe the hike can be changed to a flip flop if things open back up in time. If not, unlike many others, I have the luxury of being retired and can hike it next year presuming I’m healthy and the trail is back in business.

  • Robert McCollor : Mar 26th

    My three sons have hiked parts of the trail several years ago. I would consider giving a ride back to the Midwest, Mpls, for someone stranded because of the closure of the trail. Most people will have friends or relatives who can do this but some may depend and air or bus transport.

  • Donavan Boudreaux : Mar 28th

    So at this point in time is it even possible to do a thru hike? I was planning on leaving and going south in May but I can’t find any straight answer as if I’m going to be breaking any laws camping on the trail.

  • Kirtis Christensen : Mar 28th

    “Reigned in the outbreak without shutting everything down”
    who? how?

    Masks. Selective, Targeted quarantine. Testing. Businesses open. Economy Operational. Yet Hong Kong, a densely populated city of 7 million people has been able to keep pushing the predicted infectious growth curve of Covid 19 to the right. They are nearly flat in new case growth compared to what the model would predict. How?
    Everyone is expected to wear them in public. Everyone. Are we willing to restart our economy and get people back together in exchange for the inconvenience and fashion stigma of wearing masks? Can we, the most wealthy nation on the planet come up with 330 million masks and wear them for awhile in public? Are we willing to stop imagining that what we are doing now is actually a measured response that is effective? Are willing to pay attention at what is working in other nations and match their results?

    Selective, Targeted quarantine.
    If someone in my office tests positive, am I willing to be quarantined for 14 days while the rest of the world continues to live life and a profitable economy?

    Testing. Can we as the wealthiest and most powerful country on the earth, with more big pharma than farmers, manage to mass produce test kits for 330 million people? Can we roll without them using the other measures of masks and targeted quarantine?


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