Hiking the AT? These Hostels are Not to be Missed.
Hostels on the Appalachian Trail come in all shapes and sizes, and range the full spectrum from side-business run out of someone’s garage to dedicated full-time B&B or other hospitality operation. They range in price from free to upwards of $40/night, with varying amenities included (or at extra charge) depending on the establishment like wifi, town clothes, towels, Netflix/cable and/or DVDs, bed linens, breakfast, coffee, board games, shuttle services, toiletries, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Many fall into either ‘party hostel’ or ‘definitely NOT party hostel’ categories; but many also fall somewhere in between. Some host or even are trail traditions; some are off the beaten path or can only be found via word of mouth or Guthooks user comments. Some are crowded and chaotic; some are small and quiet. Many rely in part on the honor system: hikers can leave cash for snacks, sodas or other small amenities whether they’re staying as guests or not. This is one of my favorite features of the hostel network on the trail – it’s the opportunity to trade in respect and integrity between operators and hikers and a small way to remember that these things still exist in the world.
Trail hostels are an amazing feature of the AT and often embodied, for me, what Gandalf has dubbed the Froot Loops effect: “the buildup of wanting something and not being able to get it immediately, so when you finally do get it, it’s extra satisfying.” I appreciate all of the hostels I stayed at over the course of my thru-hike because I was so grateful to be inside, dry, warm, clean, comfy, well-fed, and in the company of others.
So while they are all a certain level of great, I do have my favorites below…. 😉
Quarter Way Inn
Ceres, Virginia; Mile 554.1 NOBO / Mile 1635.7 SOBO
The Quarter Way Inn wins best AT hostel in my book, hands down.
The hostel is run by a former thru-hiker, Tina, whose attention to detail and cooking/baking abilities made for what turned out to be one of my favorite nights indoors on the trail. The Inn is a big, homey house with non-bunked beds and plenty of space. It’s the little things that count here: impeccable cleanliness, order, adorable notes and signs, and obvious care and thoughtfulness in all things. One thing I really missed while on the trail was being clean, relaxed and comfortable in my own space: you can be in your own space in your tent, or you can be clean and in comfy town clothes in a bunkhouse with a million other people or a hotel with 5 other hikers, but you don’t often get both at once. The Quarter Way Inn made me feel at home in this way for the first time on the trail. After showering – which Tina will ensure that you do right away – I was able to sit down on my bed and write a letter in privacy, and then later I watched a movie in the living room with just one other hiker. (The Last of the Mohicans on VHS, btw, which was a hugely entertaining throwback.)
Do: eat breakfast here in the morning. It’s huge and delicious and Tina goes out of her way to rotate menu items. Do download the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack on Spotify for your AT playlist.
Don’t: bring alcohol or drugs as this is not a party hostel. Don’t be discouraged by the 0.8m walk off-trail to get here, and don’t worry because you will get a ride back to the trail in the morning.
Woods Hole Hostel
Pearisburg, Virginia; Mile 623.8 NOBO / Mile 1566.0 SOBO
I arrived at Woods Hole Hostel on a cold, wet, miserable day feeling cold, wet and miserable. I was immediately put off because the bunkhouse is separate from the main house, it didn’t look heated, and the bathrooms are their own separate also unheated-looking building. But Woods Hole is an AT institution, and my disparaging first impression and bad mood quickly dissipated as I came to see why. Here, too, the beds are not bunked (at least in the loft) and you get to to sleep with real linens and thick, warm wool blankets. (Beds that aren’t bunked is a HUGE thing because that means you don’t have to climb up and down the bunk ladders and put your whole body weight onto the thin, tiny rungs that dig into the soles of your already painful feet.) What sets Woods Hole apart is the food and the experience of joining Neville and Michael for meals. Dinner and breakfast are family style, everything is homemade and/or home-grown, the portions are plentiful even by thru-hiker standards, and everything is simply delicious. Especially the bread – eat as much bread as possible because it is heavenly!
**Funny story: I picked up a men’s size XXL Jurassic World t-shirt from the Woods Hole town clothes closet that had been worn down to the softest, thinnest cotton here and loved it so much that Neville let me keep it! I wore that shirt as my camp clothes/pjs all the way to Manchester Center, Vermont where I gave it to Jeff, the proprietor of the Green Mountain House Hostel below, in the hopes that a SOBO would carry it back to Woods Hole. If anyone reading this knows the fate of that shirt, I’m definitely interested to hear if it journeyed back to Virginia!!!**
Do: eat dinner AND breakfast here. Be sure to think of things for which you’re grateful because Neville will ask you to share this with your meal-mates.
Don’t: be too quick to judge the rustic nature of the bunkhouse. Don’t expect a ride back to the trail in the morning, unfortunately.
Rock ‘N Sole Hostel
Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania; Mile 1203.0 NOBO / Mile 986.8 SOBO
Rock ‘N Sole Hostel is smaller and charming. Run by Craig and Jody, it feels like the cute and welcoming family operation that it is. The bunkhouse is a little separate building with an additional outdoor bathroom and shower, all made homey and comfortable and relatively upscale for what they are. Your stay here includes dinner on the back deck and breakfast on the front porch, which add to the visiting-family-in-the-country feel. The beds are bunked here, but they were sturdier than most bunks I came across, and very comfortable. I’m pretty sure Craig also helps maintain one of the coolers of snacks and drinks you might be lucky enough to find right around the PA 183 crossing, which is really just above and beyond.
Do: try to book the 50’s style trailer. Do take the opportunity to slack-pack into Port Clinton, PA or tour the Yuengling brewery.
Don’t: forget your trekking poles in Port Clinton like I did – but if you must, know that Craig is nice enough to get them back to you.
Green Mountain House Hostel
Manchester Center, Vermont; Mile 1650.7 NOBO / Mile 539.1 SOBO
Clearly I had a thing with beds so let me say up front that Green Mountain House Hostel has REAL BEDS. As in really real beds with real, thick, amazing mattresses. Not only that, but the real beds are in a real house! As in a whole, real house that belongs only to the hikers because Jeff lives in another whole real house next door! And if you need more than real beds in a real house, you also get a real kitchen stocked with real breakfast food that you can cook for yourself in the morning making you feel like a real person again. Believe me, by the time you get to Vermont the luster of pretty much everything about the trail has worn off, including eating shitty Pop Tarts or anything else that comes out of a wrapper for breakfast…and dinner…and lunch…and snacks…and dessert…and so on. I’m gonna also give Green Mountain House Hostel some possibly undeserved credit simply for being located in Manchester Center, Vermont, which is a really great trail town. It’s not rustically quaint like Hot Springs or anything, it’s full on capitalistic with a bunch of outlets and and a JCrew and a Thai restaurant and the martini bar pictured above and a famous bookstore and I definitely drank a bunch of spinach smoothies and ate sprouts on everything and bought new hiking clothes and generally pretended I was not tired and dirty and smelly and it felt really good.
Do: try to pick up these pants from the selection of women’s town clothes because they are like wearing a delicate, soft, comfy cloud and are clearly extra stylish. Do take advantage of the kitchen to cook a real meal.
Don’t: miss Northshire Bookstore, The Works Bakery, or Mrs Murphy Donuts.
Have a favorite hostel that I missed? Comment below!
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