Hostels serve as fun, unique rest stops along Appalachian Trail
Opulent is not a word usually associated with overnight accommodations along the Appalachian Trail.
Rustic. Spare. Austere. Homey, maybe, if you’re in a particularly charitable mood.
But not opulent.
Most days on the trail involve walking mile after mile and eating dehydrated food while sitting on a stump or the ground, perhaps at best topped with a foam pad. Then, to wrap the day up, hikers sleep in a tent or a hammock or, at most, in an Adirondack shelter.
There’s a beauty in the simplicity of it all.
But there’s nothing wrong with a hot shower and clean sheets every now and again, either. Or even a meal cooked by someone else.
That’s where the trail’s hostels come in. There are roughly 80 of them along the 2,190-mile trail running from Georgia to Maine.
That’s not as many as it sounds. It’s possible, certainly, to do multi-day trips along the trail, going only from hostel to hostel.
But through-hikers, even putting budgetary considerations aside, will spend far more nights under the stars than under a roof.
So they are a nice change of pace.
Some offer private rooms, others bunkhouse-style accommodations. Others provide dinner and a breakfast. Some do laundry.
In cases, they provide a chance to experience some history, too.
Europeans settled the area that is now the park in 1764, when three partners built an iron furnace and named it Pine Grove Iron Works. It passed through numerous hands over the years.
At its peak in 1883, the iron works turned out 6,000 net tons of cast iron a year.
It has a bit of a tortured history, though. Good times alternated with bad, as in bankruptcy-bad.
It was, at various times, owned by the man who founded Penn State and was chairman of agriculture under President Ulysses S. Grant; a state senator and solicitor for the treasury department under President Benjamin Harrison; and the man, once the wealthiest in America, known as the “financier of the Civil War.”
But it was another owner who provided what serves as a hiker hostel today.
In 1815 Peter Ege built a grand — yes, for its time, opulent — English Tudor-style home for his wife, Jane Arthur. It’s a brick, two-story building with a long porch outside and multiple rooms, including a dining area with a magnificent fireplace.
It hosts weddings and other events as well as public tours.
Yet it’s best known for giving Appalachian Trail through-hikers a place to spend the night. As many as 28 backpackers at a time can stay in dormitory-style rooms, men on one floor, women on another, with access to showers, bathrooms and all of the home’s common rooms.
A night’s stay goes $25. For an extra $10, hikers get a pizza dinner and breakfast the next morning.
Other hostels offer their own brand of treats, from the fun to the practical.
Shaw’s Hikers Hostel in Maine is ranked consistently, in recent years at least, as favorite of the trail’s hostels. Owned by a pair of through-hikers and located on the edge of the 100-mile wilderness, it’s been around for four decades.
Woods Hole Hostel in Virginia offers accommodations in a log cabin on an organic farm. Its communal meals are legendary, as is its focus on yoga, massage and more.
The Teahorse Hostel and Hiker Resupply in West Virginia has a fully stocked glass display case of Clif bars, foil-packed tuna, ramen noodles and the like.
Maine’s Appalachian Trail Lodge, the last stop for northbound hikers, has an Earl Shaffer room, named for the first man to through hike the trail. It also shuttles hikers and serves as a mail and food drop site.
Cantarroso Farm in Tennessee doubles as an apiary. It produces its own honey on site.
Other hostels are affiliated with religious organizations, some charge only pay-what-you-can donations and many offer wi-fi. So chances are you can find one that meets your needs, whatever they are, when on the trail.
Opulence is a matter of opinion, after all.
Quirks at Appalachian Trial hostels
Many of the hostels along the Appalachian Trail are unique for various reasons.
The Ironmaster’s Mansion, for example, is one of just several buildings still standing from when the area supported an actual furnace operation. Two of the others are noteworthy for hikers.
What was the village blacksmith shop is home to the Appalachian Trail Museum. It houses displays about the trail’s past, a hall of fame for people important in the trail’s development, a museum store and more. There’s even a children’s section in the basement.
The former mule stable, meanwhile, today holds a general store. Hikers and day-trippers can get snacks, cold drinks, even hot food.
Through-hikers in particular are dared to complete the “half-gallon challenge.” That involves eating a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting.
Hikers who try record their tale in a little notebook on the counter.
Some can’t get that much ice cream down. Others do. The result is not always pretty, though.
In words and stick-figure drawings, hikers detail, sometimes graphically, their body’s reaction to that much dairy all at once. It’s sometimes more fun to read than imagine.