There are a surprising number and variety of accommodations available near the AT. The thru-hiker rarely finds himself more than a couple days travel from some form of lodging. Often, all he need do is place a phone call and a shuttle will meet him at the next road crossing. I stayed at 19 different places during my thru-hike, including ten hostels; one bed and breakfast; and eight lodges, hotels, or motels. I discuss elsewhere the two AMC huts I stayed at while in the White Mountains because they were free.
Hostels are known for their low cost and their quirky characters. Each one I stayed at had a unique ambience. Some were rustic, consisting of outbuildings clustered around a farmhouse, while others were Victorian-style houses in quaint villages. The only thing they all seemed to have in common was the availability of shared bunk rooms and bathrooms (although one only had a privy). Many also offered private rooms (without private bathrooms), at a higher cost. Many of the hostels offered laundry, funky clothes to wear while waiting for your laundry, shuttle services, mail drops, and meals for very reasonable fees. Some offered a limited selection of trail foods, and some offered kitchen privileges. I usually spent about twenty-five dollars for one night in a hostel bunk room and laundry services. Hostels usually allowed hikers to tent on their lawns for a reduced price.
I especially enjoyed staying at hostels when I was hiking alone. They always provided a comfortable common room where hikers could watch DVD’s, read, and socialize. I enjoyed meeting new people, usually section hikers, as well as catching up with thru-hikers that I had met previously. Many of the hostel owners were ex-thru-hikers, or had been catering to thru-hikers for many years and really understood what I needed.
Hostels augmented their incomes by offering slack-packing services. Slack-packing usually entailed shuttling hikers to a trail head north of the hostel on the morning after their first night’s stay so they could hike southwards back along the AT (with light packs) to stay at the hostel for a second night. A shuttle was then provided back up the trail on the third day so the hikers could continue northwards without re-hiking any part of the trail. Many variations on that theme were also available. Although slack-packing was popular with many thru-hikers, I chose to avoid it. It seemed kind of like cheating to me – especially when it involved switching directions to avoid steep climbs.
Bed and breakfasts were more expensive than hostels. I stayed at one only because the nearby hostel was full. Luckily, I was able to share a room with two other hikers to defray expenses. For ninety-five dollars we received a room with one double bed and one single bed; access to the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry; shuttle service to and from the trail head; and breakfast for five dollars extra. We were asked to leave the bed and breakfast at 6:30 am because the owners had day jobs.
The lodges, hotels, and motels I stayed at cost anywhere from $44 to $144 a night. I sought them when I wished to sleep during the day. I also preferred them for their privacy while I hiked with my wife. They were typical of lodges, motels, and hotels that you would find anywhere in the US.
My trail guide provided detailed information on the fares and services of all of the accommodations near the AT. Several thru-hikers also consulted costumer reviews on the internet before frequenting a place of lodging. I found it interesting that these businesses shared information concerning undesirable customers. More than one obnoxious hiker was denied lodging after the owner consulted “the list.”
All of my experiences were pleasant in the accommodations I acquired near the AT. Most all of the towns along the trail seemed to consider thru-hikers important to their economy. They seemed used to catering to scrubby-looking hikers from far-away places. All of the owners I encountered appeared to genuinely enjoy sharing in my adventure.