Forest Service shelters available along southern Appalachian Trail, including George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

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(WFXR) — Nature lovers, rejoice! The Forest Service says shelters along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail are now available for use in Virginia, as well as North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, these shelters — which are located on national forest land — and trailheads were shut down.

Officials say there are hundreds of shelters averaging about eight miles apart along the trail, although the shelters might not be frequently maintained at all locations.

The Forest Service encourages hikers to bring your own personal tent and face coverings because you may need to tent camp in designated areas of the national forest if social distancing in shelters is not possible.

“You have a few more choices this spring when hitting the Appalachian Trail for multiple days,” said Forest Supervisor Joby Timm. “You can stay overnight in nearby communities, or you can bring gear along and stay in the woods in a dispersed camping area, or in a trail shelter if adequate space is available.”

The Appalachian Trail is a hiking path stretching from Georgia to Maine and covering more than 2,100 miles — of which approximately 344 miles are in Virginia, officials say.

If you want to plan ahead, check the forest websites for site-specific details before your trip through the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the following four national forests:

“In the spring, our stretch of the Appalachian Trail typically sees a continuous stream of hikers all day long. It can get crowded,” Timm said. “The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have many hiking trails. If you prefer more solitude, choose a trail that’s less busy. The entire forest is open for recreation and nature viewing.”

Hikers are encouraged to recreate responsibly by maintaining a safe social distance and following health guidelines from the CDC and local health authorities.

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