Share Good Times (and Campsites) on the SHT

By Anna Swarts

With the ever-increasing popularity of overnight trips on the SHT, campsites are at a premium.  One will notice that, at the trail heads, a sign denotes that “Campsite must be shared if required.” Users used to camping in permit-protected places may find this odd. It is true; if you’re looking to get away from all people, getting a permit and heading off deep into the BWCAW might be your best bet if you plan to stay in the state.  However, many of us find jumping on the SHT for a quick trip to be a convenient way to get out and see some of the North Shore beauty.  This convenience results in more people (like me and you).

Anna Swarts, basking in the sun near the end of her solo SHT thru-hike.

As a backpacker who frequently travels alone, I’d love to share some of the wonderful encounters I’ve had with other hikers through the ‘shared campsite’ experience.  A few of my favorite interactions came when I was thru-hiking the Trail solo a few years ago.  At the end of each day, sometimes having hiked more than twenty miles, I’d feel a little bit of anxiety about whether or not there would be room for me at the next site, or whether I’d even feel comfortable sharing with whomever was there.  I found that, every single time when the site was taken, the folks were more than happy to share it with me and I with them.

I’ll highlight the ones that I have found most memorable (and if you’re the one I describe, thank you for the positive impact you’ve had on my life!):

  • A father and his five-year-old daughter.  He was exhausted (I think it was the real bacon and oranges in his pack), but his daughter was having the time of her life.  She was thrilled to tell me that her mom would usually have been with them, but that mom stayed home this time because she was about to have a baby!  The exuberance, the wild curls, and the tenacity of this pint-sized person who had just hiked as many miles as she was old would uplift anyone.
  • An older gentleman, who, when I came into camp offered me some tea. As we sipped it, he shared with me that the tea at the end of a day of hiking was his favorite part of the whole thing.
  • Two teachers, both of which had never been backpacking before but who were up on a final hurrah before the school year started.  These wonderful women shared their snacks and were so much fun. The next morning was the first one (on my thru-hike) that I woke up and didn’t feel like a truck had hit me. I account it to the healing power of laughter!
  • A mother and her teenage son. We shared a meal and a great conversation about dreams and acting on them, and about the power of including nature in education. Not only was this a sweet duo, but it was exciting to consider the possibilities that exist in our lives.
  • Three people who had hiked the Appalachian Trail. I met them at the Woods Creek campsite, and they were happy for me to join. Slowly, pair upon pair of folks came in to the site, haggard from a day of hiking, and looking anxious that there was no more space. The AT folks set the standard: “Nah, of course there is space. We can always make room for tired hikers.” We ended up a haphazard crew by the time night fell, and somehow there was plenty of room for each additional tent.

I have shared sites with families, college students, boy scout dads, dentists, teachers, rock climbers, and so many others that I could include in this list.  Of course, there are some people I have enjoyed more than others, but my experiences have been neutral at worst, and many have resulted in stories to tell later, usually along the lines of, ‘You’ll never guess who I camped with…!” The best resulted in friendships or led to meaningful exchanges with someone I might never have met during my ‘normal’ life.

As the Trail is a shared resource, with no permits required, we all have an equal claim to enjoy the Trail as well as the duty to be good stewards of it so that others may enjoy as well.  Share campsites when necessary, embrace the goodness in your neighbor, and move along so that the next folks can have access. The love of the Trail is common ground; hospitality is a universal concept.  From my experience, you have more in common with your fellow hikers than you might think, and you’ll be a richer person having met them.

Anna Swarts is a SHTA volunteer extraordinaire, elite latrine digger, guest blogger, runner, and all-around awesome person.

SHTA and our wonderful volunteers maintain 94 backcountry shared campsites that are available to use without permits (Note: there are no SHTA campsites available in the city of Duluth). Read more about what to expect when you’re backpacking or camping on the SHT here.