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Sarah Jones Decker

Sarah Jones Decker was born in Winchester, Virginia and now lives in the mountains outside Asheville, NC. Sarah has her MFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art & Design and a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing from Virginia Tech. Sarah and her husband own Root Bottom Farm, a small organic fruit and vegetable farm and she teaches photography and graphic design Mars Hill University. Her work can be found at and

Visual Storyteller/ Photographer / Educator / Farmer / Mama Strange, but not a stranger.


More than just a dry roof over weary travelers, the shelters along the iconic AT provide a gathering place and a sense of community on America’s most famous foot-path. Dotted an average of every eight miles along the 2,192-mile route, more than 270 backcountry shelters have welcomed hikers on a first-come, first-served basis since the beginning of the trail’s inception and eventual completion in 1937.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) defines the term shelter, sometimes referred to as a lean-

to, as a “three-sided structure, with or without bunks or floors, intended as overnight housing for hikers.” The term shelter on the AT can also include enclosed structures, unlocked cabins, and the AMC hut system in the Whites. The basic three-walled structure with one open side and an overhanging roof is a consistent design, but each shelter is unique and its construction method varies from state to state and region to region. Some are built with stone, some with wooden boards or planks, and others with logs—either downed nearby or sometimes brought in by helicopter. Built, maintained, and preserved with thousands of hours by dedicated trail clubs, ridge runners, and volunteers, shelters have always been and continue to be an integral part of the trail experience.

No two hikers have the exact same AT adventure, even if they travel the whole trail side by side. The same could be said of shelter experiences. Severe weather, seasonal challenges, and an ever-changing cast of characters are all factors for a unique experience at these structures that wait silently in the woods for their next visitors.

Those shelters contain more stories than could ever be written in one book. I thru hiked in 2008 and then again in sections for my 10-year “trailsversary.” I set out to photograph and document all these structures as a time capsule of the AT as it stood in 2018–2019. The trail is constantly changing. During this two-year project, two shelters were removed and two were closed. Inevitably, new shelters will be built and old ones will be torn down. Presenting all of these structures together for the first time in one book, the small, sometimes subtle differences in shelter styles found between the states, trail clubs, time periods of construction, locations, and materials are more apparent.

It was fantastic being back out on the trail. I re-hiked hundreds of miles in all 14 states with my husband, family, and friends. For more than 350 miles, I carried all my camera equipment and my nine-month-old daughter, Josephine. She even took her first steps as a one-year-old on the AT in Pennsylvania. Being out there with her is an experience I will treasure forever. It was truly an honor to put all of this information in one place and share it with the trail community I love so much. I hope this collection of images rekindles your own stories and inspires you to get out and create new ones.

"What a ride it has been to publish your dream project in 2020." -- Sarah Jones Decker

 (cover photo above)

The Appalachian Trail: Backcountry Shelters, Lean-tos and Huts

Available everywhere

Signed copies available at

All Images ©Sarah Jones Decker


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