Article and photo by Brenda Waugh

June is Great Outdoors Month in Virginia. Hiking is a favorite pastime of many Clarke County residents, perhaps because we have many wonderful places to hike. Among them is a large section of the Appalachian Trail (the AT). In this month’s column, I’ll review a few of the laws about hiking the AT in Virginia.

The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Appalachian Trail Conservancy manage the trail. The AT travels through state parks such as Sky Meadows and Grayson State Parks. It also shares space with Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Jefferson and George Washington National Forests. Each of these public lands has their own regulations, often adopted through a rule making procedure at the state or federal level. My short summary can’t cover the full trail—or all of the regulations. So please check with the park or the A.T. (See and search for rules of the trail to confirm current restrictions.)

Camping is permitted along most of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, being controlled by federal regulations that are located at 36 CFR Part 2. Hikers may camp in designated spots or dispersed camping areas, and may also use the shelters constructed along the trail. However, in several areas south of Clarke County, permits are required. A permit is required in Virginia when hiking on the AT within Shenandoah National Park. In nearby Sky Meadows State Park, no camping is permitted along the AT and is restricted to designated areas where a fee is charged.

Camping is prohibited in the Keys Gap area, extending from near Route 9, in Virginia. In the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife area, just south of Clarke County, camping is permitted only with written authorization along the trail. Several other areas further south in Virginia, such as Humpback Rocks, some areas near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and within Grayson State Park have restrictions on camping along the AT.

Campfires are heavily regulated, and hikers should confirm that fires are permitted before building a fire on the federal property that is part of the AT. Fires are generally prohibited on the AT, and allowed only consistent with requirements of federal regulations and local laws. In Virginia, from February 15 until April 30 throughout the state of Virginia, fires are only permitted from 4pm to midnight. Throughout the year, fires are prohibited along the AT trail from the West Virginia border southward to the Thompson Wildlife area.

Within Shenandoah National Park, campfires are only permitted in park-constructed fire pits found in formal camping areas, AT huts, and day-use areas. Moving further south along the AT, in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, fires are usually permitted except when designated as a high-risk for fires.

Other regulations involve hiking or camping with pets along the AT. Federal regulations do not prohibit dogs, except in public buildings or swimming areas, along the Appalachian Trail. Virginia laws require that dogs be on a leash less than six feet long. Dogs are permitted on all Sky Meadows State Park trails and most of the trails in Shenandoah National Park. The Virginia restrictions are described in Virginia Administrative Code Title 4, Agency 5, Chapter 30 (4VAC5-30).

Alcoholic beverages are permitted (but not necessarily recommended) along the Appalachian Trail. Like other restrictions within state parks, restrictions imposed by \ Virginia may preclude consuming alcohol in much of the park. For example, in Virginia’s state parks, such as Sky Meadows, state law permits the consumption of alcoholic beverages only in private areas (defined as cabins or camping units) or areas designated or permitted by the Virginia ABC.

Similarly, Shenandoah National Park has restrictions that apply to the portions of the trail that are situated within the park. Alcohol is not permitted in all parking

areas, pullouts and overlooks on the Skyline Drive between the North Entrance at Mile 0 to Mile 4, and is not allowed in the Lower Rapidan area.

Finally, there are many activities that are prohibited or require a permit within the area designated as the Appalachian Trial. These include using traps or nets as part of a research activity, specimen collection (of any type of rock, plant, fish, or wildlife), audio disturbance, use of public address system, use or possession of firearms solicitation and advertising, and commercial filming.

Why follow these laws? Most of them are there to preserve the park from damage, whether from erosion or fire. Others are there to ensure that all visitors have an enjoyable experience in the park. However, if respecting the park and the other visitors is not sufficient motivation to follow the rules, the laws provide for some stiff penalties. For example, failing to comply with Virginia laws regarding fire is a Class 3 misdemeanor. And, “If any forest fire originates as a result of the violation by any person of any provision of this section, such person shall, in addition to the above penalty, be liable to the Commonwealth for the full amount of all expenses incurred by the Commonwealth in suppressing such fire.”

The potential damage from a fire could be substantial — and it is not worth the risk. Federal laws pertaining to the trail also provide for some stiff consequences.

The penalty for violation of any of the regulations pertaining to the AT found in 36 CFR, Parts 1-7, or provisions of an explanatory Compendium, is subject to a fine as provided up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, or by imprisonment not exceeding six months (18 U.S.C. 3559), or both, and shall be adjudged to pay all court costs associated with any court proceedings.

Enjoy being outdoors this month, and take a hike along the Appalachian Trail. Please be respectful of the trail and the other guests. Always confirm the regulations pertaining to camping and setting a fire before you take off on a hike. A good rule of thumb is to consider the impact any activity may have on the ability for everyone to enjoy the park, today and in the future. The rule, for future generations: When in doubt, remember, “Leave no trace.”Brenda Waugh is a lawyer/mediator with Waugh Law & Mediation, serving clients in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia and Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.