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HomeChesapeake InspiredRent a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Cabin and Get Back to Nature

Rent a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Cabin and Get Back to Nature

Article written by Nancy Parode

A dozen years ago, one of the moms from my daughter’s Girl Scout troop suggested that we rent a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) cabin and take the girls to a Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail (AT). I had heard of the Appalachian Trail, of course, but I had no idea there were cabins for rent right on the famed path. Spending a couple of nights in a primitive cabin sounded like a fun challenge for the girls, so I called the PATC’s cabin rental coordinator and booked two nights at Milesburn Cabin, just steps away from the AT. 

When we arrived at the cabin, we felt cut off from the outside world—in a very good way. Rustling leaves greeted us as we carried our bags to the cabin’s covered porch. A gurgling stream ran right in front of the cabin. The girls hiked a section of the trail and greeted the backpackers they met along the way. After the hike, they built fairy houses for future renters to find and then practiced their outdoor cooking and campfire-building skills. The girls had a blast, and the moms did, too.

Potomac Appalachian Trail Cabins—Something for Everyone

The Potomac Appalachian Train Club, founded in 1927, maintains and protects the Mid-Atlantic section of the AT and its lands. Education and advocacy are part of the club’s mission, too. To encourage use of the AT, PATC rents out its 45 cabins, 26 of which are in or adjoining Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Some are primitive cabins, with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water. Other cabins are semi-primitive—most have electricity and are heated by wood stoves, and some have running water in the kitchen. Modern cabins feature electricity and indoor plumbing. More than half of the cabins are pet friendly. All PATC cabins have mattresses for renters’ use.

According to Martha Reynolds, PATC’s Membership/Cabins/Lands Coordinator, anyone age 21 or older may choose from 18 of the club’s 45 cabins. The other 27 cabins are available only to dues-paying PATC members. “Like cabin rental revenue,” Reynolds says, “membership dues support our mission to maintain and protect the trails in the Mid-Atlantic region.” Joining the club, Reynolds adds, is a great way to give back to the trails as well as gain access to more cabins, and new members are sometimes inspired to help with trail maintenance and other trail-related tasks.

PATC Cabin Rental Costs

While you can reserve a cabin more than 60 days in advance, it is much more expensive to do so. You’ll save money by reserving your cabin within 60 days of your arrival date. In general, rental rates vary by cabin size and type. Rates are higher on weekend nights. Small, primitive cabins start at $30 per night, while large, modern cabins that sleep up to eight people cost between $75 (weeknights) and $175 (weekends) per night. 

The PATC’s website includes a “Cabins” section that is packed with information about rental rates, cabin locations, cancellation policies, and COVID-19 protocols. You can reserve your cabin online, too.

Choosing Your PATC Cabin

With so many cabins to choose from, especially if you’re a PATC member, selecting a cabin to rent can be a bit overwhelming. There are several important factors to think about. Eligibility is your first consideration, as 40 percent of PATC cabins are available to the public. The cabin’s location and type (primitive, semi-primitive, or modern) are important, too. Some cabins are on unpaved roads. Others are in Shenandoah National Park, which means you’ll have to pay the park entrance fee to get to your cabin. The cabin’s hike-in distance is another significant factor. Some cabins have short driveways, which makes bringing your gear inside an easy task. Others, however, are a mile or more off the road over hilly terrain. Finally, most cabins don’t have cell phone coverage. (None have Wi-Fi.) 

PATC’s website includes a handy chart that links to individual cabin descriptions. For more details on all the PATC cabins, including photos and floor plans, you can order a copy of Potomac Appalachian Trail Cabins from the club.

Things to Do 

Because most of the cabins are near the AT or other trails, hiking is the most popular activity. If you rent a cabin in or near Shenandoah National Park, you can take advantage of the programs and activities park rangers offer and enjoy the views from the park’s famous Skyline Drive. Photography, stargazing, and good old-fashioned relaxing are popular, too. PATC’s Martha Reynolds recommends bringing playing cards or a lightweight game. “Books and games harken back to simpler times,” she says, adding, “It’s important to have an activity that doesn’t involve your mobile device!”

Packing Tips for Cabin-goers

When you’re spending the weekend in a cabin, packing the right gear becomes a necessity. Reynolds says that most people pack more than they need, but there are some must-have items, regardless of which PATC cabin you rent. These include toilet paper, matches, garbage bags (you have to pack out everything you pack in, including trash), cleaning supplies, food, personal toiletries, and your sleeping bag and pillow. If you’re renting a primitive cabin, you’ll also need to bring a way to purify drinking water and, in most cases, a camp stove. Depending on the weather, firewood could be an essential item, too.

Is Cabin Life for You?

Martha Reynolds thinks so. Renting a cabin gives families a place to spread out, shelter from bad weather, and a space to gather for meals and fun. More people than ever before are heading outside with their families. “The pandemic has created a whole new audience of outdoor enthusiasts,” Reynolds says, adding, “The cabins are a great avenue for people who might be looking for an outdoor experience without the intimidation or commitment that can come with camping or backpacking for the first time.” 

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