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  1. #1

    Default Where are trail services needed the most?

    Let's say, hypothetically, someone was thinking about setting up a hiker friendly B&B/shuttle service close to the trail and was trying to identify places that are currently underserved, so I'm ruling out Georgia because I think they've got enough shuttle drivers and places to stay close to the trail. I'm looking for locations that are far away from easy trips into a decent sized town, so that way you have a captive audience. Places like Hot Springs or Damascus are out. Maybe someplace within an hour and a half from a good sized airport for picking people up, like Johnson City, Roanoke, Asheville, Harrisburg, etc. Does any area stand out in mind where you thru hikers (or anyone else, for that matter) thought that a large section of the trail was lacking options for shuttles or lodging/resupply? TIA.

  2. #2
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    I've always thought the I-40 crossing near Davenport Gap was underserved. Sure, it's near Standing Bear Farm but it's not stiff competition. It's in a secluded, rural area that gets a lot of Smoky Mountain National Park hiker traffic. It's along a major interstate for easy access to Newport, TN (20 mins) and Asheville, NC airport (60 mins). It's a super logical spot for northbounders to stop, rest and resupply after doing the Smokies. And southbounders before starting the Smokies. In the Smokies there is always a need for shuttles and parking for section hikers. Let the riff-raff, party crowd stay at Standing Bear. You take the rest.

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    It's a super logical spot for northbounders to stop, rest and resupply after doing the Smokies.


    I wonder if the rafting places and some of the places around the hartford exit provide some services....

    I know there are some camping places in that general area along with an AIRBB type of place........

    the rafting places make runs all day to the dam and it would be easy for them to take people back to their place.....

    not sure how supplies/groceries would be to get at that area though....

  4. #4

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    mclaught, attroll's WhiteBlaze pages guide book contains detailed listings of all the AT-related services available to hikers. It will help you to pick out an area for your proposed operation. I hear that the 2021 edition will be even more comprehensive. It should be available soon. Check out the link on the WB home page.
    "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it."
    - Henry Ford



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    Although there are certainly more services in GA, aren't there many more hikers that need servicing in GA? By VA most have dropped out...
    Be Prepared

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    With the Top of Georgia hostel gone and new owners converting to more of a bed and breakfast, it would seem a hostel style facility like the old Top of Georgia would be a good fit in the area.
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    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Blue View Post
    Sure, it's near Standing Bear Farm but it's not stiff competition.
    I stayed at Standing Bear Farm. It is not somewhere I would choose to stay again. In my short list of poorly run hostels, it was near the top. That was in 2016. Maybe things have changed.
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  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by ldsailor View Post
    I stayed at Standing Bear Farm. It is not somewhere I would choose to stay again. In my short list of poorly run hostels, it was near the top. That was in 2016. Maybe things have changed.
    I adored that place in 2016. I was tired, cold and hungry. The place had obviously been created as a labor of love, and the crowd of hikers staying there were all great, and welcoming. The guy who did a lot of the labor and art and creation had recently died, leaving his widow to run the place. Granted, the kid they got to check in hikers was a bit of a dork, and a bit lazy, but beyond the check in/check out process, what more do you really need in a serve yourself/trust you to pay for what you take type of cheap hostel?

    I stayed in the bunkhouse one night, there were snorers, I decided to take a zero, since the hikers were cheerful, I booked a cabin for some bonus quiet, they gave away my cabin to an old man who claimed bad knees, and I got the treehouse instead, meh, no biggie, I got my peace and quiet. As I was leaving, there was some drama, a group of kids had piled into one of the cabins to save money (theft of services) without permission. They were sent on their way with a frown.

    What more were you really expecting from a trailside hostel with $20 bunks?

    More pertinent to the OPs question, SBF is one of the two major models. Buy the property last century, build everything yourself in a area with minimal building zone enforcement/grandfathered clauses, set it up to run with a minimum of caretaker/paid employee input. Set the bunk price low, make the bulk of your money from reselling provisions at a small profit. Fix any problems with your own labor. The cheap properties are gone. Got a time machine?

    The other model is to be rich, and do this as a hobby. The underserved parts of the trail are in rich areas. See if your rich neighbors can be convinced by your lawyers to let you run a business out of your new property. Operate at a loss, but enjoy the hell out of the experience. Get some great insurance.

    The remaining model, doesn't really serve the hikers, at least not most of the hikers as we think of them. It involves spinning up a real business plan, looking at what similar businesses in the area charge, working out all the taxes and fees, and costs, upgrading the septic and determining that if you want to make a profit, you need to charge $100 a night per bunk and need to maintain 70% capacity for the next 30 years to break even. It involves suckering foreign students to be unpaid caretakers for the "industry experience" and the chance to meet world travelers! Uh huh. Your other option is the traditional B & B with the $400 rooms.

  9. #9

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    Appreciate all the input, especially puddlefish. Gives me lots to think about. Thanks!

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    I had ample help in the NJ-MA section, as that is my home town area, however it seems like there are not many stays there, and the ones that are there are not really for thru hikers. On the minus side it is a very expensive area.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Puddlefish View Post
    I adored that place in 2016. I was tired, cold and hungry. The place had obviously been created as a labor of love, and the crowd of hikers staying there were all great, and welcoming. The guy who did a lot of the labor and art and creation had recently died, leaving his widow to run the place. Granted, the kid they got to check in hikers was a bit of a dork, and a bit lazy, but beyond the check in/check out process, what more do you really need in a serve yourself/trust you to pay for what you take type of cheap hostel?

    I stayed in the bunkhouse one night, there were snorers, I decided to take a zero, since the hikers were cheerful, I booked a cabin for some bonus quiet, they gave away my cabin to an old man who claimed bad knees, and I got the treehouse instead, meh, no biggie, I got my peace and quiet. As I was leaving, there was some drama, a group of kids had piled into one of the cabins to save money (theft of services) without permission. They were sent on their way with a frown.

    What more were you really expecting from a trailside hostel with $20 bunks?

    More pertinent to the OPs question, SBF is one of the two major models. Buy the property last century, build everything yourself in a area with minimal building zone enforcement/grandfathered clauses, set it up to run with a minimum of caretaker/paid employee input. Set the bunk price low, make the bulk of your money from reselling provisions at a small profit. Fix any problems with your own labor. The cheap properties are gone. Got a time machine?

    The other model is to be rich, and do this as a hobby. The underserved parts of the trail are in rich areas. See if your rich neighbors can be convinced by your lawyers to let you run a business out of your new property. Operate at a loss, but enjoy the hell out of the experience. Get some great insurance.

    The remaining model, doesn't really serve the hikers, at least not most of the hikers as we think of them. It involves spinning up a real business plan, looking at what similar businesses in the area charge, working out all the taxes and fees, and costs, upgrading the septic and determining that if you want to make a profit, you need to charge $100 a night per bunk and need to maintain 70% capacity for the next 30 years to break even. It involves suckering foreign students to be unpaid caretakers for the "industry experience" and the chance to meet world travelers! Uh huh. Your other option is the traditional B & B with the $400 rooms.
    Puddlefish introduces a big chunk of reality into the discussion. I have seen trail providers come and go in my area of the whites over 33 years and its pretty predictable. The ones in it for a profit are pretty consistently doomed to failure. They start out with the best intentions and a unreasonably low assumption on the the amount of work and a unreasonably high assumption on the hiking public they are going to encounter. Do not even think about borrowing a dime to start the business or to make improvements. Most owners burn out in a couple of years. Sadly many are trapped in it and their customer service skills degrade when they realize that they dont have a good out.

    Bob P from Kincora spent a year driving up and down the AT checking out every road crossing with his wife in their target retirement area identifying where they wanted to live and what trail services were needed in the area. Anyone thinking about a trail related business should do the same and consider finding an existing trail business to apprentice to for a season. Its highly likely they will get their fill of the business or the owner of the place will make them a really good offer to take it over. The Glencliff hostel in NH usually is looking for someone to run the place and that is pretty well the ideal location for a hostel at the south end of the whites. Almost every thru hiker is going to spend a night, there are no local stores or services so plenty of demand for evening shuttles plus a big demand for section hiker shuttles.

    The shuttle model doesn't seem to be that rosy either. Despite great demand in my area there is only one "professional" shuttle only service in the area. He competes with a couple of retired folks who do it as hobby and hostel owners that do it to drive business into their hostels. He pre-books his shuttles prepaid with a credit card and charges for cancellations. His business is mostly section hikers as they usually plan it as a vacation and are willing to pay for convenience.

    The other hard fact to face is that more than a few so called "thru hikers" are sleazebags that ruin things for all the good thru hikers. The sleazebags get plenty of practice of taking advantage of vulnerabilities of overworked hostel owners as they move along the trail. Things will get stolen and damaged, folks will overstay their welcome, law enforcement may need to be called, drunks will get belligerent. Many will want to be the special exception and if the owner tries to take a hard line, the problem folks will gladly torpedo the business rep on social media.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 12-07-2020 at 12:41.

  12. #12

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    A lot of good realistic advice here. I believe running a hiker hostel is sort of like going into the ministry. It can be a noble thing that helps out a lot of other people but you need to be going into it for the mission or "love of the game" and not the money or thinking it is going to be easy.
    The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.
    Richard Ewell, CSA General


  13. #13

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    It sounds like finding a place in need of a host for a season would be a good way to start. Again, I appreciate all the input.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mclaught View Post
    It sounds like finding a place in need of a host for a season would be a good way to start. Again, I appreciate all the input.
    Ding, Ding, Ding, we have a winner!

    BTW, the various national forests along the AT frequently have volunteer opportunities that allow free camping in exchange. Up in the whites there are a couple of remote campgrounds that have volunteer campground hosts that keep an eye on the campgrounds. There are also volunteers that work the popular trail heads to advise hikers about recommended gear and conditions that ma be encountered. I havent heard if the rules have changed but it used to be work 4 mornings a week at the trailhead and get free camping for the week. I am unsure if Bob at Kincora was looking for help but you couldnt go wrong if he did.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    The other hard fact to face is that more than a few so called "thru hikers" are sleazebags that ruin things for all the good thru hikers. The sleazebags get plenty of practice of taking advantage of vulnerabilities of overworked hostel owners as they move along the trail. Things will get stolen and damaged, folks will overstay their welcome, law enforcement may need to be called, drunks will get belligerent. Many will want to be the special exception and if the owner tries to take a hard line, the problem folks will gladly torpedo the business rep on social media.
    My experience has shown if you charge a bit more than the going rate and post a "No Alcohol" rule, the problem folks wont bother staying with you.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starchild View Post
    I had ample help in the NJ-MA section, as that is my home town area, however it seems like there are not many stays there, and the ones that are there are not really for thru hikers. On the minus side it is a very expensive area.
    I was going to suggest NJ, NY, CT, MA also. The cost of living is high in those states and it seems like it would be difficult to break even, much less turn a profit running a hiker hostel.
    It's all good in the woods.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    I was going to suggest NJ, NY, CT, MA also. The cost of living is high in those states and it seems like it would be difficult to break even, much less turn a profit running a hiker hostel.
    Pennsylvania too needs a good hostel from north of Duncannon to DWG. There was a great one south of Port Clinton called Rock n Sole run by Craig and Jody Stine but I believe they have moved on from hosting hikers on a regular basis.
    Order your copy of the Appalachian Trail Passport at www.ATPassport.com

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  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff View Post
    My experience has shown if you charge a bit more than the going rate and post a "No Alcohol" rule, the problem folks wont bother staying with you.
    And if you are looking to see best practices in person of how to run a hostel, I would strongly recommend staying with Jeff at Green Mountain House Hiker Hostel in Machester Center!
    If I ever hike the Long Trail or the AT again, I will definitely work my mileage out so I stay there again!
    The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.
    Richard Ewell, CSA General


  19. #19
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff View Post
    Pennsylvania too needs a good hostel from north of Duncannon to DWG. There was a great one south of Port Clinton called Rock n Sole run by Craig and Jody Stine but I believe they have moved on from hosting hikers on a regular basis.
    I stayed at Bert's Restaurant in Palmerton a couple of years ago. I thought they were pretty good. That's about 2/3 the way between Duncannon and DWG. There were not too many bunks, but then, I don't think they had a lot of hikers stopping in either. Maybe it's the name. "Restaurant" doesn't call out "hostel."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff View Post
    Pennsylvania too needs a good hostel from north of Duncannon to DWG. There was a great one south of Port Clinton called Rock n Sole run by Craig and Jody Stine but I believe they have moved on from hosting hikers on a regular basis.
    Jeff are you looking are you looking for some help as the OP is looking to get educated

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