Rocky Top Trail Crew
Experience the Smoky Mountains from a different perspective this fall working and camping on the Appalachian Trail.
The 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park cross the Trail’s highest point and traverse the most diverse ecosystem and largest roadless area along the Trail. Half of the Appalachian Trail in the Park is open to horse use, and the crew’s current work involves reconstructing those sections where horses and hikers share the Trail. Because this portion of the Trail also receives so much rainfall annually, there is a lot of work to be done to repair the Trail where significant erosion has compromised the tread way.
The crew backpacks about 6 miles up a steep side trail to reach the work area and field camp for the eight-day sessions. Crew members carry most everything they need, but do receive some support from equestrian partners to help in carrying tools and some food up the mountain. However, crew volunteers should expect to carry between 40-55 lbs on their backs and may also need to hand-carry some tools.
Rocky Top 2021 – Update
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the uncertainty around broad vaccine distribution, and ATC’s goals of keeping our staff & volunteers safe, the 2021 season of Rocky Top has been delayed. We’ll be tackling trail projects with a four-person paid crew starting in the spring through fall, with the hope of opening up some of those project weeks to our amazing volunteers later in the year once case numbers go down and vaccinations are more widely available.
Stay tuned to this page for new trail crew opportunities as they are planned and scheduled.
The ATC Crew Basecamp is located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Volunteers are asked to arrive no later than 3 p.m. the day before their session start date for introduction, orientation, volunteer readiness assessment, dinner, and a safety talk. The bunkrooms have bed linens and pillows, but you’ll need to bring your towel, washcloth, soap or shampoo. Crew members with an interest in joining more than one session of crew are invited to stay at
Essential volunteer functions
- Backpacking and hiking long distances on challenging terrain carrying required personal and group gear, tools and safety equipment (20%). Hiking pace should be 2 mph in this strenuous mountainous terrain.
- The hike in will be about 6 miles over challenging terrain with thousands of feet of elevation change, carrying as much as 40-55 lbs. along with tools.
- Performing trail work (65%),
- Tasks include cutting annual growth, raking or digging out drains, installing erosion control features, or moving heavy logs or rocks.
- Managing backcountry camp (15%), including sharing in duties associated with preparing, cooking, and cleaning up from meals, maintaining sanitation at camp and worksite, cleaning and storing group tools and gear, and other tasks to cooperatively share in work of the entire crew.
- Concurrent to those functions, volunteers who see the greatest success have
- An enthusiasm for the experience,
- An ability to get along with and work cooperatively with others,
- Keep safety top of mind,
- Have a desire to work hard, and
- Arrive with a level of fitness commiserate with the volunteer job functions.
Crew week & qualifications/requirements
Because its work sites are so remote, the Rocky Top Crew has an eight-days-on schedule. Please note that the Rocky Top Crew involves a long backpack in to the work site, and eight days of rustic backcountry camping. From the spike camp in the field, volunteers take day hikes to reach the project area where they will install steps and waterbars, build drains, or reestablish sidehill. On the eighth day, the crew hikes out from the field, cleans gear and tools, and has dinner followed by a recognition ceremony.
Volunteers spend eight consecutive days and seven nights working in remote backcountry locations, far from medical facilities, performing physically demanding manual labor in a variety of intense weather conditions. In addition to trail work activities, volunteers also actively contribute to community chores and always practice Leave No Trace.
Volunteers must be physically and mentally ready for the challenges of crew life.
- Volunteers must demonstrate an adequate fitness level upon arrival at base camp by participating in a team-building physical assessment consisting of the following: hiking with a 30 lb. backpack 1.5 miles in 30 minutes or less, a five-minute step test at a rate of 96 beats per minute on a 12’’ step, a minimum of 15 push-ups in 1 minute, two core exercises that consist of one minute of plank and/or boat pose, and balance exhibited by standing on each foot for 20 seconds.NOTE:Volunteers who are unable to complete a portion of this fitness assessment may be asked to reconsider their participation on crew.
- Recent backpacking trip report(s) that document distance, location, elevation change, difficulty, and trip length may be required to demonstrate backcountry experience.
- Ability to perform essential functions of the position listed above.
- Respect and follow instructions from crew leaders.
- Understand and apply the training you receive for associated trail work and safety practices.
- Communicate well with others, resolve conflicts effectively, and promote positive interpersonal relationships.
The ATC Will Provide
We supply all necessary tools and training in their use, basic loaner gear, professional Trail Crew leaders, plenty of high-energy food, off-day housing for multi-week volunteers, transportation to and from the Knoxville, TN airport and/or bus station (if required), and transportation to and from the trailhead.
Are You Crew Fit?
It’s not advisable to participate on a Trail Crew to “get fit.” In order to help volunteers prepare for a rigorous week of trail work, ATC partnered with a Kinesiology student at Lynchburg College to develop a training program to help volunteers arrive fit for the demands of crew life.