Shelters range in size, offering space for 4-10 hikers to sleep. Air mattresses and sleeping bags are spread on the platform (always at least one step above the ground, sometimes at seat height, sometimes with bunk platforms). Backpacks, coats and wet gear hang from pegs. Walking sticks and boots are usually jumbled in the corners.
Shelters have nearby tent sites, some type of privy, a picnic table and a fire ring. Newer shelters have a picnic pavilion which can double as extra sleeping space on stormy nights when the shelter itself is full!
Shelters are spaced 5-13 miles apart. Whenever possible, we enjoy staying at a shelter because of the extra conveniences and because of the social interactions with other hikers. Since we hike short daily distances, however, we sometimes have to find a flat area to pitch our tent for a night between shelters. That has its own charms, including a sense of accomplishment that we can, indeed, be self-reliant.
No matter where we end up for the night, we always sleep well. A day of hard exercise certainly helps!