Getting around - travel options for a hiking trip on the AT

My friend ET hitchhiked his way home to Tennessee from where we both got off trail in Massachusetts. I was so impressed that he picked his way so quickly down the east coast, but ET is one of the more fortunate people in the world when it comes to following rules 1 and 2:

1. Be attractive
2. Don't be unattractive

Joking aside, they say that more attractive people find it easier to be successful in life. People just like someone that's easy to look at and seems nice. It's pretty funny when you spend an hour or two trying to get a hitch into town to resupply on groceries only to have a cute girl join the effort, getting you a ride in minutes.

Hitching into town is incredibly common in the trail towns along the AT and the locals are usually happy to give you a ride, though some towns like the hikers better than others.

For everyone else traveling longer distances, and those who don't want to get murdered by a serial killer offering rides down the highway, travel to and from trail can be pretty darn expensive. The following are some of the best ways of getting around that I've picked up in the last two years.

The most important thing I've learned is that sometimes you just need to go. If you have months to hike on a long distance trip, you've got the time to figure out the details of how you get somewhere as you go. Walking


Yes, flying can be expensive. But the truth is that you can end up spending much less money flying, especially if you shop around a few weeks before you leave to get a cheaper flight. The last time I got on trail, I flew from Atlanta to New Jersey with a short layover in Detroit. I spent $221 and traveled for less than 8 hours.

I think that flying is the best option when you are trying to get to a distant trail head on your own.

When you fly, you spend much less time in transit. There just isn't a faster way to cover long distances. Less time in transit means less money spent on incidentals like food, hotels, and gas money. Incidental costs would have been far beyond the $181 I spent on my plane ticket and the $40 cell phone app ride for hire I got from the airport to the trailhead.

When you are looking for a ticket, change up the dates you'll fly out on and the airports you use. Flying into smaller airports that are closer to the trail itself can make the flight cheaper. Be willing to make some connections for better air-fare.

Watch out for short layovers between your connecting flights! If your first flight is delayed your total travel time could double very quickly. Avoid flights with layovers shorter than 1 hour. It is nice to walk around and have some time out of the plane anyway.

Getting to the trailhead from the airport can be tricky, but the prevalence of cell phone app car services often gives you a great fallback. I had no plan to get from the airport to Unionville, NY where I met my buddy I hiked with in VA but it wasn't too far and I had a whole day to get there. I ended up being able to hire a car, but I set out knowing that there's always a way. Heck, I could have walked if I really needed to.

Driving Your Own Car

Since I have been heading out solo almost every time I've hit the trail, and I haven't had the budget to spend extra on the driving my own car has not really been an option for me. There are some good reasons that you don't see hoards of through hikers driving their own cars from trail head to trailhead. People do make it work though!

People drive to the next hostel on the trail and park their car for free and get shuttle rides or hitch hike back to the last town. These people keep hiking to their car, and they always have a way out from the trail head which is super nice! Logistically, having your car with you seems to make self-supported hiking loads easier. In terms of cost, though you could be looking at lots of gas and time spent driving.

Depending on the car you have, you may be able to sleep in it instead of using hotel rooms in town. There's a lot of ways to do this, and plenty of places to park to get a good night's sleep. This could do a LOT to offset the cost of gas and make bringing your car a more viable option for those that spend a lot of days in town hanging out to recover between town to town sections. Hostels can be cheap, especially if there's an option to camp in the yard for $5, but this isn't always the case. Many hostels cost as much as $30 a night, though the cost of laundry and some other amenities is often thrown in with that.

Having your car means you can easily get to big grocery stores and larger towns. You can buy trail food in bulk and stash it in your car. You can keep some pieces of gear in your car, using it as a personal hiker and bounce box to trim your backpacking kit to only what you need.

Having a car gets cheaper with a hiking buddy. If you can split gas costs, that's an obvious bonus. Not having to arrange shuttles to the trailhead is also a huge advantage if you've got someone along with you.

The best strategy I've heard of is where one hiker gets dropped off at the first trail head, the other hiker drives and parks the car at the next trail head, the keys to the car change hands somewhere in the middle, and the the hiker that got dropped off drives back to pick up his buddy. This strategy means that a shuttle is almost never necessary, though if your goal is to hike together during the day you might not like spending so much time apart.

There are some cons to bringing your own car, though. First, there's the wear and tear you put on your car, and the expense of oil changes and gas. Then, of course, there is always the chance that your car gets broken into at the trailhead or vandalized. Vandalism on trailheads has been a huge problem in the last few years from what I've been hearing from locals in the towns along the AT and online. If you do stash stuff in your car you would want to keep it out of sight at least.

Again, I haven't brought my own car before but I believe the biggest con to bringing your own car on a long distance hike would probably be that it would break up your immersion in the trail. There's something about being almost totally dependent on where you feet can carry you that makes a long hike special, and I think having a car with you would break that up a little bit. Other hikers would love you though, and you'd probably end up with a name like hot-wheels or something giving people rides into town from every trail head. Constantly being asked for rides might also be considered a con for some, while others might get a serious kick out of it.

Rental Cars

Rental cars can be a great last minute way to cover long distances on trail on the southern half of the trail where transportation is much more difficult. If you have to get home tomorrow from a sleepy little town somewhere on trail, chances are you can get to a rental car company and get moving within a few hours. Unless you return the rental car to the location you picked it up from, a long distance rental car trip will probably cost you at least $300 USD. Airport to airport rentals seem to have the better rental rates, and this may have something to do with how it affects the restocking fee.

That's expensive for a single person, but it can be way cheaper than any other alternative if traveling in a group. Splitting rental cars with other hikers brings the costs down significantly, whereas travel by bus, train, or plane means separate tickets for everyone. Gas and food costs might add up depending on the duration of the trip and the type of vehicle you rent. Note that your credit card company might cover the insurance or you may have rental car insurance through the insurance you keep for your personal vehicle.

It is important to note that there are age restrictions for who can rent and drive the vehicle.

Three of us (Songbird, Bear-Bane, and Sexy Jesus) took a rental car from Asheville, NC to Bangor, ME and made the 19 hour drive straight through after we decided it was too hot to keep hiking northbound in the dead of summer. It worked out great, and we started southbound with a heck of a lot of SOBO hikers.


It is theoretically possible to shuttle with the individuals and hostel employees that drive hikers around for a fee. With a big group this could be fairly cheap, but I suspect it would take a long time and involve several hostel stays.

Around the time of trail festivals it is possible to find groups of hikers carpooling up and down the trail to get to Damascus, VA for Trail Days from all over. Put out feelers early online and see what you can find. So many people travel to trail days that you could probably throw a thumb out on a major highway heading in the direction of Damascus and get a ride from passing festival goers.


The long distance bus trip is not at all my preferred method of travel. The overall cost is often a little less than a plane or train ticket, and the insanely long travel times between destinations have been enough to keep me from riding the bus. Travel between distant locations can take days. That's a lot of long layovers and fast food purchases that rack up.

In the northeastern US, the transportation situation is so much better. There are cheap buses and train tickets to get almost anywhere you could want to go. Once you get north of Hanover, NH, however, your easy northeastern transportation options will start to dwindle (at least in my experience).


Taking trains to get around New England was awesome and easy. I paid $40 USD to get from Springfield, MA to New London, CT and very much enjoyed the train ride. I figured out that I was able to sweet-talk with the tellers on layovers and get my tickets bumped to earlier trains where they were available. I cut several hours off my trip to New London by asking nicely, and I'd totally recommend trying that if you have a bunch of longer layovers to deal with.

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Have a good day !