Backpacking and hiking logistics, part 1: Transportation

Hiker Shuttle

RoadRunner Driving Service

“You wanna go where lady?” Is what I expected on the other end of the phone-line when I started calling around for a ride to the trailhead while planning to backpack a section of the AT. Instead, the reply was, “Sure! I drive backpackers up there all the time.” My adventure planning was off to a good start.

Sometimes the hardest part of the backpacking trip isn’t the foot-pounding, knee-grinding hike, but the planning and logistics. Getting back to your car, and where to re-supply, are two of the more common dilemmas. This post covers these topics and a few others to make your travel planning a little easier. Because there is so much to cover on these topics, I have divided this post into two parts. First, let’s talk about backpacking and hiking transportation.

Backpacking and hiking transportation

When I first started backpacking and hiking, I looked for trails that looped back to their beginning–and my car. It didn’t take long to find this limiting, so I came up with a few ways around the transportation dilemma. Here are some suggestions:

Hiker Shuttles – A shuttle service is convenient, but not free. To find shuttles Google the “name of the trail” plus “transportation” or “shuttle”. If that doesn’t produce results, search using the name of a popular nearby trail. For example, if you need a ride to a trailhead in north Georgia, search for shuttles serving the Appalachian Trail. Also, try contacting airport shuttle drivers, local hiking clubs, hiker friendly hotels, and outfitters.

If you have a car, park it at the end of your hike (in a safe location), and ride the shuttle to the trailhead. Now your car will be waiting for you whenever you arrive, versus you having to hurry or wait for the shuttle when you’re tired.

Leaving your car at a remote trailhead invites vandalism or theft. If possible, park in a campground or another secure location even if it requires walking a few extra miles. Some hiker-friendly hotels provide parking, and will shuttle you to and from the trail free (if you stay with them before or after).

Double Car – This solution works well for at least two people hiking together close to home. Park a car at each end of the trail and shuttle each other. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well when you’re traveling from a long distance away. Driving two cars for a full day to the trail is expensive.

Key Pass – A variation of the double car method. Two people or groups start at opposite ends of a trail, meeting in the middle and passing car keys. You then drive each other’s cars to a prearranged location. This works well if you prefer to hike solo, or if the two groups are more than one car will carry.

Planes, trains and buses – Most of the time you will need a ride in addition to these forms of transportation. It’s not unusual for airport shuttle services to drop hikers at a trailhead. The shuttle I use regularly ferries hikers between the Atlanta airport and trailheads as far as Fontana, North Carolina.

Unplanned exits – Sometimes your hike just doesn’t go as planned. Someone in your group gets sick or hurt, and you may need to exit early. Look for the best points to exit before leaving home. Talk to your ride about possible pick up points. Even if you have a car waiting, talk to a shuttle service, friend, or family member about being your Plan B. Leave them a map if needed. Trailheads can be extraordinarily hard to find, often miles down a gravel road.

If someone getting sick, or has a worsening injury, don’t pass one of your exit points without careful consideration. It could be another day or two before the next one, and what started as a non-emergency could require a rescue team to get you off the trail.

The next half of this post will explore trail selection, campsites and trip length. I’ll also touch on resupplying food and fuel.

Comments 12

  1. I’m a fan of the double-car method. Just be sure not to leave the keys for the end-of-the-hike car locked in the beginning-of-the-hike car as I once did. Luckily I realized it halfway through the trip; otherwise, that would NOT have been a pleasant end to the hike.

    1. Oh my goodness! That’s right there with the time I was shuttled to the trailhead and realized my hiking poles (for my bum knee) were still in MY car at the end. That cost me 6 weeks off and an MRI. Whoops!

  2. This article is packed with so much important information. I want to try a shuttle as we mostly try to find loops and they are so limiting but not so pricey. At our age it is time to spend the extra $$$ and enjoy ourselves more!

    1. True! Lots more options with a shuttle, but it does ding the pocketbook. Its worth scrounging for some free options. Perhaps a local “trail angel” who likes helping hikers.

  3. I usually look for trail systems that have loops where I can start and end in the same place. Another option I do sometimes is to just go out and back, but this is kind of boring as you double back on places you have already seen.

    I like these ideas. I especially like the one about parking the car at the end in a safe location and getting shuttled to the beginning. I am going to try that one.

  4. I can’t underestimate the importance of plan B’s. Make sure that you have more than one shuttle driver in mind in case one of the shuttle drivers is already booked or unavailable.


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