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The US has lots of wonderful long-distance hiking trails; this (the Palmetto Trail) is one near my home (in South Carolina), which I'd like to explore more.

Ideally I'd like to: drive to some trail head in the morning; day-hike ~15 miles in one direction; somehow return to my car and return home. In particular, not having to backtrack would be wonderful. However, I'm concerned that buses, taxis, Ubers/Lyfts may all be unavailable in rural areas and I could easily strand myself.

If I am solo hiking away from home, and don't have a friend to rely on, is there a good way to make such plans work?

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    The location may/will be relevant to this question, please edit it in more detailed than US. A state or border area between states will already help, as will a name of a famous long distance track in your area. (Disclose all you are happy to share, it is hard to give details for the whole of the US as there are huge differences even within a single state.) And do not expect all who see this question to follow a 'this' link.
    – Willeke
    Apr 3 at 12:08
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    Don't forget that you may not have cell service at the end where you need it. But you do have friends in the area, you just haven't met them yet - they are called local hiking groups.
    – Peter M
    Apr 3 at 13:28
  • @Willeke I edited in as you suggested. (I live in South Carolina.) That said, I'd be grateful for any advice from anyone who has encountered a similar situation elsewhere. Apr 3 at 14:02
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    This may be more appropriate for The Great Outdoors SE.
    – jcaron
    Apr 3 at 14:30
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    While this question would be welcome on the Great Outdoors site, as it is about (public) transport to trail heads, I feel it is certainly as well at home here on travel. I guess there might be useful questions on that site which have additional information.
    – Willeke
    Apr 3 at 17:14

4 Answers 4

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I can't recommend any specific hikes (and do not even live near your location). But my preferred method is to take transportation to the trail head, and then walk back to my car (or to other reliable transportation).

Apart from the uncertainty that you'll get back from the end point, reasons are

  • It's easier to get the timing of the transportation right.

  • Transportation from the trail head might not be exactly where you expect it to be.

  • If I can't get transportation to the trail head after all, I can make another plan.

  • At the end of the walk when I'm tired, there's less hassle getting home.

If it could be hard to get transportation to the trail head, think how much harder it might be to find transportation back.

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    Good idea, thank you! Apr 4 at 1:24
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    I used to do that quite a lot in Switzerland. At least there you can find a bus or a train that goes near the trail heads. Even better, there always was one that would take me there shortly after first light, even if that meant boarding at something like 5am.
    – arne
    Apr 4 at 9:46
  • ... and if you fail to find a transport - you can just hike the trail half-way and return. Apr 4 at 14:30
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    If you're using taxis or similar, your timing is far more likely to be correct at the start of the day than at the end. The buses @arne mentions in Switzerland may be post buses which (when I went years ago) were far more common in the morning Apr 4 at 15:44
  • The downside is that if something happens during the walk, you can't reach your car.
    – gerrit
    Apr 6 at 8:00
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I have spent time on several sections (or "passages") of the Palmetto Trail. (Nice trail! not a lot of "stunning views" or anything, but very pleasant).

In my experience relying on shuttles/ride shares/etc probably wouldn't work, unless either you are hiking a section near one of the larger cities (e.g. Columbia or Spartanburg) OR you're hiking the northernmost section where you might be able to take advantage of the Foothills Trail shuttles, which seems to overlap somewhat.

Unless you can convince someone else to join you in a separate car that you can stage at the end, you might consider using a bike: The way I've done this in the past is:

  1. put my bike on my car's bike rack
  2. drive to the "end" of the trail
  3. get on my bike and use the roads to bike to the "start" of the trail (which hopefully won't take too long b/c bikes are relatively fast)
  4. leave my bike at the "start" (maybe lock it to a tree or whatever)
  5. hike from the "start" to my car at the "end"
  6. drive home via the "start" to pick up my bike.

You have to do some planning in advance to make sure that there is a reasonable bike route on the surrounding roads, but actually I think there are lots of parts of the Palmetto trail where this would work great. As you move southeast in the state, this will get progressively easier as the terrain gets progressively flatter. It can still be kind of tiring though, and it relies on you having a bike and a car bike rack, so maybe not ideal. One little idea is that when you get to the "end" try calling a ride share. If it works, great! Leave your bike behind. If not, well, you've got your bike and you can proceed via my steps above.

Hope that helps!

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  • Thanks! Don't have a bike rack at the moment, but maybe I should get one at some point anyway. Apr 4 at 1:25
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    @FrankThorne A single bike will fit even in very small cars if you take off one or both wheels and tetris for a bit. No fun if you have to do it regularly, but its fine for single occasions.
    – MaxD
    Apr 4 at 6:07
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    Rivers that are popular for boating, whether drift boating to fish or rafting or tubing or kayaking or canoeing often have an ecosystem of shuttle services. Sometimes these rivers have trails near them, e.g. the Wilson River Trail near Portland, and the rogue River Trail in southern Oregon. I conjecture that you can arrange with one of the river shuttle services to drop you off, possibly in a remote area, and pick you up possibly at a less remote area, ideally one that has cell service. // I wonder when self driving car robots will be good enough to do shuttle service.
    – Krazy Glew
    Apr 4 at 14:42
  • Some more bike-related ideas at bikeforums (hiking carrying a folding bike) Apr 5 at 9:21
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    This works, and we've done this many times, but we've usually put the bike at the end of the trail first and do the cycling after rather than before the hike. This way, if you have to turn back on the hike, you get back to your car and can pick up your bike, without having to make the bike ride again. In a group, only one person needs to go and get the bike. An e-bike helps a lot if you're too tired after the hike (unless cycling back is all down-hill). You might want to get a folding bike if you do this a lot.
    – gerrit
    Apr 6 at 8:05
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If you're staying or live near the trailhead and there are several ways to reach the other side, you can make it a "two day hike" while sleeping at home:

  • Drive to the end of the trail.
  • Hike home or to your accommodation.
  • The following day, hike to the car via another route. If the route is very nice, you can even take the same route back. Not ideal, but you see other things when facing the other way.
  • Drive home.

Admittedly, this only works in very specific circumstances. In the past 30 years, I think we've done this with my family about 5-10 times, and only in the Alps, where the trail density is very high (as is the density of public transportation). I suspect it would be quite rare in the US, but there may be areas where it's possible.

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  • This combines nicely with partial public transport coverage - on day 2 take a bus to the start of the different route (the Alps even have quite a bit of railway coverage, if you like hiking over passes from one valley to the next). It also combines with the bike ideas if it's a multi-activity trip (ride on day 2 to fetch the car) Apr 7 at 11:03
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    @ChrisH-UK Yes, with some creativity there may be plenty of options; of course it helps if there is public transportation, which is more likely in central/western Europe than in North America.
    – gerrit
    Apr 7 at 18:40
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Swap car keys with someone you meet going the other way, preferably near mid-trail. We did this spontaneously with a guy we met at the bivvy on an overnight hike, where we had time to talk this through. Another time we met hikers on a summit, having come from the other side, and both parties considered swapping keys, and continuing on. But they were faster, and would have had a shorter distance to go, so we didnt. Or maybe there was not enough time to get to know each other. But if you are a better communicator than me it should be possible to arrange this beforhand.

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  • In my family, we've had this plan in mind for well over 40 years now. We managed to do it exactly once, before I was born. It's nice in theory, but it's very rare to actually pull it off. On the other hand, we've quite often done the bicycle trick described in BunJis answer.
    – gerrit
    Apr 6 at 8:02
  • While I understand the sentiment of generosity behind this suggestion, my paranoid side feels that giving your car keys to a total stranger, whose driving ability you have no idea about, who has no experience in driving your car, and will have access to all the valuables still left in your car, could lead to a less than optimal outcome. And if they were involved in an accident it would make for a very interesting talk with the police and your insurance agency.
    – Peter M
    Apr 6 at 12:46
  • @PeterM Nowhere in the answer does it say the others need to be total strangers. Do insurance companies prohibit people from lending out their car?
    – gerrit
    Apr 6 at 15:23
  • @gerrit The OP talked about meeting people on the trail and implied they were not people he previously knew. Otherwise in both cases they could have coordinated much more easily by agreeing to bring along a spare key and simply swapping them, and wouldn't have needed to discuss it on the trail in the first place. And yes, sure insurance may cover lending out your car. But are you going to verify that stranger has a valid drivers license, isn't going to treat your car like a racing car, or even get your car impounded?
    – Peter M
    Apr 6 at 15:50
  • @gerrit certainly in some places insurance is tricky. In the UK, you'd need to check both drivers' policies. Mine may have changed but didn't cover me for driving other vehicles (many but not all do) and my van is only covered for the required liability when driven by drivers named on the policy. It's fairly easy to get friends added as named drivers during a policy year, e.g. when I went to Briançon to go kayaking and split the driving with 2 friends. Apr 7 at 11:07

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