Where can I go backpacking out west without a car?
January 24, 2012 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Where can I go backcountry camping out west without a car?

This summer, I'm looking to spend several weeks somewhere out west.

I'm probably going to be working in Missoula, MT for the beginning of the summer and will likely be using public transportation / biking around.

I'm looking for good backcountry hiking / camping location(s) for a week or two at the end of the summer. I would probably have to take a bus to this location and would likely either be alone or with my girlfriend. Both of us have a fair amount of backpacking experience and have done this before(albeit not out west).

Ideally, I would love to explore Yosemite, but I'm worried that the crowds and lack of a car would be an issue. I've also considered hiking the Wind River range.

Does anyone have any experience hiking out west without a car or any recommendations of places to look?
posted by aleatorictelevision to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You might find post-car press useful. They've put together a guidebook about how to get to cool outdoor places in california without a car. Most of their trips are aided by having a bike, but you might check it out anyway. You can definitely get to the yosemite valley by amtrak, and it doesn't take THAT long to hike into backcountry from the valley. It is also, I've been told, not too hard for backpackers to hitchhike between trailheads once they're in the park.
posted by juliapangolin at 11:36 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Glacier National Park has a shuttle specifically for people without cars. I don't know where you're coming from, but you can get there by Amtrak.
posted by desjardins at 11:40 AM on January 24, 2012

I went to Glacier National Park by train (from Spokane). The route is the Empire Builder and has several stops in MT. Maybe you can bus to those places and then hop on the train. The park itself has a very good shuttle bus system. There is also some system of shuttles for which you have to pay a small fee that we used, but I can't seem to google it up now. We didn't backpack, but we were there for 8 days and could have if we wanted. We definitely met backpackers who were without cars. Glacier is beautiful.
posted by bread-eater at 11:47 AM on January 24, 2012

If you can get to it on a bus, Zion National Park has a great free shuttle system that includes the neighboring town of Springdale. It's quite hot in the summer but if you get on the trail at sunrise it's totally doable. Local companies have some paid shuttles to other trailhead for one-way hikes back to the park's main road. Backpacking options are more limited than they would be at Yosemite, however, but for starters the Narrows from top down is a great backpack, and Angel's Landing is a spectacular day hike if you can pretend you're not up there with 500 Boy Scouts.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2012

Glacier is pretty awesome. The Bob Marshall wilderness is remote and pretty rugged.
If you really don't want to stay in Montana, you could take your pick of sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Alternatively, the Wallowas and the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon/Washington are very nice.
The Steens Mountain area near Frenchglen, Oregon is scenic and very far from anything resembling a crowd. Also not too far from the Malheur Wildlife Preserve. I have no idea how you'd get there without a car, though.
posted by willpie at 11:52 AM on January 24, 2012

Yosemite has a shuttle service from the valley up to Glacier Point. You can hike south from there along the Illilouette to the Clark Range, or you can go to Little Yosemite Valley and then north to Sunrise or east to the Merced/Cathedral area.

Last year my family reunion was a backpacking trip in this area; we left the cars in the valley, took the shuttle up to Glacier Point, did our hike, then exited through Happy Isles. There are shuttle buses all around the valley loop so it was easy to get back to the cars. Of course with no car you could simply take the shuttle back to the bus stop and from thence back to civilization.

The valley is crowded, for sure, but it's worst if you're in a car. Come in on a bus and you'll be fine; on the crowded days they reserve a carpool lane for the shuttles so they are not stuck in traffic the way private cars are. Once you're up in the high country, that's when the real fun begins.

There is also a shuttle service from the valley up to Tuolomne Meadows. That's a whole different high alpine world.... One fun trip is to hike down through Sunrise and back out to the Valley; it's a three-day hike with great scenery, not too strenuous. There are also some really nice out-and-back trips in that area - my mother particularly likes Vogelsang, and you can come back by way of Evelyn Lake to make a loop of it.

I'm a big fan of Yosemite; I grew up hiking there, and my mother even wrote a trail book based on her experiences with me and my siblings. Not having a car does limit your choice of starting trailheads a little bit, but you can still get to all the best, wildest country by bus. There just aren't many roads in the park to begin with, so not having a car doesn't limit you much. The shuttle bus drivers are happy to drop you off anywhere along their routes, too, so even if you want to start from somewhere more obscure you can still generally get there on the bus. The big limitation is simply that you are dependent on the bus schedule and can't just show up anytime; you have to plan your trip around the very limited number of bus trips, and you should try to get a ticket ahead of time too.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Backcountry hiking in Yellowstone Park. And it's not uncommon at all to see people hitchhiking their way to/from various dayhikes (or work), either.
posted by Heretical at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2012

How much of a cyclist are you? Because I live in the bay area with no car and I go camping all over California by just throwing my backpacking stuff in some panniers and pedaling to my destination. With a bike, Amtrak, and buses you can get almost anywhere pretty easily if you are willing to ride reasonable distances (and to me, the slower pace and anything-can-happen vibe of being on a bike on an unfamiliar back road is half the fun). Almost all of the buses and shuttles to and from the parks in CA have bike racks on the front.

You should look at the Adventure Cycling maps, their site also has a lot of general info on bicycle travel. Post-Car Press is pretty cool, I saw them give a little talk on their adventures at a local bike shop. It seemed like they were a lot less interested in the cycling aspect so were using their bikes to fill the gaps between transit.

A lot of parks in California have "hike-and-bike" camp sites that require no reservations and are generally $3-8 per cyclist. This is more common on the coast than inland, but they do exist at a lot of the parks.

Crazy Guy On a Bike is a big collection of bike touring journals, generally you can type in the names of the parks you want to visit and see how others got there, what routes they took, and what services or transit options there are for cyclists.
posted by bradbane at 12:47 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, hitchhiking to Yellowstone from Missoula or Bozeman would be dirt simple; just go to the universities and check the rides board (I'm old, it's probably online now). If that doesn't work, there's always Greyhound. Actually, I think there's an alternative bus service in Montana, but I can't recall the name.
posted by desjardins at 12:47 PM on January 24, 2012

« Older Examples of positive change in public behavior...   |   Help Me Move Into a NAS Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.