Getting to the Appalachian Trail from DC
August 15, 2018 3:11 PM   Subscribe

We're hiking a 100-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. We're flying in and out of DC, but our section hike starts way out at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. We're taking the Amtrak from Harper's Ferry to get back to DC, so our return trip is covered. How do we get to our starting point? From Google maps, it looks as though there are buses and trains all through the area. DC-area MeFites, what combo of public transit, ride-share services, and walking/hitching can get us to the trail head?
posted by domo to Travel & Transportation around Virginia (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Big Meadows is smack in the middle of the park and not particularly near any town. In general, bus/train service outside the immediate suburbs of DC is not great. You could take Amtrak to Culpeper and then Uber/Lyft -- it's about a 75 min ride, plus the $30 park entry fee, so expect to pay a lot.

Alternatively, you might be able to hire a shuttle service to pick you up at Culpeper and bring you into the park. Lots of advice on that here.

Don't know when you're going, but summer and fall weekends, there are frequently daytrippers from Washington out to Front Royal or Old Rag (the latter of which is near-ish Big Meadows). I don't know the best way to find daytrippers for a ride, but definitely arrange this ahead of time rather than hitch-hiking.
posted by basalganglia at 3:50 PM on August 15, 2018

Which airport? Are you staying in DC after you land, or heading straight to Shenandoah from the airport?

Getting there without a private car is problematic. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy doesn't seem to list a single way to get to any points on the trail in Virginia by any form of transit. Driving from DC we'd normally get to Big Meadows by way of Thornton Gap, but that's still 21 miles from Big Meadows Lodge on Skyline Drive, and getting to the entrance station would be a challenge. Looks like the closest Amtrak station is in Culpeper, VA. From there Google Maps still says it'd be almost 90 minutes driving. I'd assume you'll have better luck with a trail shuttle than with any of the urban ride sharing services.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has a transportation page, which links to this shuttle list, which may help your planning. The Roanoke ATC also has a list, which seems to overlap with that one.
posted by fedward at 3:54 PM on August 15, 2018

Unfortunately, the area is quite isolated and far from public transportation. I am not aware of any particular carpooling site but will ask a friend who works at the ATC HQ in Harpers Ferry

Which DC airport is it and when will you be arriving?
posted by smorgasbord at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2018

Yeah getting out to Shenandoah via public transportation from even Dulles would be hard. If you're flying into DCA ( sounds like you might be as Amtrak from Harpers Ferry goes into DC ) and it's on a weekend, I can provide a ride.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:05 PM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: We will be coming in September 29 to (DCA) Regan Airport. We were thinking we could take the bus from there to Charlottesville and ride with friends to Big Meadows. Our friends live in Richmond, and while I would like to see them, I don’t want to ask them to drive all that way.
posted by domo at 6:09 PM on August 15, 2018

I'm not aware of a bus from DCA to Charlottesville. (Grew up near National Airport and lived in C'ville for 8 years.) You can catch a Greyhound from Springfield, though, which is about 20 min down the Blue metro line from the airport. Still, going via Charlottesville means you'll be backtracking about 90 minutes to get back up to Big Meadows. Driving through Central Virginia is lovely at that time of year, but it'd make a very long travel day.
posted by basalganglia at 6:28 PM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're going to Charlottesville from DC, I recommend Amtrak for a speedy and quick trip! If you go for that option, I'd recommend taking the Metro from DCA to the King Street-Old Town Alexandria station. For example, you can take the Crescent from ALX to CVS in just under two hours. If you do go with the bus option, I second basalganglia's suggestion to take the Greyhound from the Springfield Metro station.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:44 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Alternatively you could Lyft out north beyond the Beltway where you can get right on the Trail where it crosses I-70, in Maryland, on a special footbridge. which you can scrabble up to, from the shoulder of the freeway.
posted by Rash at 7:50 PM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another option (if you don't want to go to Charlottesville) would be the Megabus to Front Royal. You would metro to Union Station to get it, and then presumably could take a cab/Lyft/shuttle once you get there. Not sure that's much closer than Culpeper but the cost would be less than Amtrak.
posted by veery at 8:20 AM on August 16, 2018

Greyhound goes from DC to Charlottesville. Amtrak is much more pleasant.
posted by fancypants at 12:51 PM on August 16, 2018

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