Sublime travel without a car
February 4, 2019 4:42 PM   Subscribe

What are the most beautiful places in America I can visit without a driver's license?

My girlfriend and I love nature and love to travel, but our lack of driver's licenses have restricted most of our vacations to major cities and/or places with great public transportation. We live in NYC, and aren't likely to become drivers any time soon.

We'd love to experience more of the natural beauty of North America, everything from small, pretty towns to national forests. The qualities of the places we're interested in visiting (vast, wild, and/or remote) seem almost by definition to require a road trip or car rental to get to. We're happy to rough it, but first we need to get there. Yellowstone, for example, seems basically inaccessible without a private car to get one to the hiking/camping.

Are there places of natural beauty or grandeur that we can get to without driving or spending thousands of dollars on Lyfts? We are completely open to flying into a larger city and taking rail or bus to more remote locations. We're possibly open to tour group situations if they're a little rugged and get their hands dirty (we don't want to feel like we're on land-based cruise). So excited for your answers!
posted by scarylarry to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Zion is totally gorgeous and there's this shuttle service from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.

I don't know how much it is though?
posted by nikaspark at 4:54 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also looks like there's a shuttle service from nearby airports to Moab as well:
posted by nikaspark at 4:55 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

My first thought would be ski resorts large enough to have a sizeable population of Uber drivers. So like, fly into SLC, take a shuttle to Park City, and then get an Uber to somewhere a little more remote. You're using the shuttle to do the hard work, and only using Uber for the last leg. Since there should be plenty of nice, scenic spots near Park City, your Uber ride would only be like 15 minutes or so each way.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:57 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Adirondack Trailways can take you to a lot of places in rural New York.
posted by metasarah at 5:00 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Not that they need any more visitors, but Yosemite is encouraging people to take the buses around rather than driving. You can take a train/bus in from the Bay Area, via Amtrak. Also, if you're into backpacking, there is a cottage industry of shuttles and trail angels to help you get on and off the Pacific Crest Trail.
posted by wnissen at 5:00 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

The bus system in the Yucatan is great. More like a comfy charter bus than public buses and they are so cheap and frequent. There's Playa de Carmen to Tulum beaches to Sian Kaan to Valladolid to Merida and much more. There's hundreds of cenotes, many great Mayan sites, colonial cities, deserted beaches, and wonderful snorkeling. There are remote villages and wonderful wildlife in the jungle. I go back again and again because the Mexican people make it a wonderful place to travel and I miss the wonderful food the second I leave. You'd have to supplement with some collectivos and taxis but they are very reasonable.
posted by beccaj at 5:03 PM on February 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Glacier National Park, absolutely. The Amtrak stations are basically right outside the park gates, so you could hop on at a major city like Chicago, Seattle, Portland and sleep on the train and wake up at the park. There is a free shuttle that drive on the main road of the park.
posted by Pantalaimon at 5:04 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ditch the car: how to visit America's national parks without the congestion

NPS Alternative Transportation Program: "Five parks, Yosemite National Park, Acadia National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area were identified in the MOU because of their complex transportation challenges. Over the past 20 years the demonstration parks have developed and implemented major transportation improvement strategies to improve access to and within parks."

So I'd say Yosemite, Acadia, Grand Canyon, and Zion would likely meet your car-free scenic wilderness needs?

Through hikers on long trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, have to go in to neighboring towns periodically to re-stock. A trail guide will suggest such towns. Since they have to be accessible to hikers, that means that the trail (and adjoining trail systems) are accessible from those towns without a car. Local busses can usually get you to the towns themselves.
posted by eviemath at 5:08 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Here's the Car-Free Travel Guide for Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. You could hardly ask for a more sublime area, it's got enough to keep you busy and blissed out for a week in summer, and there are many ways to get there. It's just a long trip from NYC.
posted by Miko at 5:09 PM on February 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Grand Canyon shuttles are excellent; you can stay in the village which is right on the South Rim and get frequent (relatively - 15 to 30 minute) shuttles along much of the rim. According to the park website, there's a company that can get you to the park from Phoenix airport or Flagstaff Amtrak.

In the San Francisco area, there are some natural places that have transit service, including Muir Woods which is small but a gem.

The Oregon coast is also served to some degree by public transit.

Banff National Park here in Alberta is also accessible without a car. There are buses from both the Calgary airport and downtown to the Banff townsite which is spectacular. Within the town area, there are a handful of bus routes, plus buses out to Lake Minnewanka, to Lake Louise (which also has hotels), and to Canmore (which is outside the park, has more and cheaper accommodation but is still in the mountains and the downtown is quite pleasant). See also this AskMe.

I don't know what your comfort is with cycling, but that can open up more options as well.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:08 PM on February 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Amtrak to Truckee, California puts you within striking distance of the Pacific Crest Trail; a TART Bus from Truckee to Tahoe City or other Lake Tahoe towns puts you at the starting point to the Tahoe Rim Trail, Desolation Wilderness, Granite Chief Wilderness, and many other trailheads both in California and Nevada.
posted by gyusan at 6:13 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

All the Amtrak trains cover marvelous stretches of this country. Their agents can help you with package deals and getting there from NYC:
posted by nickggully at 6:33 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sitka, Alaska is a cute small town in an absolutely gorgeous location. If you get a hotel or B&B in town, you could walk to many places (like the National Historical Park) & catch a cab or the local bus to some of the hiking trails.
posted by belladonna at 6:51 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sitka is actually entirely reachable by public transportation! More or less. You can fly into Seattle, get a bus to Bellingham and take the Alaska Marine Highway System (ferry) up that way. It's an amazing trip (you can get a cabin or sleep on couches or in a tent to save money) and yeah Sitka's super cute.
posted by jessamyn at 6:56 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Came here to second Banff, it's the reason we moved here!
posted by furtive at 7:27 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can get to Denali National Park without a car! There is a train that goes there from Anchorage and once within the park you cannot drive private cars past the first mile or two, so in order to explore the park you need to get on a bus run by the park service. I went a few years ago and it was truly sublime.
posted by ruhroh at 10:02 PM on February 4, 2019

Very few sights on the continent can compare to a train ride through the Copper Canyon. It's truly breathtaking. Flights and busses to the train are easy and often cheap. (I recommend starting in Los Mochis, visiting at least one canyon-bottom town, and spending as little time in Chihuahua as possible.)

Moosonee, Moose Factory, and the Saint James Bay are also lovely and impossible to reach by car.
posted by eotvos at 12:04 AM on February 5, 2019

The bus system in the Yucatan is great.

Seconding this.

Honestly, first-class bus travel anywhere in Mexico is absolutely luxurious by North American standards: it's less "Greyhound" and more "pretty nice airline, only the seats have enough room and the plane happens to stay on the ground." If, like me, you have an unconscious assumption that things in Central America are less nice than things in North America, you will be very, very pleasantly surprised.

It's not quite as luxurious in Guatemala, but it's still pretty great, and Guatemala is also fucking gorgeous. Lake Atitlan is the most physically beautiful place I've ever seen.

(N.B. first-class bus. Both countries also have cheapass busses that are fun if you like adventure travel, and practical if you're trying to get someplace on short notice, but pretty rough.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:33 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

These are all so great! Thank you! I'm excitedly gaming out years of trips.
posted by scarylarry at 11:53 AM on February 6, 2019

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