Hike More, Drive Less

Source: Get door-to-trail service into the San Juans on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. 

THE ECHO OF THE TRAIN WHISTLE was fresh in my ears when I reached the shores of Lake McDonald, in Glacier National Park. The sun had set and stars sparkled offthe glassy water, while a herd of mule deer munched absently on the shoreline grass. It was early May, and snow blanketed the mountains towering overhead. I had seen the peaks hours before, from the window of my train car—tall, jagged heaps of rock and ice, emerging one by one from the brown Montana horizon.

All I had to do then was sit back and wait for the train to deliver me to heaven.

Wilderness isn’t the exclusive domain of those who have cars. That spring I was 19, fresh offmy first year of college, broke, yearning for adventure—and carless. I had hopped on a train in St. Louis and headed west to the doorstep of the Continental Divide, where boot and snowshoe carried me from the banks of Camas Creek to the summit of Mt. Brown, from the glacier-fed waters of Lincoln Lake to the snow-covered eaves of Sperry Chalet.

Call me an accidental trendsetter. In the last 30 years, the proportion of 19-year-old kids without a license has more than tripled, from 10 percent in 1983 to 31 percent in 2014. Among 16- to 34-year-olds, new car purchases have dropped 30 percent since 2000. For some in the city, public transportation is the only way to get anywhere, let alone trailheads.

But young people and urbanites aren’t the only ones ditching their wheels. Many weekend warriors are finding it’s easier on the psyche and the environment to leave the keys at home. And they can, because cities like Portland, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. have retooled their transit systems in recent years to accommodate trailhead stops. Amtrak is working with local companies and governments to improve access to national parks from its stations.

So grab a ticket and hit the trail. Toothy alpine peaks, deep desert canyons, and rugged coastal cliffs await visitors to these 10 transit-accessible hikes.


These 10 hikes are life-list worthy—no matter how you get to the trailhead.

• • • • •


Traverse a breezy ski island to beat the desert heat.

From the junction at mile 15.4, keep going 3 miles north to nab this view from North Sandia Peak.

Sure, you can snag lofty views from the famed Sandia Peak Tramway—if you can find a gap in the crowds. Alternatively, ditch the congestion and earn your summit by tagging nearby South Sandia Peak from the valley floor as part of a 22.1-mile shuttle hike. You’ll link together sky

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Backpacker

Backpacker3 min read
Ranger Randy Morgenson, who disappeared in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1996, left such a lasting impression on his colleagues and friends that they named a mountain after him (“Epitaph in the Sky,” July/August 2019). But everyday hiker
Backpacker2 min readFashion & Beauty
Care for Your Kit
In the field: Be careful with DEET-based bug repellent, which melts plastics, including membranes, and can damage synthetics and other fabrics. At home: Avoid fabric softener. It coats fibers with waxy chemicals, which clog membranes and damage moist
Backpacker4 min read
SUP Into Camp
I SAW THE PHOTOS in a magazine—an adventurer atop a stand-up paddleboard, her pack strapped at her feet, cruising across a calm lake to a secluded campsite. The realization hit me at once: I love backpacking and I live in Hawaii, where you can rent p