Likely one of the most common questions I’m asked about the Appalachian Trail is, “How do you get town from the trail?” It’s a very valid question, and one that I had before I thru-hiked. Many people think that the AT is strictly a remote trail in the woods that never comes out once you’re in on it. However, for logistical reasons, the AT was designed to cross roads and, in some cases, parallel the sidewalks of towns. On average, the AT crosses roads with access to town or cuts through town about once per week. There are three main ways to get to town from the trail: walk, hitchhike, or take a shuttle. Let’s take a deeper look at each.
As stated above, there are times when the AT actually comes out of the woods and into town. These towns are very used to hikers and are generally welcoming. There are many towns who have hiker-centric accommodations. Since the trail cuts directly through these towns, there’s less need to coordinate a ride unless your accommodations are spread out. Here are the towns the AT cuts through in order from South to North:
While some towns are accessible simply by way of walking into them, others are too far that walking wouldn’t be enjoyable. Let’s face it, you walk all the time in the woods, you don’t want to have to walk in and out of town, too. One of the most common ways to get to town is to hitchhike to and from the trailhead and town. Yes, that’s right, hitchhiking is extremely common on the Appalachian Trail (don’t tell your mom). The back of pickup trucks are quite common given they can fit lots of hikers and we smell disgusting from days without showering on the trail. Of course hitchhiking can be dangerous, though most towns on the trail are very accustomed to it. That being said, it’s certainly always recommended to hitchhike with a partner or in groups.
Though there are lots of road crossings on the AT, not all of them are highly trafficked. There can also be some times where people don’t want to pick you up despite the road being highly trafficked, and you end up not getting a ride (which has happened to me). It’s always good to research this ahead of time if you’re planning to stop in that town. Generally, your guidebook does a good job telling you whether or not the town is an easy hitch.
One last and more reliable option for longer or more difficult hitches to town is to call a shuttle. There are lots of towns who offer hiker shuttles. Some hostels will pick you up for free if you plan to stay with them. Others are provided by trail angels simply for the love of the trail community and are free. However, it’s always courteous to chip in for gas. There are some well known trail angels, such as Miss Janet, who follow the hiker bubble as it travels north and provides rides. Other towns, such as Waynesboro, VA have a listing of local shuttle drivers and trail angels who you can contact for a ride to town.
Whatever mode you end up going with, it’s worth knowing that you are able to leave the woods once you’ve entered, and quite easily in most cases. As always, it’s worthwhile to plan ahead and know (for the most part) where you plan to stop so you find the best option and avoid being stranded.