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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Save Money on Your Trailhead Drive

Are you blowing big bucks driving to your favorite hike? Use these gas-mileage-boosting tips so you can get to more trailheads for less money.

by: Becky Kivlovitz

Good news: Humans don’t require gas to hike, bike, or climb. Bad news: Fueling up to reach the trailhead can cost an arm and a leg. Here are ten ways to cut travel costs (and keep your limbs).

>> Maintain (but don’t over-maintain) your car. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended time between oil changes; although some maintenance shops suggest an oil change every 3,000 miles, many cars can go 5,000 to 7,500 miles between services.

>> Reduce tire wear and tear by keeping tires inflated to the manufacturer’s specs and having them rotated when you get your oil changed.

>> Drive smart. Use gas-saving driving techniques called “hypermiling”: don’t idle or cycle your air conditioner, and use cruise control (on flat roads only). Don’t haul unnecessary loads, and remove unused ski, bike, or other roof racks.

>> Share your ride. Consider picking up passengers or being one to cut gas costs in half, or more, especially on regional city-to-city and long-distance drives. Find fellow travelers on,,, and if you’re going to a popular outdoor destination or thru-hiking trails, check enthusiast sites like and Always vet your passenger/driver in person before you hop in the car.

>> Get creative with parking. Many trailheads can be reached from free parking short distances from the trailhead. You want to hike, right? So get in a few warm-up yards—or miles—and pocket the parking fee.

>> Map ahead. Even with GPS smart phone technology, you can get lost. Track your route ahead of time to ensure you won’t waste time and gas getting lost en route to your destination.

>> Downsize and upgrade. When it comes to outdoor adventures, there’s a clear need for spacious vehicles: Bikes, kids, and packs are non-negotiables. But a six-cylinder engine? A pickup? You’d be surprised by the gas-efficient vehicles available with adequate room and significantly higher gas mileage. Try to fit your gear and group into a single vehicle for the drive to the trailhead.

>> Brave the cold. You’re a dedicated hiker, out of the house well before sunrise. And it’s cold, we know. But refrain from warming your car. Idling wastes a quart of gas per minute. Bundle up before you leave the house and strip layers as needed on the road.

>> Relax. Aggressive driving not only lowers your life expectancy and endangers fellow motorists, but it costs you serious amounts of gas. Driving over 50 mph causes your gas mileage to decrease rapidly, increasing your cost per gallon by over .20 cents with each 5 miles.

>> Avoid rush hours. Stop-and-go traffic is almost like idling to your destination, and subsequently wastes significant amounts of gas. Head out to the trailheads before or after heavy traffic for less time on the road, lower gas consumption, and more time in the great outdoors.

>> Camp. Have a few hikes on your bucket list in the same area? Consolidate your adventures by staying overnight to avoid making the trip twice. Pitch a tent and enjoy a night beneath the stars. 

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