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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Bus Hiking: Don't Pay at the Pump

Gas prices are soaring. Glaciers are melting. What's a conscientious hiker to do? Take the bus, says Dan Koeppel, who did just that to escape downtown L.A.

by: Dan Koeppel, Photos by Michael Darter

On the way to the trailhead, hikers wait for Starbucks.
On the way to the trailhead, hikers wait for Starbucks.
Hiking Mt. Gleason Avenue.
Hiking Mt. Gleason Avenue.
Margarita-bound on Sunset Boulevard.
Margarita-bound on Sunset Boulevard.
Blooming yucca in trail canyon.
Blooming yucca in trail canyon.
Primetime in Colorado's Indian Peaks.
Primetime in Colorado's Indian Peaks.
Seattle bus hikers can reach Olympic National Forest.
Seattle bus hikers can reach Olympic National Forest.

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See more of photographer MIchael Darter's photos from this assignment.


WE FINISH OUR STARBUCKS AND BEGIN TO WALK, passing modest homes and apartments. Some streets are sleepy, and others sketchy, with cars on lawns and graffitied stop signs.

First lesson: Enjoy the scenery you get–not the scenery you wish for. The neighborhood transforms as we near the hills. The houses get bigger. Some have equestrian lots. Finally, the residential section vanishes altogether. The last developed bits we pass are a tree farm and a fire station. We begin to climb. We're now officially in the national forest, following the dry Tujunga Wash past an upward-thrusting part of the San Andreas Fault. We turn off the road and drop into a small parking area. As we consult a faded trailhead map, a woman approaches, arms flailing. She shouts: "Don't go up there! There are mountain lions and rattlesnakes! Somebody's dog got killed last week."

Rattlesnakes are a hazard in the San Gabriels (mountain lions, too, but rarely if you're bigger than a poodle). After a bit of consideration, we decide that reasonable precautions–like, not worrying–will keep us safe. As she steps into her car, the woman gives us a "you're stupid" shrug.

IF YOU WERE VISITING ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST FOR the first time, I'd take you here, to Trail Canyon. The path begins along a shady creekbed, passes one of the region's few year-round waterfalls, and rises to a narrow ledge hundreds of feet above the canyon. One guidebook says it would be easy to "imagine yourself in Yosemite Valley."

And yet, there are a few things you must keep in mind when urban hiking: You'll have Yosemite moments. You'll also have helicopter-flying-overhead moments. You'll have splash-in-the-falls idylls, then cross a paved road (there are two up here, but my route avoided them) and almost get run over by a dozen motorcycles. You'll see more stuff–popped Mylar birthday balloons as well as the occasional gang-tagged boulders near the trailhead. And there are problems to solve, like where to get water, or how to enjoy real meals, rather than trail mix and sawdust bars, under a fire ban.

But when don't you face challenges in the backcountry? Wherever you go with your boots and tent, you're required to embrace some difficulties. So what if the trail is parched and s'mores are prohibited and you haul out a few Stellas you didn't empty? You deal–and you realize how lucky you are to live in one of the world's biggest cities and still have wilderness (okay, almost-wilderness) out your back door. My point is this: The Angeles is the forest I live next to. It's the one I've loved for 15 years. Even in the very first few hours of this trip–which is the very first time I've arrived in the forest by a bus and road walk–I love it more than ever.

YOU SEE ALL SORTS of strange things on the trails of the Angeles. We pass a rusted wheelbarrow, two wrecked cars, and–strangest of all–a pink kid's bike, bleached from the sun and propped up alongside the trail.

Not long after the falls, we meet four hikers, the only people we'll see on the entire backcountry portion of the trip. This will surprise me, since one of the things I love about Trail Canyon is that the first five miles are often super-populated, and with the truly tough: those who conquer the canyon in flip-flops.

The flip-floppers have never been told that hoofing it in the wilds outside L.A. is wrong, impractical, and just plain impossible, so they know none of the above. They whip the crap out of Trail Canyon. This kind of bad-assery is common around here. One winter, I drove up and found a family loading snow into the back of a pickup. As soon as it was full, they made a mad dash to the flatlands, where they hoped to build a front-lawn snowman with a 15-minute lifespan.

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Mar 16, 2012

Yep. been there done something like that. Different area.
Take the Mammoth Lakes bus to Lake Mary/Coldwater Campground to trailhead. Hike up over Duck Lake pass, down the othere side, along Cascade Valley/Fish Creek. End up at Red Meadows. Catch the Devils Postpile shuttle bus back to Mammoth Mountain ski lodge parking lot. Then bus back to town.
Getting to Mammoth Lakes, fly from LA, Orange COunty, San Jose, to Mammoth/Yosemite airport. Short cab ride to Mammoth Lakes.
Or there is a bus From Mojave to Mammoth Lakes, too.

Mar 15, 2012

WOW! This article was written in 2008. I feel like a jerk.

Mar 15, 2012

WOW! This seems like a great idea. As a matter of fact this seems like the exact same idea I emailed to Backpacker several months ago as a story to do. I've been busing it to the mtn's for over 20 years now. I don't know how it is where you all live but for me having a major hub by it gives me the ability to start on one end of the park and finish a couple to a few days later on another end of the park. This hub also reaches a few different parks. The bus doesn't go near every trailhead therefore at times I will get off in a town and get a cab to the trail. On occasion I was fortunate to meet a local willing to give me the ride in exchange for their opportunity to tell some childhood experience about the mtn's or some special spot to explore which I always enjoy. Locals usually refuse to take money so I secretly put it next to them when their not looking. When I started doing this it had nothing to do with being environmentally friendly sorry to say. It was more about never having to backtrack the same trail to the car. Keeping the journey fresh for end to end was always my goal.

Aug 03, 2011

Nice Article! Trying to plan a trip for this month.
You all might find this interesting:
University of Southern California

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Bay Area to Yosemite. This takes some planning and layovers, but I think is a good option. AMTrack to Yosemite. The Train stattion is in Emeryville across th ebay but AMTrack includes a bus ride over. Take the train to Merced and then a bus to The Valley or t Toulomne Meadows (summer only). I have flown into other cities and rented a car to then visit National Parks. The biggest hassle is yo ucan't carry fuel so you have to plan exacly where you can buy and when. Fuel bottles must be washed with soap and water and air dry to bring on plane. One option is to donate the fuel and bottle to other hikers at the end of the trip.

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Two trips I'm Planning using Mass tranist. Pt Reyes Backpacking overnight. Make a reservation first and check bus schedules for Golden Gate Transit. There are only 4 legal overnight campgrounds, all starting from the Visitor center. From downtown San Rafael Transit Hub GGB Transit $2 one way to visitor center. About one hour 20 miles through Samuel P Taylor State Park. You can also spend a night here or in Olema at a private campground. Non weekend days you will likely have the palce to yourself. Summer may be very foggy all day along the coast here. A tent is mandatory (in my opinion) year round due to fog and mist. I've been to Wildcat 6 times and Coast 1. Glen and Sky are short hikes and you can day hike several miles to ocean from here. From SF you can also catch GGB to San Rafael, ferry to larkspur and hike 3 miles to downtown, or Greyhound from SF. Also, if you are coming from SFO, Marin Transporter. From East Bay, Bart to Richmond then GGB to San Rafael. Southbay, Take Caltrains to SF. (As far south as Gilroy and San Jose).

mystic waters
Nov 18, 2008

in the philippines, we do it most of the time. it's quite useful especially when traversing a mountain, wherein the jump off town is different from the nearest town where we descend.

Amanda Silvestri
Nov 14, 2008

I have only taken the bus to a trailhead once, in Vancuver to the Grouse Grind Trail. Having lived in LA from 1977, I have spent much time in the trails of the Algeles. I read your artical with pleasure tracing your rote in my mind. I would have liked a few more waypoints. From Condor Peak, did to head out toward Messenger Flats and the PCT over Mt. Gleason? If so, you must have desended down either 4N32 or 4N24 at the Fire Camp to reach Acton?

Nov 06, 2008

I definitely read your staircase article and loved it! This one is great too. Thanks. I live in VT. There's no bus to the trailhead!

Oct 26, 2008

Dan - thanks for the good article. You are certainly part of the solution. Hopefully, more than a few people heed your wise words. If so, the planet will be that much greener.

Oct 21, 2008

Hey Dan its nice to meet someone who likes to figure out public transportation as much as I do. I can spend hours plotting a trip in LA to the beach or Dodgers stadium using busses and trains; then when I share this info with someone they think I'm crazy. Everyones response is just drive there!


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