Planning a One-Way Hike? Master the Art of the Car Shuttle.

One-way hiking means never seeing the same spot twice, but you need to have your car shuttle logistics dialed. Follow these 10 tips to shuttle like a pro.

Photo: Christopher Kimmel / Aurora Photos / Cavan via Getty

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Sure, loops are great, but sometimes the best use of time involves a one-way, point-to-point hike and a car shuttle. (Case in point: section-hiking a long trail). But don’t let the logistics get you down. Here’s are 10 tips to make sure you get to the trail (and back) without a hitch.

Four Ways to Shuttle

Option A: Sweet-talk your loved ones

Convince your family or friends to drop you off and pick you up. Coerce them with promises of mountain views, good company, and half your post-hike pizza. This works best when you have a reliable idea of when you’ll be finishing your hike. Be a good friend and try to arrive early, so you’re waiting on your ride, not the other way around.

Option B: Get professional help

Only one car at your disposal? Yo-yo the trail (turn the section into an out-and-back) or consider hiring a service. Heading to the Appalachian Trail? The ATC has an extensive resource page for section-hikers and thru-hikers looking for a ride. Otherwise, web search “hiker shuttles to” the intended trail. Ideally, make arrangements at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time to ensure availability.

Option C: Full DIY

Want to keep the car shuttling business between hikers? Here’s how (provided you have at least one partner in crime and extra vehicle): Drive two cars to the trailhead and drop off any extra passengers. Then take both cars, each bearing only a driver, to the trail’s end. Leave the bigger car there and have the other take both drivers (and both sets of keys!) to the trailhead. Start hiking.

At the end, cram everyone into the one car, then split the load between cars when you return to the trailhead. If you have more than one car’s worth of passengers, just make sure you bring the second car’s driver along so she can pickup those stranded at the trail terminus after being reunited with her wheels.

Option D: Key hand-off

Consider sending hiking parties from either end of the trail. Swap cars at the start so that you arrive at your own vehicle at the end of the day. Don’t forget to exchange keys when you pass each other mid-hike. A temporary tattoo to the forehead makes for a good reminder.

Hikers Seen Through Car Window
(Photo: eclipse_images / E+ via Getty)

Tips for Shuttle Hikes

Front-load the drive

If you opt for a professional or friend-based shuttle service, make sure it’s on the front end: Park your vehicle at the trail terminus and get shuttled to your starting line. (It’s easy to be on time for a trip departure, but missing a post-trip pickup due to unforeseen delays can be a real bummer).

Stock the getaway car

Fill the getaway car with dry, clean layers, water, and snacks. When you trudge into the parking lot after unsuspected torrential rainfall, you’ll want them. Plus, a car full of water, snacks, and clean socks will reward you after a long trek. Only exception: Bear country. It’s not uncommon for a hungry bruin to break into vehicle if it smells food.

Strategize like a war general

If shuttling with others, have a planning meeting the day prior. Stretch out a map, drain a couple of beers, and model your car movement strategy with the bottles. Toy cars and figurines from the Game of Life can also be useful.

Account for the STUFF

If you’re shuttling cars for a long hike, make sure you account for the egregious amount of space full packs can take up in the car.

Be a good DJ

Stock your phone or download a few Spotify playlists [Editor’s Note: We’ve got a few for you. before you take off. Mountain radio reception can be frightfully erratic, and the tunes will keep you stoked for your adventure.

Park smart

When dropping off a car, lock expensive stereos, GPS units, sunglasses, and other valuables safely out of sight – or, better yet, remove them entirely and leave the glove box open and empty (unless this activates a light that will drain your battery). Don’t reverse into your spot with the trunk facing the woods, and don’t leave notes for your friends advising them of your plans – better to leave word of your whereabouts before you leave for the trip.

Originally published 2015; last updated February 2023

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