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Elle Ossello | 02.20.2019

Filling your car with gas and competing for parking at the trailhead is so blasé.

Especially for the weekend warriors among us, the easy default is to stick with transportation we know—when we’re working out the logistics of a hiking route, mountain bike ride or longer bike trip, we tend to push the task of working out actual transport from our houses to the trailhead to the bottom of the list. But what if we flipped the script?

We’re all for carpooling and coordinating rides, but what if we resolved to get more creative about how we get to the trailhead? In many cities, it's often simpler, cheaper and greener to hop on the municipal light rail or bus to access your day's adventure. Not only is it simply in accordance with our inherent drive to protect the wild places we love (reducing greenhouse emissions is only one positive environmental impact), we can also redefine our relationships with the spaces in between our homes and the trailheads. 

Have you ever walked down a street you normally cruise by in your car? Ever notice a whole world of details that had previously flown by in a blur outside of your window? We’re convinced that opting into a different mode of transportation can completely restructure our relationships with spaces that once simply stood in the way of us and the trailhead.

We all are so quick to refer to the wilderness and the backcountry as "sacred space." But we’d like to challenge the notion that the city spaces upon which our homes, the coffee shop that fuels our dawn patrol, and the highway that helps us hightail it to adventure are perched aren’t equally as sacred.

Being more intentional and creative about the way we access adventure helps us recreate our relationships with space in general, and we know that when our heartstrings thrum in response to a special place, we’re so much more motivated to protect it. And if somehow, you’re still unfamiliar with the principles of Leave No Trace, this is the perfect time to dive in and learn them by heart.

The adventures below don’t necessarily require specialized modes of transportation, but the adventure itself is completely transformed when we leave a boring ol’ car out of the equation.


Access the best of the Weminuche by railway. Jonathan Stull.

Peaks of the Chicago Basin

Take the Train to a Colorado 14er

Silverton, Colorado, is a hiker, backpacker, and backcountry skier’s dreamland. Nestled into the San Juan Mountains and just over the pass from Chicago Basin, an explorer could spend a lifetime poking around the craggy peaks and arid forests.

For those with a thirst for 14ers, head to Windom Peak, and the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is the perfect way to get out in it. Book ahead!


Cars need not go where mountain bikers roam. Aron Bosworth.

Peakbagging by Bike

Beat the San Francisco Traffic

Often renowned as the birthplace of mountain biking (though we know these claims are always controversial), Mount Tamalpais State Park is a San Francisco city dweller’s choice escape from the hustle. By car, it’s relatively simple to access in theory, but weekend traffic can turn a 40-minute drive into a stop-and-go nightmare. On a bike, it’s just about 15 miles to the trailhead. That’s seriously doable.

And we maintain that it should be a right of passage for every San Francisco resident to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge!


Mountains for ultramarathoners are closer than they appear. Mount Hood pictured from Mount Adams. Daniel Sherman.

A Cascade Challenge

Two Volcanos in 64 Hours

Christof Teuscher is a serious athlete. By the numbers, his monumental feat of summiting Mount Adams, running to Mount Hood, and summiting required 64 hours and 48 minutes, 158 miles, and 39,754 feet of elevation gain.

Though we’re not suggesting anyone attempt the same adventure on the same timeline without professional-level experience and preparation, he reminds us that the Pacific Crest Trail stretches between the two topographical titans of the Pacific Northwest. Have a week and snowy summit knowledge? Why not?


The Hudson Highlands are easily accessed by train. Nick Catania.

New York City to Nature by Rail

The Hudson-North Metro Line

New York's public rail system reaches 74 miles into the Hudson River Valley along the Hudson-North Railroad Line. Its bucolic beauty, artisanal vegetables, and woodlands are available to all New Yorkers for a nominal fee. Forget traffic; take a book.

Hudson Highlands State Park, Mount Beacon Fire Tower, Sherwood Island State Park, Croton Gorge Park and more are all accessible by way of the Hudson-North.


Kayaks find places no cars can go. Shane Kucera.

Island Hop in the San Juans

Catch a Ferry to a Kayaking Adventure

We can say with confidence that there’s no better way to explore the very uppermost northwest corner of the contiguous United States than by kayak.

The wealth of sea life, the crisp salty air, and the sweeping views are simply better enjoyed in a boat. When you’re exploring by kayak, you’ll have much better access to remote camping sites, harder-to-access trails, and beach walks with not a soul in sight.


Put the Boundary Waters on your bucket list. Jordan Honeyman.

Canoe to Your Campsite in the Boundary Waters

Explore the wilderness bastion by waterway

Camping, hiking, fishing, and soaking in deep solitude is best done by canoe in the one-million-acre Northern Minnesota Boundary Waters. National Geographic calls it one of the 100 best American adventure trips. Brush up on your survivalist skills, grab a few extra drybags, pull out your map, and prepare for one of the very best motor-less adventures.


Join the Cross-Country Skiing Party

Take the Alaska Railroad Through the Roadless Backcountry

One of the best Alaskan parties of the year takes place on the annual Ski Train party. Departing from Anchorage, the train winds its way north to Curry—a remote area north of Talkeetna. Most dress up, there’s always live music and games, and once you’re there the cross-country and snowshoe terrain serves all levels of skiers and hikers.


Ski Colorado Pow By Rail

Amtrak's train line to the base of Colorado's best resorts

Who wants to sit in traffic when there are slopes to ski? Amtrak operates the Winter Park Express, a special route for Denver natives every Saturday and Sunday (and some Fridays) between January and March that deposits powder fiends at the base of Winter Park Resort and its snowy 3,000 vertical feet.

They say trains are for gentlemen and women. Can't say we didn't tell you so.


Take in the Beauty of Glacier National Park

Two Medicine Valley, Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Lake McDonald Valley by Amtrak

We don’t think we’ll be met with much contention when we say that Glacier National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. They don’t call Montana the big-sky country for nothing.

But in the summer months, the tourists definitively flock. So instead of getting stuck behind a minivan that’s pulling over for every bighorn sheep, hop on the Amtrak and explore Two Medicine Valley, Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Lake McDonald Valley the better way.


Another great car-free experience is Cape Cod by ferry, bike and train! Check out for the full itinerary, including recs for places to eat, drink, see and sleep, and a bike route!
One of these experiences is Mount Adams to Mount Hood. People interested in visiting the Columbia River Gorge without a car should check out for trip planning and itineraries for all ages and abilities.
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