There's nothing more frustrating than heading out for an adventure in nature only to be faced with an overwhelming amount of cars, traffic, and stress. And considering the record-breaking visitors (and crowds!) to national parks over the past few summers, this has become an all too common experience.
Not to mention, there's the environmental impact: After all, while the most common way to access the beautiful, pristine outdoors is by car, it's estimated that public transportation in the U.S. saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. And outside of walking and biking, passenger or zephyr trains and ferries are the lowest impact ways to travel.
Luckily, there are many public lands that can be accessed without a car and, by leaving it behind, your adventure can truly start the second you leave your house. By doing so, you'll help reduce emissions, as well as parking and traffic congestion at trailheads and at parks. Worst case, you'll have a great story and thicker skin!
Convinced? Ahead, we've rounded up some car-free adventures to serve as inspiration for you to think of neat, alternative ways to get to your next adventure. (And FYI, while the majority of the below list focuses on the final steps of your transportation, this great resource can help you book bus and train trips across the country.)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Though the Amtrak ride from Denver to Glenwood Springs is double the time it takes to drive between the two distances, it is said to be one of the prettiest train rides in the country. Plus, you can easily access a number of trails (ranging from 6 to 42 miles) from the train depot in Glenwood Springs. A one-way ticket on the California Zephyr will cost around $80-110, with options to upgrade.
If you want a more curated train experience through the Colorado Rockies, Amtrak Vacations has a five day Rockies Adventure itinerary that takes guests from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park and Glenwood Springs. Tickets include four nights of hotel accommodations, and admission to two guided cave tours as well as to Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
This beautiful, beachside national park is filled with wildflowers, ample birdwatching, sand dunes, and trails. The best part, however, is that it's accessible from Chicago by the South Shore Line. There are even four stops on the line within the park, making it easier for visitors to get to the beaches and attractions they want. More information can be found about the access into the park on the National Park Service site.
South Rim, Grand Canyon, Arizona
In under two-and-a-half hours, this historic train will take you into one of the county's most popular national parks. The train departs from Williams, Arizona and passengers can choose from six different ticket types that range in experience and price. Choose the renovated 1923 Pullman class car or opt for the observation dome to better view the pine forest and high desert along the way. Rides let passengers off at the Grand Canyon Depot where the adventure can begin.
Harriman State Park, New York
This state park has over 40 miles of marked hiking trails and is accessible within an hour-and-a-half of New York City by the NJ Transit. A standout trail within the park is the 23.2-mile Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail. It passes by lakes and awards beautiful vistas throughout the meandering inclines. Though it is listed as a point-to-point trail, the abundance of neighboring trails allow you to create a route better suited to their adventure to and from the train station.
Halibut Cove, Alaska
True Alaska wilderness, Halibut Cove is accessed by boat or plane only. Luckily for all, ferries depart daily from Homer, Alaska and bring visitors into the waterbound hamlet resided by fewer than 100 full-time. The adventure actually begins before setting foot on the cove, though; ferry rides coast right past the vast community of seabirds species inhabiting Gull Island.
Once at Halibut Cove, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities of all kinds, including hiking to the popular and easily accessible Grewingk Glacier in the Kachemak Bay State Park. This trail is a great place to spot eagles and awards gorgeous views with less effort than other glaciers in the park.
By Aerial Tram
Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness, California
The trails of the Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness are accessible by aerial tram from Palm Springs, California. The world's largest rotating tram car, the ride delivers sweeping views from 8,516 feet. A notable hike from the top of the tram (Mountain Station), is San Jacinto peak — the tallest in Southern California. Round trip to the summit is 11 miles, but there are over 40 other miles of hiking trails nearby to choose from — including a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail — if that doesn't particularly excite you.
FYI, permits are required for overnight camping and must be mailed to the local office. Tickets for the tram are required and cost $31 for adults (or $41 if you'd like to include dining at the Pines Café).
Sandia Peak, New Mexico
With over 100 miles of hiking trails accessible from the top of this Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, this is one of the best ways to get outside for those near Albuquerque. (The tram is $33 for an adult roundtrip, or $22 for a one-way trip.) Camping is allowed without a permit, though a $3 day pass or America the Beautiful pass is required for recreation in the area. Overnights are best explored on the Crest Trail 130, a 26.5 mile-long trail that runs north to south along the wilderness area, though there are many trails to explore here.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
From Boston, with the help of two buses, New Hampshire's White Mountains are accessible without a car. From the city, catch a ride from Concord Coach Lines to Lincoln ($63 roundtrip), where you can catch a ride from The Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain Hiker Shuttle to the preferred trailhead ($24 one way; reservation highly encouraged). Depending on where hikers and backpackers start, they may only need one trip on the White Mountain Hiker Shuttle to get to and from the Concord Coach Line. With around 1,420 miles of trail within the White Mountains, there are so many to explore.
Yosemite National Park, California
The YARTS bus system connects Fresno, Merced, Sonora, and Mammoth Lakes to the iconic park with fares from $22 to $60. Not only is it a great option for getting into the park, but it also allows folks to get from the Valley to Tuolumne Meadows without having to deal with parking. The YARTS bus can accommodate backpacks of any size and bikes on a first come, first serve basis. As the parking in beautiful Yosemite typically fills up by 8:30 am on weekends, taking a bus in — and avoiding the congestion and headache — is totally worth it.