How exactly does one get to the Appalachian Trail?

A friend of mine had offered to take me to Springer Mountain in Georgia to begin my trek. However, upon further review, the drive is way too long for her to drive back alone.  Back to the drawing board.  Realizing that I’ll likely be taking public transportation, I decided the other day that I can’t wait until the last minute to figure out details.  So I did some research on options.  And what I’ve found can more or less be summarized as “planes, trains, and automobiles” (except, sadly, I won’t have John Candy for company). I’ve summarized below what I’ve found.

The Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA offers a “Thru Hiker Special.” For $75, they provide the following: pick up from Atlanta or Gainesville, overnight bunk stay, shower, breakfast the next morning, 8 oz canister of gas, and ride to Springer Mountain or Amicalola State Park to start the trek.  Now, read between the lines.

Wait, can you really read something between the lines?  I don’t think there’s anything there. Maybe you should get your glasses prescription checked.  Really, though, to get into the weeds,  I can fly into Atlanta and take the MARTA (subway) train to the farthest point north on the line to catch the Hiker Hostel ride. Or alternatively, I could catch a bus or train to Gainesville and have them pick me up there.

All things considered, the Hiker Hostel option is sounding pretty darn good.  Even if a friend were to drive me, considering the distance (over 500 miles each way), we’d likely have to stay a night in a hotel anyway. Camping out is always an option, but I haven’t had many takers yet. (“I have an idea.  Why don’t you drive me 11 hours down to Georgia and then sleep outside in March and then have 11 hours to contemplate the meaning of life on the drive back?  How does that sound?)

To instead have people that are knowledgeable about the area pick me up, house me, feed me and drop me off – all for $75 – seems like one heck of a deal.  Let’s not forget to mention that there will likely be other to-be thru-hikers staying there, which will be a great opportunity to meet people right off the bat.

And I plan to have my game face on.  Ya know, the “hey, I’m so-and-so. I’d love to make your acquaintance.  Maybe we can be hiking friends. But if not, that’s cool too because I’m not desperate. I’m independent and confident” face.  Not the “holy crud, I’m about to go into the big scary woods all alone for 6 months.  Will you give me a hug?” face.  That wouldn’t be cool.

Right. OK. I’m feeling pretty great so far with my decision.  Now how am I going to get within spitting distance of the Hiker Hostel?

Let’s see…

I wasn’t on this bus, but you get the point.

Greyhound Bus – Heck no.  The end. No, really, I’ve had several experiences with Greyhound in my life, and I can safely say I will avoid it at all costs. When I was on the west coast, I took the bus between San Francisco and Sacramento a few times and felt decently safe, but that’s about as far as I can throw the compliments.

Do you remember the movie Adventures in Babysitting (circa 1987)?  There’s a scene in the movie in which the protagonist’s best friend calls from a payphone at a bus station.  The poor teenager planned to run away but got herself stuck at the station and was begging her friend for a ride.  She was surrounded by vagrants, rats, filth and generally terrified out of her mind.  Yeah, I’ve had too many similar experiences (minus the payphone).

It also doesn’t help that I can’t get the Greyhound website to acknowledge my existence.  I just want to be your friend, website! Please just do me this one favor and tell me how much money/time it would cost to get from Richmond, VA to Gainesville, GA. Le sigh.  Nevermind. We shall forever remain frenemies.

Trains – Sometimes I like taking the train.  I get to experience the landscape in a way that driving (in particular on the highway) does not allow.  Many times, the route is scenic, such as when I rode from NYC up to Albany to visit a friend a couple of years ago.  The tracks abutted (I believe) the Hudson River for great expanses, and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized.

Yeah, it was kind of like this.

And riding a train is always an adventure…like this one time when my friends and I got onto a car for the lowest class tickets on a train in India.  We had our heavy packs on our backs and literally couldn’t fit both feet on the ground at the same time for the majority of the two hour ride.  And for some reason the hundreds of men packed into this car were taken with us – sharing their food, making conversation in broken English, even pushing several men sleeping in the luggage racks off to fit out packs.  OK, I don’t expect anything so noteworthy to happen on my way down to Gainesville, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

Either way, a train from Richmond, VA to Gainesville would take 18 hours and cost $93.  The upside is that I wouldn’t have to worry about my pack and gear because it would be with me at all times.  On the other hand, and I may be losing my edge here, I’m not sure I want to spend 18 hours in a train, especially without a private room to sleep, which could cost more than double.

So what’s behind door number three, Bob?

Planes drop hikers right on Springer Mountain (with the help of the Hiker Hostel).

Planes – I did a quick check and to fly direct from Virginia Beach (Norfolk) to Atlanta would cost about $150 and take 2 hours.  Then from there, I would take the MARTA train from the airport to the station farthest north on the line (for a whopping $3ish).

I spent a few weeks in Atlanta when I was in AmeriCorps in 2006.  One night several of us took the MARTA, and waiting at the station for the train, I remember thinking I wasn’t in the mood to die and wondering what I’d do if we were robbed or threatened.  But then again, we were staying (and working at) a homeless shelter in a very sketchy part of town.  Every time we got out of our team van at night to go back into the shelter, the staff security guards would have to hold back this particularly energetic drug-addicted woman who frequented the area for fear that she would attack us with a needle.

I was down in Atlanta earlier this year for a conference and discovered the “better” parts of MARTA, if less…thrilling?  The system is simple to navigate, and many stations (not in sketchy parts of town) are well lit.  It really wouldn’t be a problem to ride the MARTA from the airport. If I were to fly in, I wouldn’t have my pack with me at all times, but checking it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  And I think my time (16 extra hours!) is worth $50-60.

So I guess it’s settled then.  Unless I decide to get adventurous and stick out my thumb for a ride, I’ll likely reserve a plane ticket in the next couple of months (I’ll keep an eye on prices) to get to Georgia.

To be honest, when I started writing this post, I was still contemplating the train option.  I’m glad we’ve had this chat.  You really helped to knock some sense into me.

Meandering on,



14 thoughts on “How exactly does one get to the Appalachian Trail?

  1. Jordana, every time I travel by myself I have that same self talk….I’ll get to meet people..but I won’t look desperate…but maybe they’ll like me and vice versa:) Thanks for describing it so entertainingly. And best of luck getting to Springer Mountain. You go girl!

  2. Hi Jordana!

    I’ve hiked a couple of AT segments, a few years back! (Springer Mountain to Newfound Gap, and Harpers Ferry to Waynesboro.)

    I took the Amtrak train from Atlanta to Gainesville, then took a cab to Amicalola Falls State Park. As soon as I got to the train station, several cabs were waiting for hikers. They knew all about thru-hikers! If you ride with another hiker, you can split the cost (and make a new friend!).

    I hiked the trail up to Springer Mtn, and spent my first night camped in my tent by the shelter. (That first shelter had way too many mice–and people! I avoided it!)

    I envy you on your coming thru-hike. Wish I’d had the time to do the whole trail. You’ll have such a great experience! Just make sure you train really, really well in advance because the hiking at first is really hard. Up and down, and often cold and rainy in early Spring. Once you get in condition after a couple weeks, it isn’t quite so bad!

    And there’s no reason to be afraid on the trail. Nearly everyone you’ll meet will be really cool, like-minded people!

    Great blog! I’ve got it bookmarked! I’ll be following your progress from here in San Diego, CA!

    • Thanks for the insight! I know it was several years ago, but do you remember about how much the cab cost? Im sure I could always do some research on that too…

      • It was $50 — I split with another hiker, so paid $25. I just now did a google search and it looks like the fare is now $65.

      • Oh hm, a twist I hadn’t considered before. If I could find a fellow hiker to split the cost, it might be worth it. Thoughts thoughts. Thanks for planting the seed.

      • I met my taxi fare “fellow hiker” on the train to Gainesville! In fact, I met several hikers–it was pretty easy to tell who was heading to the trail by what they wore, their packs, etc. You could also meet fellow hikers as you deboard from the train, before you get to where the cabs are waiting.

        I’m sure there are AT forums where perhaps you could make arrangements with other hikers. Try a google search…

  3. You are gutsy. haha The idea of hostel buddies seems awesome to me, but only if I have friends around too. So, kudos on your bravery.

    And not to be some random online mother figure but … I hope you have considered taking some self-defense classes, too.

  4. The Hiker Hostel is a fantastic deal, that is my second choice if family can’t be around to pick me up from Atlanta!

    Enjoying your blog and goodluck with your planning, only 4 n bit months to go!!!!

    • I don’t suppose your family is interested in picking me up from Atlanta? 😉 Shameless mooch, I know.

      Thanks for saying hello. Maybe I’ll see you at the Hiker Hostel or on the trail.

      • Don’t get if you don’t ask, if we cross paths sure you can get a lift or share taxi like another comment mentions didnt consider that always thought it would be too pricey but $65 split isnt that bad really!!

  5. The Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA offers a “Thru Hiker Special.” That is the way to go. And the MARTA station that you wait at for the pick up is safe and clean and in a good section of the city. My tip is pack all of your gear into a big duffle bag that you can either ship home or leave there, and pack your pack into the bag and have it checked into the cargo section of the plane. I left mine there. Remember things like hiking poles and knife won’t be allowed on the plane and you will have to leave at airport, so it is easier to just check everything into the cargo hold.

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