The Art of Thumbfare: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Appalachian Trail

Hitchhiking on the AT can seem daunting, but with proper precautions it opens up a world of memorable characters. Tips and advice for safe, successful thumbing rides along the Appalachian Trail.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

hitchhiking is an artform on the Appalachian Trail
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For many hitchhiking is a scary proposition. The thought of sticking out your thumb and trusting a stranger to give you a ride can be nerve-wracking. But for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail , help traveling into town is vital. There are sections of the trail where it’s simply not possible to walk into town, so that begs the question, do you have to hitchhike on the Appalachian Trail?

Yes, you can always hike into town and there are many shuttles and drivers operating around the bubble. The further from the bubble you are the fewer drivers and more hitchhiking you may need to do to avoid bonus miles into town as some of these can be around 5-10 miles.

Let’s dive into more options as in today’s world where the AT has become far more of a cultural phenomenon due to movies like “A Walk in the Woods” there are now much more options available than purely hitching, though hitching isn’t as dangerous as news and horror stories would try to make you think.

When Hitchhiking is Necessary on the AT

When you are on a long-distance trail like the A.T. many towns may be directly connected making trail town stops simple and efficient but there are definitely some that do not have this convenience where the remote trails make getting to town challenging.

As you go through more rural areas you will find the trail is close to town but doesn’t run through or around the town itself which leads to figuring out the best and most efficient way to get into town, many may say they can walk but bonus miles, especially road miles are boring and brutal.

Hitchhiking has been the only way until the recent boom of ride-share services and the explosion of the popularity of the trail that catering to hikers has become a bigger business than it used to be, this has led to the options we discuss below!

Alternatives to Hitchhiking

When you need to get to town and are anxious about hitchhiking there are a vast array of trail resources available to help you get that needed ride to town, trail odor be damned!

Trail Angels

Trail angels are fascinating people who offer help in the way of food, or sometimes even rides to thru-hikers. Some are even known to do pick-ups at pre-arranged locations to help out someone in need not just for monetary gain.

There is a network of trail angels who have been helping hikers for years and their contact information is available in many trail registers, shelters, and hostels.

Shuttle Services

These are people who will run bigger multi-seat vehicles to trailheads and pick-up and drop off mostly based on pre-scheduled setups of a hiker shuttle. Somewhat similar to the ever-popular Uber and Lyft but without the corporate background, these are mostly just good samaritans or locals who want to help out.

This system has become more formalized in recent years as the hiker growth on the Appalachian Trail grows in overall traffic.

Ride-Sharing Like Uber or Lyft

With the advent of huge ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, now getting a ride to and from can be hailed as long as you have solid cell service prior and there is a driver in the local area.

This is definitely less frequent the more rural the trail is but getting a ride into town for resupply and back out is doable in many areas.


Many times if you are planning to stay at a hostel they will actually be able to travel and pick you up and many times also take you deeper into town at specific time intervals.

This then can help you do things like laundry, getting a shower, and maybe even enjoying some of that local culture for the cost of the room and bed.

Hoof It

Then if you don’t or can’t do any of the above you can always choose the path more traveled and hike on a paved road into town and do some bonus miles, after all, isn’t that what we are all here for in the first place to see and have a unique experience?

Staying Safe While Hitchhiking

For those who aren’t stressed but do have concerns about hitchhiking to town, there are some tips below to allow you to do it as safely as possible! To be safe make sure you find someplace with a wide shoulder and preferably not in tight corners to be easy to see.

Travel With Others

The one thing the hiking community understands is that it’s best many times to travel together and pool people for rides into town as it protects your fellow hiker when you are with someone.

This also is a good way to make new friends on the trail and have some interesting conversations as you all wait for that ride.

Remove Your Wallet and Phone From Your Pack

You want to carry this on your person, which makes sure you are ready to go when the ride arrives and have everything you need. Additionally, this also prevents theft of your money and gives you the ability to contact people should anything occur.

Sometimes the gear isn’t stolen but sometimes forgotten by you, this makes sure that the most vital things like your identification and money to pay for anything and your cell gives you the chance to reach them and communicate.

Keep Your Pack on Your Lap When Possible

To keep your pack safest you would like to not leave it someplace directly out of your control and keeping it on your lap accomplishes that.

Additionally, if you do need to depart from the vehicle for any reason you will not have to worry about your things as they are right there with you!

Memorize or Text the License Plate (Or Take a Picture)

To give yourself a lot more chance of safety and ensure at least one person knows who picked you up and includes the when and where, making sure you send someone you trust the license, color, and make.

To be even safer you can take a picture of the car from the back or front that includes the license and text it to the same person. If someone frowns upon you getting this detail then you should be at least slightly concerned.

Someone providing a ride should be comfortable with you taking precautions for your and their safety overall.

Use the Passenger Window to Ask For a Ride

You should approach the passenger side window to ask for a ride as it is considered safer and also allows you to avoid the roadside and also exit the car on the side of the road should anything occur.

The driver’s side can be blocked by traffic or other obstacles, making it more difficult and dangerous to do so.

Enable Your PLB Tracking

I would always suggest you have your personal locator beacon on and actively broadcasting your location in case of an emergency. This is a safety net that can save your life if something does happen and you do need to be rescued regardless of being on hiking trails or not!

Since many thru-hikers now carry a personal locator device and family are watching and monitoring this it gives you an extra layer of safety as well.

Trust Your Gut

As always humans have developed over centuries the ability to catch a bad vibe from people who do not have the best intentions and this is something that you should utilize.

You do not have to accept a ride from anyone who makes you feel unsafe for any reason, even if it means waiting longer for someone else.

It’s better to be safe than sorry in these situations as your safety should always be the number one priority when hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking can be a great way to get around and meet some interesting people, but you should always do so with caution and follow the proper safety protocols to ensure everyone has a good time!

The Verdict: Is Hitchhiking Worth it on the AT?

If the idea of hitchhiking concerns you then I would advise against it as there is always the potential danger that comes with accepting rides from strangers.

However, if you do choose to hitchhike then I would recommend taking some basic safety precautions such as hiding your valuables, trusting your gut, and letting someone know your plans.

However, if you get a ride from someone you should always cough up a few bucks for gas if possible as it is the courteous thing to do!

What do you think about hitchhiking? Have you ever hitchhiked before and had weird conversations? Let us know in the comments below!

Happy (and safe) hiking!

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