Getting to Nature Without a Car

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Whether you live in an urban center or you just prefer to live car-free, getting to the great outdoors without your own wheels can seem daunting. But, take heart. There are plenty of options to take you from your front door to the trail without owning a car.

Take the Bus or Train or Shuttle

I live in Boulder, Colorado, where reaching the great outdoors without a car is surprisingly easy. You can hop on the bus to the foothills, Eldora Ski Area, or even Red Rocks Park to hike or catch a show. So, take some time to familiarize yourself with your bus, light rail system, or shuttle. For example, from New York City you can reach Palisades Park in New Jersey by bus or the gorgeous Hudson River Valley and the Catskills and even the Appalachian Trail by train. If you’re in Chicago, take the South Shore Commuter line to the magnificent Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan. If you're heading to a ski resort, see if the resort offers a shuttle. If you’re in the Bay Area, check out transitandtrails.org for a huge list of trails accessible by public transportation. If you don’t want to leave the seven square miles of San Francisco proper, take a dramatic urban hike with Urban Hiker SF.

Cultivate a Friendship with a Car Owner

A friend in need is a friend indeed. But, a friend with a car is better! Call a friend and organize a weekend camping trip or day hike in your local state park. Offer to pay for the gas or pack a picnic lunch to show your appreciation.

Join a Community Group or Outdoor Organization

Community groups are a great resource for finding hiking, skiing and paddling groups in your area. Once you join, you’ll find it easy to carpool with other members. But, you don’t have to limit yourself to community groups. Almost every major city has numerous sports associations and clubs. For example, the Hoosier Canoe and Kayak Club in Indianapolis holds weekly group paddles and classes throughout the year, and the group welcomes novices. The group often carpools or even caravans to put-in locations.

Rent a Car or Join a Car Share

You could always rent a car for the day or weekend, but if you’re in a larger city, consider joining a local car share. For a monthly fee you can become a member and rent cars by the hour, gas and insurance included. The pickup and drop off locations are conveniently scattered across each city, meaning you could drive to one location, drop off the car, and pick it up at a different location a few hours later.

There’s an App for That

You’re probably familiar with local rideshare or taxi options, but if you’re in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Charlotte, or Washington, D.C., check out a peer-to-peer transportation network that connects people who want to share rides. Like local rideshare and taxi options, drivers are pre-screened and GPS-tracked, but what sets peer-to-peer apart is the “Shared Rides” function. You can find a person who’s already driving to the location you’re heading to and pay 50% less for your trip than a normal ride. If you’re in Colorado and looking to head to the mountains to ski, check out skicarpool.org or theskilift.org to find drivers going your way. Much like Craigslist rideshare, these are services that just connect you with drivers. You work out your own rate individually and the drivers aren’t pre-screened.

So, whether you’re car-free for environmental or financial reasons, you can find a way to reach the great outdoors.

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