Thursday, December 24, 2009

How to avoid hotels on the PCT

In 2008 when I hiked the first half of the PCT I stayed in a lot of hotels. I stayed in my own private hotel room because I didn't want to share my space. I did this because I had just quit my high-paying job and had a feeling like this was my trip of a lifetime and I would spare no expense.

In 2009, I had just completed a year without a high-paying job and didn't want to trash what was left of my savings. So I tried to avoid hotels. It turned out that by avoiding hotels, I found that I had more fun, relaxed more and slept better. After a while, I decided that hotels were not a good idea at all. What you really want out of civilization is food, shower, laundry and rest. You can get all that without paying to sleep. I learned the art of stealth camping in or near civilization and showering in bathroom sinks or with a sun shower when pay showers were not available. If you don't have a sun shower, a bottle of water will work, too.

I'm not the type who says to skip zero days and just stay on the trail. I love zero days. But I love them best when I can lay in my tent and read a book and nap. I'm so much happier in my tent than in a hotel that smells funny. Trail angel places are better to set your sights on if you want a little luxury or the company of other hikers. But even trail angel houses are never as relaxing as my own tent. And they cost nearly as much as hostels.

If you are looking to save money, choose your tent first, a trail angel's house second, a hostel third and a hotel as a last resort. Relaxation is always better in your tent. The other options vary too much to make a blanket statement about relaxation, but none of them comes close to relaxing in your tent. You can always find camaraderie with other hikers at restaurants and on the trail or even in chance encounters in town. Trail angel places are great for hiker camaraderie, and if that's what you need, then set your sights on the next trail angel house as a chance to chase your blues away.

As I look back at the whole trail, this is my recommendation for avoiding hotels.

Warner Springs
Warner Springs is wonderful, but if you didn't want to pay for a room and didn't care about soaking in the hot pool, you could stay near Warner Springs on the trail and just eat in the golf restaurant. The trail in that area is lovely oak woodland so it would be really nice. But, I think Warner Springs Resort is one of the truly worthy places to pay for a room if for nothing more than to soak in the hot water. After your first 100 miles, you might be sore enough to benefit from this. I managed to heal an injury soaking in the water for a day. It was also at Warner Springs that I learned that hiking the PCT isn't a solitary walk in the wilderness. I never laughed so hard as I did at dinner with the other hikers. So, I recommend staying there if you feel a need. It's truly relaxing, unlike most hotel stays.

In Idyllwild you don't have to stay in a hotel. There's a $3 campground to stay in instead. Free hot showers, too.

Cabazon is a hot desert nowhere. Best to pop in and out and get up the trail as far as possible out of the heat. People used to stay at the Pink Hotel, but it's not there anymore.

Big Bear
In Big Bear you don't have to stay in a hotel. You could stay on the trail and just pop in and out of town. Or stay at the hostel, which is nice. The town is surrounded by trees, too, if you catch my drift.

In Wrightwood you don't have to stay in a hotel. The hardware store has a list of people who take in hikers.

Agua Dulce
I think the next town up the trail is Agua Dulce. Trail angels.

Green Valley
Then come the Andersons in Green Valley, which you could skip because it's only a day or two after Agua Dulce. I recommend skipping this stop if you don't like wild, drunken parties. That's the only reason to go there, in my opinion.

Then there's Hikertown which you don't have to pay for if you sleep on the lawn.

Then there's Tehachapi/Mojave which you could skip by just popping in and out. Or you could make that your hotel splurge. If you were to stealth camp in town, I think Tehachapi would be an easier place to do it. Mojave is on the desert floor and has no trees to hide in. I stayed in a hotel both visits to Tehachapi. I regretted it the last time. I should have gotten right back to the trail.

Kennedy Meadows
Then there's Kennedy Meadows which doesn't cost anything to stay at, but you'll have to exert some restraint over your spending on other things. Just don't start a tab and you'll be much more aware of your spending.

Lone Pine
Then there's Lone Pine, if you desire. They have a hostel. You could just pop in and out and sleep at Horseshoe meadows instead.

High Sierra
Then there's the High Sierra spots. My friend stayed at Muir Trail Ranch and did some work in exchange for lodging and food. VVR is reputed to be expensive, but the first night is free. Exercise restraint while you are there. Know beforehand that VVR is going to charge you for every single little thing you do there, even use a Q-tip.

There's also access to Bishop if needed. Lots of people run out of food and end up having to find a way to get food. That's how I ended up in Bishop. It's a very long way from the trail and I don't think you can avoid a hotel stay there.

Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows has a campground. No need to stay there, though, if you don't mind hiking 4 miles away from the highway and sleeping in the forest. The backpacker site is at the edge of the forest. Technically it would be illegal to camp outside the campground boundary. You have to go 4 miles further.

If you go to Bridgeport from Sonora Pass, hike about 2 miles out of town to the Hot Spring. You're not supposed to camp there, but you could stealth camp away from the spring after a nice, relaxing soak.

South Lake Tahoe/Echo Lake
South Lake Tahoe has a campground with showers. It is also surrounded by a lot of forest. Who is going to see you camping in the forest? Or, you can get your mail/food at Echo Lake and just keep going up the trail.

Sierra City
Sierra City has a church where you can sleep on the lawn. Or you can just pop in and out of town.

You can stealth camp near Belden rather than pay for a room. There's a horse parking area where I camped. Not really stealthy, but nobody bothered me.

In Chester at some times of the earlier hiking season there may be a trail angel where you can stay. She'll have her phone number on the trail. If not, no reason why you couldn't just pop in and out. Plus the town, which has a public pay shower, is surrounded by trees...

Old Station
Old Station has a trail angel. But it's also an easy pop-in-pop-out spot. Before you get there, you can tank up on gourmet food, laundry, showering and hot spring soaking at Drakesbad. You can get clean enough to skip Old Station, but in my opinion, Old Station is one of the most relaxing of all the trail angle places to stay. You can set up your tent and be left alone to nap.

Burney Falls
Burney Falls State Park is $16, I think, to camp there. There's a trail angel in the campground. You could pop in and out of there, too, and avoid paying to sleep. Pay showers. There is also the town of Burney, which is totally different and not even very close to Burney Falls. I can't see why you would ever need to stay in Burney.

Dunsmuir/Castella are probably best popped into and out if you want to avoid hotels.

Etna has a hostel at the Alderbrook B&B and a religious training center where you can stay for free, if religion doesn't freak you out too much.

Seiad Valley
Seiad Valley has an RV park with pay showers that's not too expensive. Billy Goat sleeps under a bridge in Seiad Valley when he comes through.

Ashland is probably worth a hostel or hotel night since it is so far away from the trail. I had to pay $28 for the hostel. It's worth a stay if you're planning to shop for all your Oregon food in Ashland, which is what I did. Medford is further away, but cheaper. You can take public transportation to Medford from Ashland.

Crater Lake/Mazama Village
Crater Lake/Mazama Village is expensive so just camp in the forest instead. Pay showers at Mazama are nice.

Central Oregon
Through Oregon there are mostly resorts. You can camp in the forest near these resorts rather than inside the resort. You don't need RV hookups or a parking space so why bother paying for a hard patch of dirt to sleep on when the forest is full of soft duff? I did manage to get free camping at Elk Lake, but I don't know if that's for all PCT hikers or if they just took pity on me. It's worth asking if you need to stay there.

Timberline Lodge
Timberline Lodge is a great place to stay near, not in. No pay showers, though. Government Camp also has no pay showers. I found "lodging" (ha ha, stealth lodging) in town.

Cascade Locks
Cascade Locks has the Marine Park campground. The campground host did not charge PCT hikers to stay when I was there this summer. You just have to go up and speak to them. The showers were free, too.

White Pass
White Pass is surrounded by forest. You could pop in and out easily, too.

Snoqualmie Pass
Snoqualmie Pass has an expensive hotel. It's also surrounded by forest. I stayed in the hotel because I was tired of being rained on. Most people are much more hardy than me when it comes to rain.

Steven's Pass
Steven's Pass has access to the Dinsmores who used to live in Skykomish and were in the process of moving to Baring when I came through. Their place in Baring is two inches from the railroad tracks. If you can sleep in a lighted garage with people talking and smoking, then you'll get some rest. If not, you can pitch a tent on the lawn and be serenaded by passing trains.

Stehekin has a campground that's a reasonable price. You could pop in and out, too, if you take the early bus in and the late bus out. People pay so little attention to what's happening in Stehekin that I don't know if they would notice if you simply hiked back behind the National Forest welcome building (whatever the heck it was called) and just start up toward one of those trails and find a stealth camp along the way.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the nice comments about warner springs ranch piper ... much appreciated. on behalf of all of us here at warner springs ranch ... we really like hosting hikers and helping them out however possible. Like those nice folks from europe that didn't know how they got the itchy red rash (nast case of poison oak). I think the hot springs, adobe cabins and the cantina are an authentic slice of old california and I'm happy to hear that you agree. Jeff