No Car Needed: A Spectacular Hike Along the Appalachian Trail

No Car Needed: A Spectacular Hike Along the Appalachian Trail

My wife and I are big fans of leaving the car at home when hiking. Because the Appalachian Trail (AT) goes through or near urban areas, it’s not difficult to section hike portions of the AT using only public transportation, and many of these are, in fact, among the nicer sections of the AT. This fall, Amtrak began service to Roanoke, VA, making this another stunning section of the AT accessible via public transportation to most of the East Coast.

We hiked one spectacular 134-mile AT section hike in a long-ish week. This hike is just south of Shenandoah National Park, and it’s every bit as beautiful as “The Shen,” but wilder and without the crowds!

Getting There

This hike begins in Daleville, VA, just north of Roanoke, VA on US 220. We recommend taking the train, spending the night in Roanoke or Daleville, and starting your trek first thing the next morning.

  • It’s about 5 hours on the train from Washington’s Union Station to Roanoke, VA. Train times are convenient, leaving Washington at 4:50 PM (right after work) and arriving in Roanoke at 10:00 PM. Book early to find saver fares, around $37, one way.
  • The train arrives in historic downtown Roanoke. If you want to get a good night’s sleep, stay in the grand Hotel Roanoke, across the street from the train station. If you want to get closer to the trail, you can stay steps away from the AT at the Howard Johnson Express, Daleville (a favorite of AT thru-hikers).
  • From the Roanoke train station, it is another 20 minutes to the trailhead via car-share.

NoteNortheast Regional trains originate in Boston, so you can catch the same train anywhere along the Northeast Corridor and it will bring you directly to Roanoke.

Our Favorite Highlights

  1. Amazingly wild and remote for Central/Northern Virginia. This section goes through many Wilderness Areas with few road crossings and tons of wildlife and wildflowers!
  2. Far less crowded — but as good as or better than the adjacent Shenandoah National Park
  3. Great ridgetop walking with superb views
  4. Cole Mountain Bald and Three Ridges Mountain (both great mountain tops)
  5. Many scenic bridges: including the James River Bridge (longest foot traffic-only bridge on the AT)

About the Author: Alan Dixon grew up in northern California and spent his formative mountaineering years in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. His site, Adventure Alan, is dedicated to sharing honest and factual information on gear, techniques, and travel guides for adventurers of all skills.