Photo provided by Paul Bodnar
All blog posts

Thru-hiking 101: Trail Town Accommodations

This post covers one of the most expensive things you can do in town: stay the night. I’ll show you all of your options, from avoiding staying in town overnight, to living it up in a motel.

Paul Bodnar      Educational       7/06/2020

Town Lodging – average cost/night

Backpacker Campground Campsite: $5

Trail Angel Donation: $20

Campground Campsite: $18

Hostel, shared room: $24

Hostel, private room: $49

Motel: $81

Trail Town Accommodations

One you have purchased your gear and hit the trail, long-distance backpacking is a fairly inexpensive endeavor. Your main expense is food.  But when you come into town to resupply, expenses can add up quickly. This post covers one of the most expensive things you can do in town: stay the night. I’ll show you all of your options, from avoiding staying in town overnight, to living it up in a motel.

Trail camping outside town: $0

The cheapest way to spend a day in town is to camp on-trail, just outside of a town. Hike into town first thing in the morning, resupply and enjoy all the town amenities, then return to the trail just before sundown. 

Two tents set up on a campsite in Glacier National Park, Montana
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt
Two tents set up just outside Benchmark Trailhead in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt

Backpacker campsite: $5

Some campgrounds have a designated backpacker area for a nominal fee.  Backpacker sites can be shared with others, which brings down the cost to nearly nothing, but may also mean that you won’t get much sleep due to noise if you’re with a party crew. 

Campground campsite: $20

Sometimes you can find a campground in or near town.  If the campground has amenities like showers, laundry, flush toilets, or electricity you can expect to pay more than a primitive campground. Campgrounds typically limit site occupancy and the number of tents, but you can still share with a few people.  Splitting a campsite and making full use of campground amenities is a great way to save money in town.

Several red and yellow tents set up in a campground with a mountain in the background.
Photo provided by Kenna Kuhn
An empty campground with picnic tables on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Photo provided by Paul Bodnar

Trail Angel: $20 Donation

Some trail angels open their homes or property to hikers. This often means that you get some combination of a bed, shower, laundry or food. Trail angels can be well-known along the trail or can occur as a random surprise at a road crossing.  

Some trail angels do not expect or accept donations, but you should donate $20 per night if there is a donation jar.

The Toaster House on the CDT in New Mexico.
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt
A church in Wyoming
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt

RV park camping: $25

Most RV parks have an area for tent camping. Why stay in an RV park? They usually have amenities that normal campgrounds don’t offer, such as internet, electrical outlets, coin laundry services, showers, clean restrooms with sinks, swimming pool, charcoal barbecues, and a convenience store. Because RV parks have more services you can expect the cost to be higher than a campground.

A small cabin with a picnic table in an RV park.
Photo provided by Paul Bodnar
Stagecoach Trails RV Resort sign
Photo provided by Paul Bodnar

Hostel: $24 to $49

A hostel is a low-cost lodging option where you can rent a bunk bed in a dormitory-like setting. Most hostels have a lounge area and kitchen facilities. Most hostels also offer private rooms at about double the cost of a bunk bed in a shared room. Hostels are very social and it’s a great way to meet interesting people from all parts of the world.  

Triple Crown Hostel sign
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt
A YHA Hostel sign on the Te Araroa
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt

Motel: $81

Motels along the trail tend to be family-owned and of the budget variety. They usually have coin-operated laundry or will do your laundry for a small fee. Many smaller motels in trail towns provide a discount for long-distance hikers – just ask. National chains, like Hilton or Sheraton, can easily cost double the typical motel rate.

Sands Motel sign
Photo provided by Dahn Pratt
A Motel / RV Park sign
Photo provided by Paul Bodnar

Summary

The way you approach overnight town accommodation can greatly impact your hiking budget. Some hikers camp outside of towns to avoid the cost of accommodation, while others relax for a few days in a motel or hotel.  Other than buying a new pair of shoes, replacing a main piece of gear, or buying a few weeks of resupply food, there are few ways to spend a lot of money on a long-distance hike. It can, however, be easy to blow your budget on motels if you’re not careful.  

Note: The above prices vary by location and season.

Trail Town Hacks

  1. Most libraries have free public internet.
  2. Most hostels and RV parks allow you to use the shower and laundry facilities for a nominal fee even if you do not stay the night. Please ask the staff before using any amenity on private property.
  3. Get into town early to maximize the town experience.
  4. Write down a to-do list before getting to town. It’s easy to get distracted and forget critical tasks in all the excitement of town life. 
  5. If you plan on staying in town, try to secure accommodation ahead of time, particularly if you are walking in a “herd.” Small towns fill up fast.
  6. Do your laundry and showering first thing so you can experience dining or shopping without smelling up the place.
A laundry room with washing machines and dryers and a vending machine
Photo provided by Paul Bodnar
Two showers stalls in a RV park
Photo provided by Paul Bodnar

Read more!

Check out some related blog posts!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association
A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 50 guides for trails around the world.