Thru-hiking 101: Trail Town Accommodations

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

Average Town Lodging Costs Chart

Trail Town Accommodations

Once you have purchased your gear and hit the trail, long-distance backpacking is fairly inexpensive. 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. 

The prices were based on accommodations along the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in 2020.

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 in Campsite

Backpacker campsite: $5

Some campgrounds have a designated backpacker area for a nominal fee.  Backpacker sites are commonly 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 sleeping next to the 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.

Photo provided by Kenna Sarae
campsite with picnic table
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.

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.

Photo provided by Kenna Sarae
Stagecoach RV Resort
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. Some 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.  

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.

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.