Our obsession with rooftop tents, vanlife, and overland vehicles means we’re producing more carbon to get to the places we work so hard to protect. Taking the bus, on the other hand, saves up to 82 percent greenhouse-gas emissions per passenger mile. And especially in major cities, public transportation is no longer a subpar option for outdoor escapes—it can take you to some great spots and sports. Here’s how to find adventure near five major cities without a car.
It’s time to finally use the portable kayak living under your bed. For those looking to paddle beyond the Chicago River, board the Chicago Metra for a 90-minute ride to Fox Lake, Illinois. Those without their own vessels can rent kayaks at Jet Funn ($15 per hour), a 10-minute walk from the Metra stop. Put in on Pistakee Lake and paddle south for an adventure on the Upper Fox River. This section of the Fox River Waterway is not for beginners, so be prepared for wind, motorized vehicles, and a series of dams and portages. When you’re ready to head home, there are a few Metra stops along the water to choose from including Fox River Grove (mile 18), Geneva (mile 45), and Aurora (mile 55).
Not ready for a river epic? Sign up for a tour with a local guiding company like Urban Kayaks.
Skip the public transit altogether, and hop on your bike. The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal trail stretches 184.5 miles from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. In addition to the dozens of free hiker-biker campgrounds along the way, bikepackers looking for a bed can reserve a historic lockhouse for the night. Upon reaching Cumberland, the C&O Canal trail fluidly connects to the Great Allegheny Passage, offering intrepid cyclists another 150 miles of trail to Pittsburgh. Pro tip: much of the path is gravel, so skip the skinny tires for this one.
New this year, the Virginia Breeze bus offers direct service from central D.C. to Front Royal, Virginia, which is just four miles from the Shenandoah National Park entrance. For the ultimate public-transit trip, hitchhike a ride to Front Royal and travel north on the Appalachian Trail. After a few nights in the woods and 54 miles under your feet, you’ll arrive in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where you can catch a train back to to D.C.
From downtown Los Angeles, choose between an Amtrak bus or train for a two-hour ride to sunny Palm Springs. A scenic 2.5-mile tram ride from the desert brings you to the Mount San Jacinto wilderness. There you’ll find dozens of day hikes and campground options. For wilderness campgrounds, don’t forget to apply for your five-dollar permit at least a month in advance for summer weekends.
Or continue on from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park aboard the new, free Joshua Tree Road Runner. Take the shuttle to the 124-site Jumbo Rocks Campground to enjoy scrambling on massive boulders, camping, and clear desert night skies. Camp among the boulders at Hidden Valley Campground, which is first come, first served and walking distance from Joshua Tree’s climbing mecca, the Real Hidden Valley. Currently, the shuttle is a pilot program and only scheduled to run through April 2019, so hop on while you can.
New York City
The breadth of outdoor pursuits available within and near New York City is always as surprising as the city’s hordes of surfers willing to rally at 5 a.m. to join the lineup before work. Watch the Rockaway Wave cam for those clean offshore waves, purchase your $2.75 Metro card, and hop on the A train from Midtown Manhattan to Rockaway Beach, Queens, for some of the most public-transit-friendly surfing in the country.
Dirtbag climbers stuck at desk jobs will rejoice in the 90-minute bus ride from the city to one of the East Coast’s climbing meccas: the Shawangunks. (Though this easy access means that you may need to go up a few pitches for solitude.) And note that while the bus will get you to the gateway town of New Paltz, there are eight miles between the bus station and the crag, so thumb it or jump into an affordable local taxi at the station.
Buses heading south from Miami offer a multitude of options for paddlers, anglers, and divers looking for tropical coral reefs and miles of water trails. Take the Miami Dade 38 bus to Homestead, Florida, for a free trolley ride to Key Biscayne National Park. The park’s over 170,000 acres are best explored by water. Paddlers can enjoy mangrove forests and divers can follow the Maritime Heritage Trail to six submerged shipwrecks. Or take the Greyhound to the diving capital of the world, Key Largo. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can continue on the Greyhound to Key West and transfer to the ferry that heads to Dry Tortugas National Park, where crystal-clear waters, a historic fort, and vibrant sea life await.