If I learned anything from my travels on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail, it’s that hiking them would be nigh impossible if not for the communities that host and rejuvenate hikers along the way. In this article, I will highlight my five favorite towns on the Triple Crown.
Please keep in mind that this list is entirely subjective and based on my personal experience, needs, and hiking style. I keep town visits quick, light, and affordable and avoid taking zeroes at nearly all costs. Regarding resupply, it’s worth noting that my hiking partner on the CDT and I have plant-based dietary needs.
I don’t know what I don’t know that I don’t know.
Although I knew to look out for a handful of destinations on each of the Triple Crown trails, I intentionally kept from learning too much in advance so I’d experience each town in the moment, without prejudice.
I spent the most time in towns on the PCT, but coming from the west, I was familiar with many of them already. I hiked the AT quickly, and while I visited many a hostel, the only zeroes I took were in NYC (by way of Pawling, NY). Towns on the CDT were the most refreshing surprise: some were as desolate as rumored, while others were welcome surprises.
Regardless of the details, a good trail town will be sure to leave you feeling like you want to stay another day.
Pacific Crest Trail
About: Idyllwild is a quaint vacation town situated in the San Jacinto Mountains, high above the desert floor of Southern California. It is well-known by PCT hikers for its cooler temperatures, pine trees, and treacherous snow in early spring. The community’s only two mayors have both been golden retrievers, both named Max (RIP Max II).
Accessibility: Unlike most towns on the PCT, Idyllwild is only a few miles’ walk from the official redline. Keep in mind it is a getaway location for many residents of Southern California, so weekends and holidays can feel crowded.
Food: Idyllwild has numerous restaurants, including at least one vegan eatery, several pubs, and a pizza joint. You can’t go wrong.
Resupply: Resupply options are plentiful in Idyllwild, including several health food stores. Even hikers with dietary needs should have no issues resupplying here.
Outfitters: Several gear shops in town cater directly to the thru-hiker base, such as Nomad Ventures.
Lodging: Idyllwild has no dearth of places to stay. Inns, cabin rentals, and campsites dot the town map. Lodging can get a bit expensive here, so I recommend sharing a cabin with your trail family if possible.
Amenities: This town has got it all. Even if you don’t have a hotel, there is a local laundromat, and the town should have ample cell coverage for those of us who don’t have access to Wi-Fi. The kicker for me? Idyllwild has its own movie theater.
My Experience: I was absolutely beat when I arrived in Idyllwild in 2016. The walk from Mike’s Place to Paradise Valley Café was the longest day I’d ever had on trail at that point, and my feet were blistered to bloody stumps. My friends and I hitched into town and secured a cabin at the Idyllwild Inn for two nights.
It was perfect: because of the proximity of businesses, everything I needed was within a five-minute walk. I secured enough ice cream, beer, and tortilla chips to last me my stay and holed up to rest. While there, I purchased a new pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters (the clear sign of any new PCT hiker) and watched Captain America: Civil War on the big screen. The overall charm, location, and amenities left a lasting impression on me.
About: Stehekin is a tiny community on the shores of Lake Chelan near North Cascades National Park. It is one of the northernmost communities and resupply points on the Pacific Crest Trail. Besides being surrounded by dramatic peaks and tall trees at every angle, Lake Chelan itself is the third deepest lake in the United States.
Accessibility: Part of its charm is its remoteness: Stehekin is only accessible by foot, boat, or floatplane. PCT hikers hoping to visit Stehekin must take a shuttle from High Bridge. Just make sure to plan accordingly—the shuttles only run at specific times.
Food: While the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin Restaurant is an option, the fabled Stehekin Pastry Company draws the unanimous adoration of the hiking community.
Resupply: The General Store at the Lodge at Stehekin has apparently grown its offerings in recent years. However, the store’s inventory has historically been extremely limited, and most hikers would do well to mail a package to the post office instead.
Lodging: There are a couple of camping options locally. North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin and Stehekin Pastry Company offer more comfortable stays for a price.
Amenities: Showers and laundry are available in town. Stehekin’s location makes it overall one of the most scenic communities on the Triple Crown trail system.
My experience: I rolled into Stehekin on 9/11/16 after an arduous, rainy trek from Stevens Pass. Somehow I managed to use a payphone while doing my laundry to call my parents, although the phone didn’t seem like a reliable option at the time. The campsite I stayed at was beautiful and overlooked Lake Chelan. I picked up my package from the PO Monday morning before taking the shuttle back to trail. (The general store didn’t offer much in the way of resupply, let alone champagne, much to the disappointment of soon-to-be PCT finishers.)
On the way out, every hiker on the shuttle hit the bakery. To be clear, the hype surrounding the bakery is absolutely real. I took three cinnamon rolls (the last of which I consumed at the Canadian border a few days later), a sticky bun, and two Red Bulls out of there with a smile on my face. It was the perfect way to cap my first thru-hike.
About: Damascus is well-known in the long-distance hiking community for being home to Trail Days, an annual gathering of hikers, volunteers, and gear vendors to celebrate the community and stewardship of the Appalachian Trail. It has been appropriately dubbed “Trail Town USA.” Damascus stands deep on the southern edge of Virginia, making it an iconic waypoint for NOBOs and a reminder that the trail is nearly finished for SOBOs.
Accessibility: It’s directly on trail! In fact, the AT takes you down the main drag of town, past gear shops, hostels, and eateries alike.
Food: A brewery in town isn’t a must to make this list—but it sure helps. Those with dry throats can find respite at the Damascus Brewery or the Appalachian Heritage Distillery. Mojo’s Trailside Café and Coffee is another favorite in the hiking community. Meanwhile, those with appetites for typical American cuisine can get their fill at both Wicked Chicken as well as Damascus Diner.
Resupply: There’s a Walmart in nearby Abingdon and a Food City a few miles outside of Damascus proper, which some hostel proprietors might be willing to shuttle hikers to. Easier to access is the Dollar General near the main drag.
Outfitters: Several outfitters in town ensure more than enough options for hikers to re-up on gear needs: Damascus Outfitters, Mt Rogers Outfitters, and even a few bike shops.
Lodging: Like any good trail town on the AT, Damascus has several establishments where tired hikers can lay their heads. I stayed at Woodchuck Hostel in what I believe was Chuck’s final year of operation. Other popular options for hikers include Crazy Larry’s and The Broken Fiddle Hostel.
Amenities: Damascus provides everything the hiking community might want, and it does it in style. Locals are as hiker-friendly as any trail in the Triple Crown circuit. Local businesses are laced with history and colloquial flair. I particularly like it as a substantial rest opportunity before hikers begin their first miles in the AT’s longest state.
My Experience: Back in March of 2018, I spent the night not far from the TN/VA border. It was wet and muddy, and neither of my lighters would work, so I was looking forward to staying in town. Woodchuck’s Hostel offered me a warm bed as well as a resupply opportunity at Walmart. The good people at Damascus Outfitters helped me fix a zipper issue on my sleeping bag.
I ate my fill of Woodchuck’s homemade hot breakfast the following morning before walking some 28 miles through snow to Thomas Knob shelter. Considering the slog I’d soon face through fresh powder in the Grayson Highlands, the respite I received in Damascus was invaluable.
Continental Divide Trail
Steamboat Springs, CO
About: Steamboat Springs is a ski community and the last resupply option for NOBO hikers in Colorado. It’s known for its world-class skiing, natural hot springs, and watersport opportunities on the Yampa River. Due to its proximity to the Wyoming border, Steamboat Springs, CO, and Encampment, WY, are sometimes thought of as the unofficial halfway points on the CDT.
Accessibility: “The Boat” is about a 30-minute drive west of the CDT at Rabbit Ears Pass. NOBOs must endure several hours of road walking along US Route 40 before reaching the hitching intersection. SOBOs must navigate the Mt. Zirkel wilderness before arriving at the highway. Given its prevalent outdoor culture and robust transportation nexus, hitching out of Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs is relatively easy for many hikers.
Food: The culinary delights of Steamboat Springs help elevate it over most communities on the Divide. Vaqueros Mexican hit the spot, although it was slightly lacking when compared to the Mexican cuisine of New Mexico. Winona’s Restaurant and Bakery delighted me with a scrumptious scramble, as well as one of the best cinnamon rolls on the entire Divide (the five-layer bar wasn’t bad either). These two businesses were but a taste of the offerings available down Steamboat’s main drag.
Resupply: Among the many resupply options in Steamboat Springs, I preferred to shop at City Market. I particularly enjoyed quaffing a half gallon of Blue Bunny ice cream, which I’ve never seen in the PNW (eat your heart out, Tillamook).
Outfitters: Most gear aficionados like to visit BAP! headquarters (aka the Big Agnes factory store). The outdoor brand is a long-time staple in Steamboat Springs that has a wide-ranging influence on the outdoor industry. Straightline Sports offers some basic essentials but mostly caters to front-country camping and fishing.
I’d argue the Ski Haus is the best outfitter for thru-hikers in town: I exchanged some worn Darn Tough socks, bought new shoes, and had my trekking poles tightened there. The employees at the Ski Haus were friendly and knowledgeable about thru-hiker needs, given the outfitter’s proximity to both the CDT and the Colorado Trail.
Lodging: Several chain hotels, as well as some higher-end resorts, dot the town. Many hikers prefer the Rabbit Ears Motel due to its pricing and location. There’s also a KOA on the outside of town. For hikers hoping to get in and out of town in one day, there are some delightful campsites on the CDT less than a mile north of Rabbit Ears Pass.
Amenities: Whether posting up for true rest or taking a leisurely zero, Steamboat has everything you could need. Besides eateries and gear shops, the Yampa River runs through town and is a fun feature to explore. I also recommend the Yampa River Botanic Park for those who have extra time.
My Experience: Cleansweep and I were on a mission to reach Steamboat Springs as early as possible to maximize our time. That meant hiking 30+ miles by the early afternoon, arriving at Rabbit Ears Pass just in time to acquire a hitch from some down-to-earth locals. In Steamboat proper, we stayed with my friend and former coworker, Anna.
In town, I mailed home extra clothes I had for Colorado, bought new shoes, replaced my socks, and ate my heart out. Leaving Steamboat was one of my only true neros on the entire trail—we hiked less than three miles after hitching out in the evening the following day, allowing our bodies maximum rest before venturing into Wyoming and beyond.
Silver City, NM
About: Silver City is located on the northern fringes of the Chihuahuan Desert and serves as the county seat for Grant County. It boomed in the 1800s as a mining community but has since transitioned into a town known for its southwestern culture and recreation opportunities.
Accessibility: Here’s the good news: it’s on the official CDT redline. The trail runs directly through Silver City before veering north toward the Gila River. Here’s the bad news: the northbound redline involves a road walk along US Highway 180 for several hours.
Food: The food in Silver City is perhaps the best of the entire New Mexico section of the CDT. LA Cocina Restaurant was one of my favorite Mexican meals all summer. We enjoyed generous portions and (pretty solid) beer at Little Toad Creek Brewery for dinner. I enjoyed a plate of sugary French toast and a cold beer for breakfast at Adobe Springs Café and left satisfied. Finally, as I set off for the Gila River, I chowed down on a deliciously thick and savory sandwich from Chaos.
Resupply: There’s a Walmart on the edge of downtown. Silver City Food Basket is closer to trail for those who want to walk less. Some hikers might prefer the Silver City Food Co-op downtown—but be aware they don’t have many plastic water bottle options.
Outfitters: The town’s two gear stores should meet all your needs: Gila Hike & Bike, which offered a surprising amount of long-trail-themed gear that was not specific to the CDT, and Morning Star Sports.
Lodging: Not far from trail is an RV park for those who prefer to save cash. Alternatively, stay downtown at the Palace Hotel or the Murray Hotel. I split a room at the Palace with two other hikers and was satisfied with the value there. Unfortunately, Triple Crown Hostel closed for good in May of 2022.
Amenities: With its murals and local charm, Silver City feels like a mining town reinvented as a hippy, artsy community that serves as the jumping-off point for many would-be hikers or bikers eager to leap into the desert landscape. Lordsburg is closer to Crazy Cook and offers anything a hiker would need, but Silver City feels like the first iconic community on the Divide.
My Experience: I camped at the last water source before US Highway 180, then woke up at four a.m. to do the road walk into town. The trail from Lordsburg had been tough on me and the other hikers in my party, so we were all eager to crush the flat terrain and maximize our time in civilization.
Silver City offered everything I’d ever need from an overnight in town: resupply, a new water filter, culinary delights, a solid hotel room, and even some Star Wars original trilogy on the TV. Before venturing into the Gila Wilderness, I nabbed a meal with Turquoise, a hiker I met on the PCT who does trail angel work on the CDT.
- Shasta, CA: Beautiful town, awesome outdoor culture and gear, and lots to do —just not great accommodations and not very walkable.
- Ashland, OR: Indexes high in every category, just doesn’t offer the same level of small-town charm as its competitors on the PCT.
- Bend, OR: Fantastic city with the best beer on the Triple Crown, but can be expensive and is far from trail.
- Hot Springs, NC: Plenty of places to stay and great restaurants, but I felt it wasn’t worth the overnight due to its location.
- Hanover, NH: Is located on trail, has great restaurants and outdoor culture—just a bit crowded and expensive (Dartmouth = college town).
- Pagosa Springs, CO: This was the hardest community to leave off the list. It’s a beautiful town with awesome water features and great resupply/restaurants. But it’s just a bit too expensive, and the PO is a long walk from most hotels.
- Lander, WY: Perhaps the best hospitality I experienced on trail with lots of food and resupply options, outdoor culture and gear (NOLS HQ), etc. Just too tough a hitch from trail to make the list.
Featured image: Photo via Joseph Gonzalez. Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.