Mountain Project Logo

Road Trips on the Cheap


Original Post
Db5504 · · Shippensburg, PA · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 950

As an avid climber, I have ventured across most of western and central PA bouldering, trad climbing, and on rare occasion even sport climbing. This has taken me on mostly Quartzite and Sandstone, but not much beyond that. Thus, having come into a decent job, as well as still being a student with his summers off, I have been looking for a good, cheap trip to make. I'm looking in the range of about $300 for two weeks.I know it's tight, but I'm not adverse to camping, backpacking, and biking when possible to save gas and lodging money. That being said, food becomes the crux of the adventure. So far, my options appear to be as follows:

  • NRG
  • RRG
  • Grayson Highlands
  • Gunks

Any suggestions on destination/how to stretch my money?


Eric Chabot · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 35

You should go to NRG. There's free camping, which is hard to come by at the Gunks. Never been to Grayson Highlands but I suspect it is not in the same league as the other crags you list. 

Food is not the crux--you would have to eat anyway right? Unless you are eating on your parent's dime, food costs are not any different than what you'd be spending anyway, as long as you limit the number of times you eat out. That is where you'll blow your money. Set a realistic limit for the number of 'eat-outs' you will do on the trip and stick to it--maybe one per week. An 'Eat-out' includes EVERYTHING, even a sandwich from subway, so save your one eat out for Pies and Pints. Your source for food is the grocery store. Do some basic meal planning and shop regularly at the grocery store. This will keep you healthier too. On a day where you do a long drive, stop, get out at a rest area and bust out your stove or make a sandwich from the food in your cooler / food box that you bought at the grocery store. Any food you buy that you can put right in your mouth is guaranteed to be more expensive and less healthy than food you buy at the grocery store.

Eating out is convenient and fun, but it is a luxury and you're paying top dollar for trash calories 90% of the time.

Have fun!

Brian Abram · · Celo, NC · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 478

NRG and RRG are hot in the summer. Gunks can be expensive. I'm not sure why Grayson Highlands is on your list except that it can be cooler. If you are looking that far south, and you're set on the East Coast, then I'll plug North Carolina. There are several crags here that are legit nice in summer: Ship Rock, Moores, Hawksbill, the North Side of Looking Glass, the North Side of Cedar. Hidden Valley, Virginia is hot but can be shady if you want sport. Though it's not prime season, there's truly world class bouldering toward Boone and by the river in Linville Gorge (plus swimming). Tons (tons) of easy, free camping around here

Adrienne DiRosario · · Troy, NY · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0

There is free camping at the gunks to be found BUT a day pass is up to around $20.

Dan Knisell · · Townsend, MA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 2,377

Check out the WWOOF website. World wide opportunities on organic farms. Generally you can find farms to stay at who will also feed you but there’s a catch. You need to work some at the farm. Typical places ask for 20 hours a week. Some ask for more. Some ask for less. I stayed at farms all across the nation and road tripped for months on very very little money.

Plan on keeping food in your vehicle as well as a propane cook top.  I ended up eating lots of rice and beans and supplemented it with salsa to spice it up.  The above poster is right. The grocery store is your best option. We also pillaged continental breakfasts at hotels but be prepared to be confronted. Drury Inn had the best breakfasts.  

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Sounds like a small step up from being homeless. Maybe save more money so things aren't so tight?

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 582
FrankPS wrote:

Sounds like a small step up from being homeless. Maybe save more money so things aren't so tight?

My dear climbing friend, sincere condolences on the severe onset of advanced curmudgeon.

His profile says he's 19. :-)

OP, have fun! Save back enough to buy gas for the return trip (pay attention to how much it is outbound), and milk your money as far as possible. 

Oh. Make a cardboard sign, "will belay for food". That should net ya some dinners!

Best, OLH

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Old lady H wrote:

My dear climbing friend, sincere condolences on the severe onset of advanced curmudgeon.

His profile says he's 19. :-)

OP, have fun! Save back enough to buy gas for the return trip (pay attention to how much it is outbound), and milk your money as far as possible. 

Oh. Make a cardboard sign, "will belay for food". That should net ya some dinners!

Best, OLH

What will he do if his car needs a $300 repair 300 miles from home? 

You call it curmudgeonly, I call it realistic. You'll get there, someday. Maybe.

Edit: You're telling a young guy to hold up a cardboard sign for food? Like a panhandler? Be the grown-up, Helen. How's that for curmudgeonly? :)

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 582
FrankPS wrote:

What will he do if his car needs a $300 repair 300 miles from home? 

You call it curmudgeonly, I call it realistic. You'll get there, someday. Maybe.

Edit: You're telling a young guy to hold up a cardboard sign for food? Like a panhandler? Be the grown-up, Helen. How's that for curmudgeonly? :)

Sheesh, Frank. I was thinking of this guy...

And, he can put a repair on a credit card, or he's stuck there until he works something out.

He's talking about a two week trip on the east coast, not getting stuck without a return plane ticket, in a country where you don't speak the language. 

More than a few of my peer group did just that, when they were 19. And yes, somebody had to bail them out.

$300 for two weeks doesn't sound wildly irresponsible. 

Sorry, Frank. I guess I've spent too long living on not much. Clouds my thinking.

Best, Helen

Dan Knisell · · Townsend, MA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 2,377

Don’t let Frank’s comments deter you. More often than not climbing is venturing into the unknown. Road tripping is very much the same. Expect bumps in the road. It is only two weeks, you’ll be just fine. Have a backup plan incase of a hiccup.

Eli · · GMC3500 · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 3,024

Adirondacks. 

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

Gunks will be too expensive.  Go for the New- if there's free camping all you'll need to pay for is food and gas. Just camp and cook your own food. $300 for two weeks, you'll be fine.

Phil Lauffen · · Innsbruck, AT · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 2,425
FrankPS wrote:

What will he do if his car needs a $300 repair 300 miles from home? 

He'll probably figure it out, like the rest of us. It's probably his parents' car anyways.

Have fun! don't be an idiot with your money, don't drive much, and you can stretch $300 a ways.

s.price · · the deck of Rover or Pagosa… · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

I would go for it. Take Phil's advice. A cooler, plastic bin for dry goods, stove and cookware can take you far. If I was only 19 again...

Have a great time.

Db5504 · · Shippensburg, PA · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 950

Thank you for all the feedback! to address a few concerns/questions brought up:

First of all, I did give some thought to Boone/Linville, as they are within about 300 miles of me (I'm only about half an hour north of Morgantown, WV), but they are a little on the expensive side due to the distance. Grayson Highlands is cooler, a unique experience, and within about 5 hours, as well as having free camping in the MRNRA, so there's a lot going for it on a trip of this minute magnitude.

As for Frank's comment regarding homelessness, you're not wrong. But luckily, I've spent many a night camped out in my jeep eating canned baked beans and ramen, and I wouldn't trade those nights for the world. Thank you for the concern though, its nice to see people looking out for one another.

Old Lady H, thank you for the support! Being 19, I'm still very used to being scoffed at by anyone who is older than me!

Finally, thank you everyone for the advice, especially regarding my car. Currently it's in no condition to drive thanks to an unfortunate rendezvous between the front bumper and a tree, but I hope to have her back in condition as soon as I can when I get back from college. Thanks again to everyone, and feel free to mention anything that might have been left out! this will be my first major climbing trip, so I have no doubt that it'l be full of adventures and misadventures!

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 582

Look, IMO, if you are a climber, you should understand when you are in over your head, and when, and how to back off. Yes, you will perhaps mess up, but you probably have at least thought about down climbing, or skipped climbing altogether for various reasons.

Same thing here, except safer, lol! Think it out, make plans for the trip, have a plan to get back home. Then, go have fun until you have to head home. Have a disaster plan in place too (friend or family to rescue you). Stay in touch, if you are going solo. I do know people who have traveled the world this way. 

What you propose is pretty low risk, and low consequence also (meaning the mess is likely to be manageable).

And yes, I am guilty of rolling my eyes at "kids" on occasion. This is not one of them.

Best, OLH

T Edwards · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

What kind of climbing do you want to do, and are you planning to travel solo or will you have a partner coming with you?

Grayson Highlands is an excellent bouldering area and a generally great place to be in the summer. That said, unless you want to leave your car in an open lot off Whitetop Rd and hike in 5-8 miles (depending on the part of the park you're hoping to visit), then camp along the AT (which you can absolutely do if you want, but might not want to do with two weeks' supplies plus crash pads), there's a $10 fee per 3 days of parking there, which will eat into your budget pretty quickly. It's also not close to food (the nearest full grocery store by travel time is an hour away in West Jefferson, NC, even if Damascus, VA is closer by distance), so leaving on a midweek restocking trip is probably not ideal. If the conditions are wrong for climbing, the Virginia Creeper Trail runs nearby and makes a nice relaxing (35 mile) bike ride.

Linville Gorge has pretty quickly become one of my favorite places in the Eastern US. You can camp there for up to 14 days for free, which will help recoup some of the extra you'll spend on gas getting there. If you have a partner coming with you or want to rope solo, I'll second all the recommendations for it. If you're hoping to run into random people to climb with, I think you might be disappointed – there will be people in some parts of it, particularly around Table Rock, but other areas are often pretty quiet. Having spent several weekends solo backpacking through the gorge, seeing a total of 4-6 other people all day (mostly not climbers) is pretty normal on Shortoff, for example.

If you won't already have a partner and want to do something other than boulder, you might want to shoot for one of the other areas on your list. It will be easier to meet a rope partner by chance at any of them.

Food-wise, dry rice and beans are pretty much the way to go for 'cheap', even compared to instant ramen and canned beans. They're staple foods for most of the world for a good reason, and they pack pretty well too. Lentils in particular are a good option because of their low cooking time, and lend themselves to a bunch of different cuisines, so take your pick of whatever sounds good. If you don't have a stove to cook with, you might be interested in buying some potatoes and aluminum foil and burying them in the coals of a small fire to cook – just be wary of both weather and fire warnings.

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 430
FrankPS wrote:

What will he do if his car needs a $300 repair 300 miles from home? 

You call it curmudgeonly, I call it realistic. You'll get there, someday. Maybe.

Edit: You're telling a young guy to hold up a cardboard sign for food? Like a panhandler? Be the grown-up, Helen. How's that for curmudgeonly? :)


This dude has never had an adventure in his life I will wager. There is so much wrong with this post.

@OP Carpe Diem Bro at 19yo take advantage of every moment (but not to the detriment of others). Better than to have never lived at all like some apparently.

Paddy O'Hulk · · Lexington, KY · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 20

Hit up the Red! Less people than in the spring and fall, but still enough to mingle. Sure, it can get humid, but rule 5. 

Mike Palasek · · Columbus, OH · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 0

How about Seneca Rocks? Cheap or free camping. Lots of adventure there!

LiamB Byrer · · North Conway, NH · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 60

Adirondacks, without a doubt.

Free camping. Weeks of climbing in walking distance. Few crowds. Swimming. Fishing. Supply runs take 30 minutes and you can hitch both ways. 

It is the answer.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply to "Road Trips on the Cheap"
in the Beginning Climbers

Log In to Reply