Introducing the Handoff Hike!

Magic Hour Wildflowers

Magic Hour Wildflowers

Since I often hike solo, most of my hikes are out-and-back or occasionally loop hikes. When I have a friend along who has a car, sometimes we set up a shuttle hike where we leave one car at the end of a hike and drive around to the beginning and hike back to the second car. Shuttle hikes are a nice way to cover a lot of ground without backtracking, but setting up shuttles often takes forever.

The other night, sitting around the campsite after a fantastic shuttle hike on the Dyke Trail in Gunnison National Forest from Lake Irwin to Horse Ranch Park, I thought of an alternative to the shuttle hike: the Handoff Hike.

Beginning of the Dyke Trail at Lake Irwin. We hiked the 6 miles to Horse Ranch Park to our other car.

Beginning of the Dyke Trail at Lake Irwin. We hiked the 6 miles to Horse Ranch Park to our other car.

Passing below the volcanic dyke jutting out from the Ruby Mountain complex.

Passing below the volcanic dyke jutting out from the Ruby Mountain complex.

End of the Dyke Trail at Horse Ranch Park

End of the Dyke Trail at Horse Ranch Park

For a handoff hike you need two cars and at least two people. You start off separately and drive one car to the beginning of the trail and one car to the end and then you each hike solo from your trailhead to meet somewhere in the middle for a snack, or lunch, or even for the night. Then, and this is the most important step of the hike: you hand off your car keys to the other person and they hand you theirs, then you each keep hiking solo to the other person’s car to finish the hike. No backtracking and no time or gas wasted driving back and forth to set up the shuttle. Of course you’ll need to meet somewhere to re-trade cars and keys, but that’s the perfect opportunity to share a Victory Meal.

One of the things I like most about the Handoff Hike is that you get to hike solo, at your own pace, but then you meet up to share lunch and compare notes. You also have a safety net of having somebody watching out for you in the wilderness. You can also do this with a larger group of people, or even as a multi-day backpacking trip.

Warning sign at  Gunnison National Forest trailhead

Warning sign at Gunnison National Forest trailhead

I won’t claim to have invented this mode of hiking, but I’ve never heard of it before and I’ve covered a lot of trail miles. Has anybody out there ever done a Handoff Hike?

Twisted Aspen

Twisted Aspen

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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13 Responses to Introducing the Handoff Hike!

  1. Cynthia says:

    I recently saw this method of hike called a “Key Exchange”. Clever people everywhere. 🙂

  2. I love the first pic, with the wildflowers. Looks like a great time!

  3. nutsfortreasure says:

    Wow I love that idea!

    So if I hike with my dog and come across those Guardians would we be OK? Always prepared for wild animals when we go walking but ones such as JT with a job I never gave thought of.

  4. Is solo hiking a safe thing to do? I live near part of the Appalachian Trail, and some really bad things have happened to people who were hiking alone, or even in couples. That trail seems to draw crazy people like flies and some of them are deadly.

  5. socalities says:

    Lovely trail. I had never heard of a “handoff hike” before, although such a hike makes perfect sense. I can’t wait to go on one soon!

  6. Mary – love the photos. What a great place to hike. I’ve never heard of the hand-off hike, but it might be fun to try with Clifford. Carol

  7. I have done this a couple times, where we meet up for the night and camp together. I agree that it is a great way to solo hike without being completely alone. Also, you only need one tent, stove, bear can etc… so you can share the weight burden,

  8. Great idea for a hike!

    And I would bet money that that twisted Aspen is a Native American Thong Tree!

    I have seen Thong Trees here in New Mexico in both the Cibola National Forest in the Sandias and in the Santa Fe National Forest north of Santa Fe.


  9. Check out my blog post from a ride we did a couple months ago in the Sandia Mountains. The 21st photo down is of a Thong Tree.


  10. Great pics and a hiking technique. 🙂

  11. furrygnome says:

    No hand-off hikes here, but I do prefer to hike solo like you. It does look like you have some wonderful trails to hike on, however you arrange it.

  12. Patrick D says:

    That’s really unique!

  13. Pingback: Aspens & Arborglyphs | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

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