The town stops along the PCT in Southern California have been wonderful, ranging from large campgrounds to RV Parks, businesses/community centers opening their property for free camping for hikers to hostels and even trail angels who open their homes to host hikers. These stops have been incredible with offering all of the accommodations a hiker could ever need and want – a free or cheap place to sleep or set up their tent at, laundry facilities, warm showers, WiFi, an option to refill water without having to filter it and the opportunity to resupply for the next section of trail.
Hiker Town was by far the most interesting stop along trail in Southern California. Hiker Town is a piece of property along the PCT, right off of Highway 138 that hosts hikers throughout the hiking season. There are small, western style buildings located on the property where, for a nominal fee, hikers can rent out for the night without having to set up their tent outside in the wind. The rooms are very basic and consist of a door, a window and something to sleep on.
In addition to camping, Hiker Town offers drinking water for hikers. There’s a restroom and bucket laundry also available for hikers. If a donation is made, hikers can even have access to a warm shower inside one of the little buildings on the property.
Last year along my PCT hike, my trail family and I stayed at Hiker Town for two nights. Upon arrival, Hiker Town wasn’t the most inviting place we’ve stayed at on trail, but it was a free place to stay and we had access to water, a place to camp and free WiFi. We skipped the option to rent out one of the rooms and set up our tents instead. We also made a donation in exchange for a warm shower. There was a van available for us hikers to use if we wanted to drive four miles down the highway to the gas station/market. At Neenach Market, hikers could purchase hot food from a limited (and pricy menu) that was made-to-order along with shop from a very limited (and overpriced) selection of gas station food, snacks, beer and soda. It’s important to note here, the owner of Hiker Town also owns and operates the Neenach Market.
Anyone who reads the comments for Hiker Town on Guthook (a popular app that provides a GPS-capable map and trail guide to thru-hikers) can see there are several, mixed reviews for this stop. After reading the comments, it’s obvious there’s some sort of turf war going on – Neenach Market (the gas station/market located four miles down the highway from Hiker Town) vs Wee Vill Market (an RV Park located six miles down the highway from Hiker Town.) Thru-hikers can bring a lot of income into the small town stops along the PCT, so it make sense why these places would want to compete for thru-hiker business. The way these two places go about getting business from thru-hikers is very strange.
Last year in 2018, the fierce competitive market didn’t effect my trail family and I. We came through, camped at Hiker Town, ate at the market and then got back on trail and continued on with our hike. This year, I had a very different experience.
It started the morning we left Casa de Luna. The volunteers at Casa de Luna were giving us postcards with information for the Wee Vill Market on them. We were told to skip Hiker Town all together because it was weird and instead call to have someone from Wee Vill Market pick us up because it would be a much better (and safer option) for us hikers. Normally I appreciate getting a heads up on upcoming town stops, but the way Wee Vill Market kept getting pushed on us felt strange to me. Were they getting a kick back from hikers who stayed there? Or did they really have our best interests in mind and wanted to provide a better option for us to stay at along trail? I wasn’t sure.
Less than a mile from Hiker Town, right as the trail ended and the flat, dirt, road walk started, I saw a large sign for Wee Vill Market posted on a property adjacent to the trail. Did the town of Neenach and its residents hate Hiker Town so much they wanted to advertise the market to hikers as they walked by?
What really made the whole turf war between the two markets obvious to me was when we reached the end of the dirt road and were getting ready to cross the highway. There was an older guy in a car, waiting to greet hikers as we got off trail. Some guy I had never met or even seen before approached Bleeder and I as we were getting ready to cross the highway and said, “Hey! I’ve been waiting for you. I was told to give you a ride to the market where you’ll have access to free bunks to sleep in for the night along with a free BBQ that we’re hosting for all of the hikers. Get in my car and I’ll take you there.” My guard went up immediately as I wondered to myself, “I’m sorry, but WHO are you?” I couldn’t help but feel very skeptical about the whole situation.
We told the guy he must have had us confused with someone else. We declined his offer and told him we were heading across the street to Hiker Town. I didn’t want to get in the car with this guy. He seemed to be friendly enough, but his approach was strange. Bleeder picked up on it too. We honestly hadn’t even thought about going down the road to the market because 1) We stayed at Hiker Town last year without any problems and 2) We really only wanted a place close to the trail to sleep at that night and refill our water so we could get back on trail in the morning.
Bleeder and I walked across the street and made our way to Hiker Town where we were approached by an older guy, who we assumed was running the place. The guy told us he didn’t have any availability for us to stay – all of his little rooms were already rented out for the night. He then mentioned the guy at the highway and asked if we saw him. Bleeder and I told him we saw the guy, but wanted to come over across the street first because we weren’t really sure who the guy on the highway was. After talking to the guy at Hiker Town, the guy on the highway seemed legit. We walked back towards the highway and flagged down the guy we had talked to earlier.
We accepted the ride from the first guy and got in his car. As we headed down the highway, the guy started telling us all about Wee Vill Market and how bad of a place it was for hikers – an RV Park full of meth heads who were looking to steal hiker’s packs. A very safe place, especially for females. He did his best trying to convince us on how we were so much better off staying at the Neenach Market for the evening. He also went on to tell us that his wife sent him down here to help out the hikers, alluding to being some sort of trail angel, never once mentioning he might be an employee of the market he was taking us to. He then mentioned that there would be a free BBQ for all of us hikers that night and free doughnuts in the morning, along with free bunks for us to stay in for the night. Sounded great to us. We were just happy to be out of the cold, rain and wind.
When we got to the market, we saw that there were a number of other hikers already there. The “bunks” the man was referring to were actually a couple of storage rooms that had Halloween and Christmas decorations pushed aside so we could set up our sleeping pads and bags on the floor. Not exactly what I had in mind for a “bunk”, but as a dirty thru-hiker who’s been hiking in terrible weather over the last week, the idea of sleeping indoors anywhere sounded amazing, even if it were in a storage room.
We had access to a few flush toilets both inside the market as well as in one of the storage rooms. There was talk of having laundry and showers available, but those options never materialized for us. As far as the free BBQ, there was no BBQ. There was however a grill at the market where we could order warm food made-to-order from a limited (and pricey) menu. In fact, I saw the same guy who gave us a ride to the market, behind the grill making the made-to-order food. Clearly, he was an employee of the market, which I found very interesting.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people who tell me something and then don’t follow through with what they say. I don’t know if this guy blatantly lied to us, telling us whatever we wanted to hear, just to get us to come to the market where we would spend our money on food, drinks and snacks. Or maybe this guy had the best intentions with providing us hikers with a warm place to stay and a free BBQ, but something went wrong when setting up the BBQ? I want to believe the later, but I never once saw anyone trying to set up a BBQ while we were there. I did see plenty of people in line paying for food though.
It was nice to spend the evening sleeping inside a warm building, out of the wind and rain. I did my best to ignore the creepy holiday decorations and tune out the snoring hikers. At least there was no need for us to set an alarm in the morning because come 6am, most everyone in the room was getting up and packing their stuff so they could get back to the trail. No one slept in past 6:30 in our room.
In the morning, there were no doughnuts. I wasn’t surprised. I guess after seeing the BBQ promise fall through, I wasn’t holding my breath for doughnuts. We were able to catch a ride back to Hiker Town from the same guy who gave us a ride to the market the night before. This time, he tried telling us if we stayed another night at the market, they would be cooking a huge tri-tip dinner for all of the hikers. Really? What happened to the BBQ that was supposed to happen the night before?
Once we got back to HIker Town, Bleeder and I wasted no time heading for the trail, even though there were plenty of dark, menacing clouds off in the distance and a full rainbow being formed by the light mist of rain coming down on us. At this point, we were ready to get the hell out of here and get back to hiking.
I wish I could go back and check out Wee Vill Market for myself, just to see if what the guy from Neenach Market was saying was true or not. The reality of being a thru-hiker is at the end of the day, we’re tired. When you spend most of the day hiking, an easy way into town (or a market or a warm place to sleep indoors) is much more desirable and hard to say no to than one you have to wait for or plan ahead. Wee Vill Market could have very well been a much better option, but Neenach Market, despite the empty promises made and the strange approach from the market’s employee was just much easier option to get to and get out of the bad weather from.
After our experience this year at Hiker Town, I can see why there are so many mixed reviews about the place on the Guthook app. As a thru-hiker, we’re limited in where we can go by either our feet or the ability to hitch a ride to wherever we need to go. Most people know this and are more than willing to help us get to wherever we need to go. Cell service is often non-existent on trail, making it difficult to call an Uber or a shuttle for a ride. Unfortunately, there are also a few people who use this to take advantage of us hikers. At Hiker Town and Neenach Market this year, we did get a warm place to stay indoors for the evening, but it felt like I got taken advantage of.
Hikers beware and use your best judgement for this town stop.