Burner Express

In my second installment about Burning Man 2023 I would like to promote the Burner Express as a very convenient and inexpensive way to get to and from Burning Man. Before I go further singing the praises of the Burner Express, let me address the alternatives, which are either flying or driving.

I do not know much about flying into Buring Man. Many pilots fly themselves to Burning Man. Just outside the boundary of Burning Man are about 100 parked aircraft at an official FAA airport. If you have a small plane, this is probably the way to go. If you don’t have a plane, Burner Air is another option. This is a joint program between Burning Man and CamSam Aviation. I have never used this service but have flown on small commercial aircraft in Idaho and Costa Rica. Based on those experiences, expect high prices and strict limits on luggage weight. For more information, I suggest starting with the Burner Express Air FAQ

The way the vast majority get to and from Burning Man is by some kind of vehicle. This is how I did it my two previous burns, in 2018 and 2022. The big problem with this method is long lines. Unless you arrive or leave in the middle of the event (I would put this period at Tuesday to Friday), expect long lines, especially leaving. When I left last year about 4AM on Monday morning, we sat in a seven-hour line to get out. Those leaving the event on Monday this year, the day the roads opened, encountered 9 to 10 hours waits to get out. This does not include other driving time. The waits are simply to get onto the nearest paved road (highway 34).

Google Maps

The driving distance between the Reno airport and the “man” at Burning Man is only 124 miles. Google Maps puts it at a 2-hour/13-minute drive, which I’m sure is true 51 weeks of the year. The good news is you can get there that fast on the Burner Express during the week of the event. The buses are allowed a special access road that bypasses the road for private vehicles and takes you right to the Burning Man bus terminal (if I can call it that).

The buses are nice ones with fabric seats, air conditioning and a bathroom. They pick up from either the Reno Airport or the Civic Center in San Francisco. This year I took it to and from the Reno Airport. Here are the prices each way:
Bus ticket: $129
Bicycle add-on: $40
Extra luggage (two pieces) add-on: $40
Five gallons of water voucher: $9 (maximum of four)

I would expect the price of the basic bus ticket to be higher from San Francisco.


View from my back seat traveling to Burning Man.

For the water, you’re expected to have your own five-gallon container, which is a standard size. You must show up to a particular spot near the bus depot Sunday to Thursday to present the voucher and fill your container. Be careful not to spill or the staff will rebuke you for wasting water and creating mud.

They are generous with the size of luggage. My ticket says the combined measurements (length + width + height) is 62 inches with a maximum weight of 50 pounds. I never saw anybody getting out a ruler or scale, so I doubt they enforce this strictly. Be warned that canvas or Shift Pod tents are enormous when packed and they probably would draw the line with those. I would imagine that many burners, including me, had some of their stuff taken in their friend’s vehicles. In my case, I had a friend take my unicycle, tent, and a lot of bottles of alcohol for the camp (thanks Kat!).

The process of boarding the busses in Reno was very well organized. I would estimate about 5,000 Burners boarded buses that day from Reno alone with tickets over only a three-hour period. They had lots of volunteers to help. Once on the bus, it was only about a 2.5-hour drive to the bus terminal at Burning Man. From the bus terminal, there are smaller shuttles that make loops around Burning Man, but I imagine most people just carried their luggage to their camp, including me.

By the way, helping with the Burner Express is something you may volunteer to do. I feel strongly Burners should volunteer somehow at least a couple of shifts doing something. There are lots of choices. Probably the easiest and most fun thing to do is being a Lamp Lighter. Volunteering is in line with three of the Ten Principles: participation, civic responsibility, and communal effort.

This year, there were three cohorts of people leaving in the Burner Express, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Both Saturday and Sunday the roads were closed due to the flooding. I hear a few busses picked up people who made the five-mile walk through the mud over the weekend to the nearest paved road but can’t confirm that. When they opened the roads on Monday, three days of bus passengers clamored to leave in one day.

Bus Shuttle

This picture shows the shuttles taking passengers to the big busses. One could also walk the half mile, as the person seeing here is doing.

That resulted in long lines to get checked in but was otherwise pretty well organized. In my case, this line was three hours long, but I had a friend hold my spot while I went back and forth between my camp and the bus terminal with luggage. Those standing in line were very well-behaved and patient. I think the line didn’t need to be as long as it did. They had only four windows of people checking in passengers, which seemed to be the choke point. After checking in the small shuttles drove a half mile further out to where the busses were waiting. That is probably not how they usually do it, but given the huge crowds, it seemed to make sense to board people further away. One could also walk a half mile from the bus terminal to the big busses, which I did, to avoid standing in line for the shuttles. Once on the bus, it was again a quick 2.5 hours to Reno.

I would also like to add that as an incentive to get people to take the Burner Express, the organization offered non-transferable tickets at the cheap price of $575 (plus fees) to those who took the Burner Express. This is how I got my ticket. This offer was by invitation only, which I didn’t get. However, a friend who took the Burner Express in 2022 gave me the link, which worked just fine.

In conclusion, if you have any choice in the matter, I highly recommend the Burner Express for getting to and from Burning Man.

For more information, please see Burner Express Bus Travel Information