It’s high summer and, for many Cascadians, a time for driving to ocean beaches, island retreats, and wilderness adventures. What’s a car-less family like mine to do?
Well, we could rent an SUV and follow the crowds, but we’re not eager to. We need your help to plan a great car-less family vacation on a middle-class budget.
We’ve already devoted a week to vacation at home in Seattle. We visited with family and friends, did three big family gatherings, and ate out a lot. We visited tourist meccas like the Pike Place Market and the Seattle Center along with lesser known gems like the Henry Art Gallery. (The kids hated the art outing less than they had expected to, thanks largely to the Maya Lin exhibit. Favorite part: a huge wall with thousands of pins stuck in it in the shape of the Columbia River.) We poked around Seattle neighborhoods like Lower Queen Anne and the University District. We kicked a soccer ball at four local parks. We walked to the library, the bakery, the bike shop, and the bookstore. We did crossword puzzles and slept in. It was as relaxing a vacation as I can remember, and cheap, too.
We’ve got another ten days off in August, and we’re inclined to do some car-less traveling. What should the family do? What have been your best car-less vacations?
(Too bad we can’t afford to charter a sleep-aboard sail boat (sigh).)
I wrote up our car-free trip to Vancouver, BC last year. Amtrak, Skytrain, and walking got us where we needed to go.
My favorite vacation ever (and I’ve traveled quite a bit) was to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. I’ll be upfront in saying that we rented a car from Minneapolis / St. Paul but only because the 9 travelers in our party were all arriving about 1 day apart. Our original plan was to arrange for a shuttle up to the Boundary Waters with the outfitter we chose. And of course, the idea of boarding an airplane may negate the benefits of going car-less in the first place. It was a most peaceful and sublime wilderness excursion, one that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. In fact, I’ve been longing to return ever since. The trip from Minneapolis to the Gunflint Trail is about 7-8 hours by car, and our outfitter for the voyage did provide a shuttle service. Once at the outfitter, they supply cooking gear, canoes, food, you name it—and cabins to stay in before and after your wilderness voyage. All said and done, it was around $400-500 per person for 7 days in the wilderness, fully supplied but not including airfare.All I can say is that the Boundary Waters is a magical place—thousands of lakes connected by portages of between 500 ft. and 2 miles. It’s an entirely different experience than trekking in the wilderness. I have specific recommendations if this type of trip interests you but I’m guessing you’re looking for something more local and less carbon intensive. Although you could always ask Clark about Green Tags. Thought I’d throw it out there nonetheless.
I agree with Jeffy. I just returned from a nearly car-less trip to BC. We took Amtrak to Vancouver, stayed at a lovely hotel on the West End just steps from Stanley Park, zipped around on the Skytrain and bus, hung out on the beach and ate alot of great food. Then we ferried to Vancouver Island, where we drove about an hour from Nanaimo to Sidney and took the Washington state ferry through the San Juan Islands to Anacortes and then drove home. My husband had work to do on a remote part of the island, which necessiated a car. Otherwise we would have avoided it the entire trip.So my suggested itinerary: ride the train to Vancouver and base your operations from the West End, preferably the Buchan Hotel. Then take a bus to a ferry terminal and go to the Gulf Islands, which are perfect fot cycling and kayaking. My favorite is Galiano Island, a short ride from Vancouver. You can rent bikes close to the ferry terminal there. Bike up to Dionisio Point, a park with some of the most fantastic beaches in the islands—and no car access, so camping is easy. Have dinner at the Hummingbird Pub.See this great book: BC Car-free, for more ideas. Enjoy!
Car-less vacations consist of more discovery, less task-orientation. There is also less time spent getting somewhere, more time enjoying a place.When kids are transported in a car, they are bored, and the driver is continually perplexed by their symptoms of boredom. It usually takes at least one non-driving adult to mediate between the two solitudes.As to finding bikes to ride at terminal points (an excellent way to “scan” an area and get its essence), try buying and taking along folding bikes. I have been a folding-bike user for 35 years, and the Brompton I just bought shows how much better they have gotten over the decades. Each bike can be a piece of luggage, and are usually permitted on all common carriers. With some ingenuity, they can handle seats for smaller kids, and for slightly older ones, Toys-R-Us now has a kids model (with front and rear suspension).Chris Bradshaw, Ottawa
Omir the Storyteller
Does your family like baseball?If so, here’s a possibility: Take the train up to Everett and take in a couple of Aquasox games. It’s real baseball, on a real field, out under a real sky (we’ve been rained on before) with potential future big-leaguers learning their trade. It’s not Safeco Field by any means, but the tickets are much cheaper and the experience is much different from what you find in the big ballpark. There are corny between-inning promotions for local businesses, reasonably-priced food, games for the kids, and just a more relaxed atmpsphere.If you take Amtrak up to Everett you shold be able to get a taxi (or possibly the hotel shuttle) to the Cascadia Inn, which is where the ballplayers stay. They have a pretty decent free breakfast buffet and a shuttle to and from the ballpark. And if you’ve a mind to, you can cab or bus into downtown (they might even shuttle you—I’ve never bothered to ask) to see the sights. They have a very good children’s museum up there—our nine-year-old granddaughter loves it.I also recommend taking Amtrak to Vancouver or Portland. Not to Victoria, though; we did that once and the connections with the bus weren’t all that much fun (although we liked the ferry ride). Much better (but more expensive) to take the Clipper over and spend a couple of days.
Wow! A wealth of suggestions already. Thanks!Vancouver is a low-car city anyway, so it’s natural choice. And the Everett concept is intriguing.What about going east by train to someplace in the Rockies? Has anyone attempted such a trip without a car? Does Amtrak still stop at Glacier National Park?
We just returned from a trip to Glacier National Park. I was just commenting to my wife that next time we should take Amtrak. The Seattle-Chicago train (Empire Builder, I think) stops at a couple of the entry communities to the park, and there are regular shuttles connecting visitors to hotels, campgrounds, and trailheads along the Going-to-the-Sun road. Its a beautiful park with tons of activities for a family on vacation. I would recommend Glacier as a family vacation destination – and it seems like it would be a good car-free vacation destination.
If you take the Amtrak to Glacier, I recommend taking along some bikes, as most of the campgrounds are easy to get around on bike. Also, if a trip to town is necessary, its not far by bike and can be a great ride.
In other transit-based trips, Bus Chick took Sounder and Skagit Transit to Mount Vernon.
Speaking of BC, there’s also Victoria, which is easy to get to without a car via the Clipper. Just about everything there is within walking distance except for Butchart Gardens which you can easily find a tour bus to take you there. Victoria has lots of little museums and shops and an endless supply of gelato. My favorite almost carless trip was a weekend kayaking trip in the San Juans. We did drive to the ferry terminal, but after that there were no cars involved. I think you can get to the San Juans by the clipper or by float plane which would eliminate the drive to the ferry. You can rent scooters or bring bikes along on the ferry to see the island. You can camp or opt for a bed and breakfast. The alpaca and lavendar farms are free and great places to visit. Then there is the kayaking. This was an amazing way to see the waters of the Pacific. We has up close views of jellyfish, starfish, and a wonderful encouter with a group of playful seals. While we missed seeing orcas on our trip, there is always the possibility that you could run into them either kayaking or at Lime Kiln State Park.
I’m happy to see so many suggested the train. I once took a trip with my son (then age 9) from Denver to Palm Springs. He loved it and talked to every living person on the train and made friends with all the kids!! The sightseeing was beautiful, areas you don’t see by car and although it was long we were never bored! We dined in the dining car (the food was less than excellent) but my son was eager to converse with whomever was sitting with us as we often were placed with other 2 person parties at a 4 top. One suggestion if you are going on a long trip (overnight) get a sleeping car for the night as the you’ll wish you had if you don’t! If you are not opposed to renting a car for a few days of course that will widen your scope. Camping etc….At any rate have fun and Happy Vacationing!!The train is a quick ride to both Vancouver BC as some suggested or Portland. There are plenty of places to stay and tnings to do in both cities.
Fine tooth comb
Vancouver, Victoria, and Portland are all great urban choices for a car-less vacation. You can take Amtrak to Glacier, but it is somewhat difficult to get off the tourist trail.If you have bikes, you can put them on a train and widen your possibilities. One other suggestion is Spokane. Long the poor sister of the state, it actually has great parks, fun things to do, and you can take a bus to Lake CDA.
What about taking the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry from Bellingham (Fairhaven) to someplace in Alaska? The Amtrak station is adjacent to the ferry terminal, so that part is car-free, the trip itself is beautiful and you can pick one or many spots in Alaska for your vacation.Also, thanks, Kristin Kolb-Angelbeck for your “BC Car-free” book suggestion. I picked it up at REI and can’t wait to use it!
Take the train to Glacier National Park. We brought our bikes (the folding one was carry-on luggage, the non-folding went easily in a big box for a small fee) and got a sleeper car from Everett to East Glacier. The sleeper is well worth it and affordable if reserved well in advance or gotten at the last minute when rooms are still available. At East Glacier there is lodging within walking of the train station, and hiker/tourist shuttles to all other parts of the park. Or you can bike around the park(we did – challenging, though) or rent a car. The train also serves West Glacier, but you can bring carry-on luggage only (no problem if you don’t bring non-folding bikes). The campground at Lake McDonald can be accessed from West Glacier by a great bike-ped trail from the train station (might be a little hard to find at first, but it’s there) – maybe a 2 mile walk, and very peaceful and scenic. Again, shuttles can take you all around the park from there.
Leaving in an hour or so for the “amtrak-and-bikes-portland-mini-vacation-combo”… don’t think anyone’s mentioned the most bike-friendly city in the country yet.Think: wine and cheese and views of sound and glaciers followed by shows and bike trails and parks– all with the smug little co2-lite label…
Thanks to everybody for their expert advice.We’ve opted for Vancouver, BC, by train. We’ll stay in the West End and bring bikes to explore the city.We were sorely tempted by Glacier National Park, which appears to be the least car-dependent great park in the Northwest—aside, perhaps, from Glacier Bay in Alaska (which is boat dependent). You can get to the park’s front or back door by train and travel within the park by red shuttle-coaches (or bike or foot, of course).Unfortunately, because we didn’t make reservations in advance, the price of a train trip to Glacier (with sleepers) was well out of our price range. Ah well. Another year. Same goes for the Bellingham-Alaska ferry: extremely attractive but needs more time and money than we’ve got this month.Portland was a close contender, but Vancouver won out for its larger network of waterfront bike routes.Please continue to share your trip ideas and experiences here! We’ll accumulate a list that everyone can use.
Just saw your car-less post. Congrats on going car-less. I too am in the same boat and find it challenging, but mostly rewarding. My suggestions were many of the same…ferry to any of the islands…especially in August. The weather will be favorable for camping or renting a cabin. As for art museums, remember the new SAM is open and it’s very kid-friendly! The Seattle Underground tour is interesting and could be fun for kids too! Baseball games are cheap, however, the food is not! Hard to tell your kids ‘no’ to all the goodies being offered up at SAFECO Field. Amtrak to Portland which is a cheaper city overall and has some great family activities as well. Utilize craig’s list to find cheap accommodation. Anyway, I hope you find some great family vacation fun sans the car! Good luck!