We’re heading into Labor Day Weekend. That means hiking for a lot folks, so I’m reprising some of the ways that Northwesterners can hit the trail without a car. In my two priorposts on this subject, commenters have offered some terrific advice from around the region and beyond.
First up, a place of honor for Andrew Engleson over at Washington Trails Association. He’s on the verge of creating a new blog genre: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Without a Car (that’s the 2,600-mile trail from Mexico to Canada); Hiking the Wonderland Trail Without a Car (that’s the 93-mile loop around Mount Rainier); and Biking To a Hike. More please!
Speaking of biking to a hike, the central Puget Sound region is blessed with some pretty good hiking in the Cascade foothills, including the big parks of Cougar Mountain, Tiger Mountain, and Rattlesnake Ridge. These are all more-or-less accessible via bus or by bicycle (check out King County’s terrific new regional bike map). I’m not saying it’s a snap to get to these places sans vehicle, just that it’s possible if you’re committed.
Of course if you’re truly hardcore, Rick Dubrow points out that you’ll want to check out the Self-Propelled Outdoor Club, described here in an article with some ideas for the Vancouver, BC region.
And while we’re on Vancouver, my favorite car-free hiking suggestion comes from Michael Newton who writes:
Vancouver’s north shore has loads of hiking that’s accessible by transit. We’ve got the advantage of having nothing but wilderness north of the city; if you skirt by Whistler, you could probably head north all the way to the Arctic Ocean without hitting another town! Cypress and Seymour Provincial parks, Lynn Canyon and Lynn Headwaters regional parks, not to mention numerous smaller parks and of course, the Grouse Grind.
You see, that is what I’m talking about. Arctic Ocean or bust! Who’s with me?
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Of course, car free hiking just isn’t realistic many times. In that case, Eric H’s advice seems spot on:
I don’t have many more answers than you, but I’m always one to suggest organizations like the Mountaineers and Mazamas where you can find other people going out for hikes, maximizing carpool possibilities.
For readers who may not know, The Mountaineers are based in Seattle with branches in Bellingham, Olympia, Tacoma, the Kitsap Peninsula, and Everett. (And don’t forget about the Spokane Mountaineers, not to be confused with the aforementioned Mountainers.) The Mazamas are based in Portland. Another option for Portland-area residents comes to us from Kevin Gorman:
I’m the director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge and one of the ways that we cut carbon and exposure people to the beauty of Columbia Gorge is by carpooling to our scheduled hikes. The hikes run until Father’s Day weekend and can by found at www.gorgefriends.org. Most hikes originate at the Gateway Transit Center in Portland which is accessible by bike, bus, light rail and of course cars. Hikers are asked to share in the cost of the ride and most gladly do. I have rarely left the transit center without a full vehicle of hikers and some of our hikers don’t even own a car. It’s also a great way for people to meet other like-minded hikers.
Many readers have pointed out that you don’t need to join a hiking club to carpool. Commenter Morgan even mentioned that he’s exploring Meetup groups for the purpose. Plus, choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle can go a long way toward easing your carbon guilt and keeping some dough in your wallet. And I’ll add that what’s really important is making sure you choose a hiking vehicle that’s not terrible; even mediocre mileage may be better than you think.
In a few places, buses may be an option. I’ve written before about the new I-90 bus that runs between North Bend and Snoqualmie Pass, providing access to hiking and biking trailheads. The website masterpiece, however, is Hike Metro, which provides stunningly comprehensive directions on hiking in the Seattle region, mostly at urban and suburban-area parks. Seriously, check it out.
These transit services, however, are far from perfect. Frequent commenter Eldan gets the problem exactly right, I think:
I think there’s a bootstrapping problem here, and the hiker shuttle reflects this too. A bus that ran once an hour, didn’t require advance reservations for a specific departure time, and didn’t cost more than driving alone, could over time persuade a lot of people to leave their cars behind. But the week it started, and probably for its first few seasons of operation, it would run too empty to break even, either in $ or fuel consumption terms, because right now most skiers have cars and are used to driving themselves.
Maybe buses make more sense in the winter when they’re serving concentrated destinations like ski areas rather than dispersed trailheads. And all the major Northwest cities are within a short distance of good skiing. Unfortunately, Seattle’s Cascade Ski Bus (pointed out by Matt the Engineer) is now defunct. But as Finish Tag notes, Crystal Mountain is now providing bus service from both Seattle and Tacoma. What about Portland and Vancouver? Can you ski-bus it to nearby slopes?
The Northwest has an unparalled urban-wilderness interface, but we don’t have transit like some places do. Reader Adam tells us how they do it In New York:
I live in NYC and there are a surprising number of trails nearby and all accessible by bus from Port Authority or Metro-North. Bear Mtn. and Harriman State Park make for good weekend trips and only an hour’s ride out of the city.
And the Big Apple isn’t the only big city where this sort of thing is possible. Says Payton:
I’m lucky to live in Chicago, where I can still take an inter-urban train to get to some cute beach towns or even some campgrounds at the urban fringe. (Not much hiking, though.) Once upon a time, though, this was normal: Atlantic City, Asheville, Miami, Santa Monica—plenty of resort towns grew up as weekend railroad escapes from the big city. Easy access to the countryside makes city life all the more appealing…
That’s a good point to close on, I think. The greatest cit
low a change of pace once in a while; and the terrific quality of life in Northwest cities has a lot to do with the proximity to first-rate wilderness. It’d be nice to make that connection easier, not to mention cheaper and more responsible too.
Update, Sept 2: I missed this earlier, but over at Washington Trails’ blog Lauren Braden has a post about hiker meetups:
In the August 2008 issue of Washington Trails magazine, editorial intern Erinn Unger wrote about hiking meet-up groups in Washington. Erinn hiked with an Issaquah-based group called Something New! There’s also the Seattle Backpackers site, which has over 1,300 members and is primarily focused on overnight trips. For those looking for something a little less intense, the Eastside Slow Poke Hikers group describes itself as being dedicated to the “lollygaggers, the meanderers, the dawdlers and the slow-pace hikers of the Pacific Northwest.” Or check out the Pacific Northwest Hiking Group, which does hikes, backpacking trips, bike trips, and social events.