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Hiking the Wonderland without a Car

Posted by Andrew Engelson at Jun 13, 2008 02:10 PM |

Gas prices putting a dent in your hiking plans? When it costs more than 50 bucks to fill up that tank, it makes you start to think twice about putting on a ton of miles for a hike.

As a result, some of us have tried hiking closer to home, or even hiking via transit or bike. The Seattle P.I. recently ran story on hiking via transit, and the Hike Metro website is a great site for folks looking to hike without a car.

Another alternative to owning a car and paying for gas is the Zipcar car-sharing system. You pay by the hour or day, and if you're a WTA member your Zipcar application fee ($25) is waived and the annual fee is reduced to $25/yr for as long as you are a Trails member. More info on Zipcar discount to WTA member is here.

I have to say I'm a little obsessed with the topic of going carless, whether it's taking my kids to day care (bike & trailer) or getting to a trailhead (read my post here on biking to a hike at Cougar Mountain).

One thing that caught my attention was the recent announcement that Mount Rainier National Park will be running a shuttle from Ashford to Longmire and Paradise this summer.

This piqued my curiosity: could you actually hike the Wonderland Trail or other trails at Mount Rainier without a car?

metro bus

The answer, I think, is yes. But it's a bit tricky, and I have yet to test it in reality.
The trouble is the bus only runs on weekdays, and the National Park shuttle service only runs on weekends (except a Longmire-to-Paradise shuttle on Fridays). But an enterprising thru-hiker, or someone with about a week on their hands could conceivably backpack at Rainier with just some bus fare and a bike. Here's how it might work:

Start on a Friday. If you live in Seattle, you need to catch the Sound Transit 594 to the Commerce St. Transfer Area in Tacoma. Then, at the Commerce St. Transfer Area, catch a Pierce Transit 1 to the Spanaway Wal-Mart.

Then, you need to catch the L.E.W.I.S Mountain Highway Transit Bus. This is a little-known service that runs from Spanaway down Highway 7 all the way to Morton. Note that this bus only runs on weekdays. For those heading to Rainier, the important bus stop is at the town of Elbe. You can find more information on the MHT route here, but note that schedule online is incorrect. According to Brandy, a very friendly woman who manages the bus route, the current schedule is:

Leaves Spanaway Wal-Mart
Arrives Elbe
7:22 a.m.
8:14 a.m.
2:35 p.m.
3:27 p.m.
5:30 p.m.
6:22 p.m.
Leaves Elbe
Arrives Spanaway Wal-Mart
6:13 a.m.
7:05 a.m.
1:38 p.m.
2:32 p.m.
4:23 p.m.
5:15 p.m.


So, from Elbe, you'll need your bike (nobody said going hiking without a car was going to be easy). You'll then need to bike about 8 miles from Elbe to Ashford. Note that all the buses on this route have bike racks.

Since the shuttle doesn't run on weekdays, you'll need to spend Friday night in Ashford. Private camping and lodging are both available. On Saturday morning catch the shuttle (which runs every 30 minutes from 9:15 a.m. through 10:45 a.m. and every 75 minutes from 12-5 p.m) to Longmire. You can catch another shuttle to Paradise or start your hiking from Longmire, which intersects the Wonderland Trail (note that this stretch is currently snow-covered).

The other trick with this trip that you can only stay one night (as the shuttle is limited to weekends) or you need stay a full week and then do the thing in reverse, staying in Ashford on a Sunday night and returning by bus on Monday.

It would be nice if the Park Service and the MHT coordinated things better so that it was easier to connect. The MHT has apparently applied for a grant to operate on Saturdays, but this hasn't come through yet.

Admittedly, it's not for everyone. I'd be curious to hear if anyone has success trying it out.

It also demonstrates out that it would be great if transit planners developed more recreation-friendly bus routes. For now, most bus-and-hike combos are for people who love the challenge of it. But with gas over $4 a gallon, more might be willing to try.

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