With a little planning, taking the bus to a trailhead can be a relatively easy adventure. Sure, it depends on where you’re going and when (and some trailheads just won’t be accessible). But trailheads located near urban areas, such as those in the Issaquah Alps near Seattle, can make for a pleasant bus-hike outing.
This article provides a step-by-step plan about how you can access great hikes while relying entirely on public transit! Inspired? If so, you should also check out Leslie Leber's Washington Trails magazine article, The Great Outdoors by Bus. This article features some great bus-hikes at Tiger Mountain.
Planning Your Bus-Hike
I like to work backwards when figuring out the best route from my house to the trailhead. Once I’ve identified my destination, I find out which bus route(s) run closest to the trailhead.
Find your trailhead on Google maps, then click the “transit” option on the dropdown menu to see where the closest transit stops are located. When you click on a particular stop, you will see which bus route(s) serves that particular stop.
Check the schedule and route map online for each of the routes that run close to the trailhead. Some routes don’t run on weekends, and others may start or end at inconvenient times for your hike, so check all of the nearby routes to give yourself as many options as possible. For Metro routes, go to www.kingcounty.gov/metro. For Sound Transit routes, go to www.soundtransit.org
Many bus routes serve transfer points either at Park & Ride lots, transit centers or other main gathering places like malls or business parks. Finding those transfer points along the route will then help you to plan connections with buses that serve your home neighborhood.
Once you know your bus route options, check the schedules and connection times. When possible, make note of several route or time options to give yourself flexibility. You might want to linger on the trail or give yourself the option for a through-hike, starting at one trailhead and ending at another. Having several bus route and time options gives you flexibility and confidence. Just be sure you know what time the last bus leaves the trailhead!
Plan on getting to your bus stop(s) early. As one Metro driver likes to say, “People wait for buses. Buses don’t wait for people.” If you’re not there, the bus might not stop.
You can also use Metro’s Online Trip Planner at www.kingcounty.gov/metro. Type in your start and end points to get route and connection information. However, the trip planner can be a bit limiting as it requires the user to put in a specific time for travel. Trip Planner has also resulted in some inconvenient transfer locations and/or indirect routing, at least for this user. By taking the time to check schedules and route information, you’ll have more confidence in your options and you’ll be able to work a schedule that fits your needs.
ON THE BUS: FARE INFORMATION
If you are in the Seattle-metro area, an ORCA card is your best bet to ensure easy transfers between bus routes without paying extra fares, and it eliminates the need to carry exact change.
Recent changes in transit fare systems have eliminated inter-agency paper transfers. What does that mean? That means if you pay cash on a Metro bus, then catch a connecting Sound Transit bus, you will have to pay full cash fare again. Paper transfers are now issued only by Metro for use on Metro buses.
To save yourself the hassle of having exact change, and to ensure that you can transfer without paying an additional fare, you need an ORCA card. www.orcacard.com not convinced? Well, without the ORCA card, you have to pay the full cash fare on each bus when transferring between Metro and Sound Transit. But, with the card, you’ll pay the full fare on the first leg of your journey, then will be able to transfer between agencies, paying for a transfer only if the fare on your next leg is higher.
So, if the fare on your first leg is $2.00 and the fare for your second leg is $2.50, you will tap your card on the first leg, and will see a $2.00 charge appear on the screen. Then, when you transfer to your next leg, you will tap your card again, and only the additional $0.50 will be charged. Without the card you would pay $2.00, then $2.50.
Transfers are time-limited, so unless you’re a super-speedy hiker, you will pay the full fare again on your way home. But the ORCA card is handy for a variety of reasons, not just for hiking. You can also use it on other transit systems in the area, including on Washington State Ferries.