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Tips for Parking Like a Pro at Trailheads

From parking efficiently in small lots to leaving room for emergency vehicles, there are lots of ways to park for the people.

You've likely seen full parking lots at popular trailheads all across Washington. Maybe you've even waited for a spot, or seen someone negotiating a tricky maneuver in order to get out of the car and onto the trail.

Parking lotLeave room for emergency vehicles to pass and turn around, and consider parking close together. Photo by ejain.

You want to go hiking, but so do lots of other folks, so consider how others (like emergency vehicles) are going to be able to get around your vehicle before you head off down the trail. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

5 ways to park for the people


At the trailhead parking lot, park like you're in the city. Parking lots at trailheads have finite space, and it's important to use it well. Park perpendicular to the border of the lot (the nose or the tailgate of your car should be facing the edge of the lot).

Get close to the car next to you — just enough space that you can get out of your car without dinging the one next to you. Think about how close you can park in a grocery store lot. You should be able to park that close in a trailhead lot, too. 


If you must park on the road, pull well off. If the lot is full, it may be possible to park roadside. However there are a few factors to consider in this case.

  • Are there No Parking signs? Please respect them. Don't park there. If you park in a 'No Parking' area, (or within ten feet of those signs) you may get a ticket. Which is a drag when you just came back from a spectacular hike.
  • Is there enough room for emergency vehicles to go by? This is important to remember. Be sure there's enough room for an ambulance (or search and rescue vehicle, horse trailer or a tow truck) to go by. And remember these are usually wider than your average vehicle. 
  • Are you blocking a turnout? Turnouts aren't parking areas. They're so that drivers can turn around or get out of the way for each other as they travel on narrow roads. Be sure your car isn't in one, if you're parking roadside. 
  • Are there people parked on the other side of the road? Parking on both sides of the road really restricts the travel lanes. If people are parked on one side, it's probably best not to park on the other side. 
  • Is there sufficient space for your car to be parked well enough off the road? Basically, is your car going to roll down the hill if you pull far enough off the road? If you can't leave your car where it is without affecting the flow of traffic, it's best to go find another spot to park or hike. 

Display your pass. Passes are an integral part to hiking; the fees you pay for a parking pass go to maintaining the trails you enjoy. So if you have one, show it off. Put it in your dashboard, with the appropriate side up. Not sure which one you need? We've got you


Lot full? You may need to find another place to hike. There are thousands of hikes in Washington. You can use our Hiking Guide to find a backup (or our app, if you're already out and about). If you have a backup hike plan in mind, you'll never need to scramble or park dangerously.


Take a bus or bike. A surefire way to reduce the need to manage a parking lot is to not drive to your hike. If you hike as a group, try carpooling. If you prefer going solo, hit up a trailhead serviced by Trailhead Direct. Or use our Hike Finder Map to find a trailhead close to your house, and try making your whole outing foot-powered. 

Related reading on driving and roads