Bus Hiking App Developer Shares Seattle Transit Hiking Tips
The creator of an app to use public transit for hiking shares his tips for planning and hiking using buses.
Seattle-based Adrian Laurenzi is an avid outdoorsman, software engineer, scientist and entrepreneur with a passion for using technology to promote social justice and environmental conservation. He recently co-founded Open PlanIt, a company focused on getting more people into the outdoors by expanding public access to parks, wilderness and open space worldwide. Because many hikers in our community don't have cars (or are trying to use them less) we asked Adrian to share his advice and favorite resources for bus hiking near Seattle.
by Adrian Laurenzi
When I first moved to Seattle I didn’t have a car. As a college student, most of my friends didn’t either. One of the main things that attracted me to the city was its ideal location for an incredible variety of outdoor activities. All of this led me to pursue exploring ways to hike with public transportation.
I found the various bus systems in the Seattle area to be an ideal way to get to all kinds of great hikes, everything from nature walks in the city to peaks in the cascades. Since leaving the car-less life of a college student, I still often prefer hiking with public transportation over driving.
Below are my tips for hiking with public transportation and some great tools and resources to help you plan a bus hiking adventure!
Planning a bus hike
An essential part of successfully hiking with the bus is to thoroughly plan out your trip before embarking on the adventure. The process of getting to the trail is more involved compared to driving, which I think actually makes things more fun and adventurous.
Find a hike
The first task is to find a trail that is accessible with public transportation. There are surprisingly few comprehensive sources for this but I recommend the following information sources in the Seattle area:
- Metro Bus Hiking: It may feel like a bit of an old-school site, but it is definitely the most comprehensive resource I have found for bus hikes in the Seattle area.
- Transit&Trails: A great, free tool with lots of data for transit-accessible trailheads nationwide (they have a website and an iOS app). Try searching for trailheads in Spokane or Seattle, which will bring up a nice set of trails that are mostly in city parks.
- TOTAGO (Turn Off The App - Go Outside): an app with a growing set of transit-accessible hikes for the Seattle area and beyond. TOTAGO makes the entire planning and navigation process simple and includes high-quality trail maps.
- WTA's Hiking Guide: Search for trails that sound interesting to you. From the hike page, click on the "see larger map" under the map, and search for directions using the Google Transit filter.
- You can also just search the web (e.g. search for ‘hiking by bus seattle’) or trip reports for stories, blog posts and web pages describing specific adventures you can do without a car.
After deciding on a hike next you need to figure out how to get there, and most importantly how to get back home. Consider how long the hike will take when planning, and be sure you allow enough time to arrive at the return bus stop before sunset. Planning multiple possible return routes is essential because you cannot predict exactly how long you might be hiking. Whatever you use to plan the trip you should have the details printed or written out on paper to take with you on the hike.
- Cross-reference your sources. It’s a good idea to verify the source (for example you might check bus schedules on the transit agency websites).
- Know the times the bus leaves for the return trip. Don’t plan on catching the last bus!
- If you use a cell phone for navigation (something I recommend) don’t assume you will always have a data connection.
During the trip
- Don’t be afraid to talk to the bus driver. You will likely be going places you are unfamiliar with, so it’s probably a bad idea to try to guess what stop you need to get off at. It’s much better to just politely ask the bus driver to notify you when you are approaching your stop (which you can identify by a nearby intersection or landmark).
- Make friends with the locals! If you can’t find where you need to go, ask someone!
- Be prepared and stay safe. If you are new to hiking check out the Hiking 101 guide.
Useful tools and resources
- TOTAGO: Automatically generates an entire trip plan, including multiple alternative return bus routes. TOTAGO can suggest a hike based on your location and departure date.
- Google Maps: Use their directions feature to plan the routes there and back after using another resource to find the trailhead location.
- Transit&Trails: helps find and plan bus hiking trips all over the U.S.
- OneBusAway: real-time transit information.
- Seattle Transit Hiker Meetup.
I've done most of my transit hiking in the Seattle area, here are a few of my favorite go-to bus hikes:
- : my all-around favorite because it’s an extremely easy to access and has an amazing view at the top. via TOTAGO
- : best bus hike in the Seattle area via TOTAGO
- : my favorite hike within the city. via TOTAGO
- Cougar Mountain: a through hike where you traverse a mountain and take different bus to return home. via TOTAGO
- : put your bike on the bus and then ride, camp, and/or hike for anywhere from 1-4 days. via Seattle Bike Blog
Share your tips or favorite transit trails
Do you bus hike Washington? Add your tips or favorite spots in the comments below.