Take the Bus: Trailhead Direct is Back for 2022
Trailhead Direct is starting its 2022 season this Memorial Day weekend. The service provides transit access to nearby trailheads from Seattle. Ryan Miller from King County Mtro and Ryan Dotson from King County Parks give some insight into the service.
Trailhead Direct is back for the season! As an enthusiastic user in the past, I wanted to talk to Ryan Miller from King County Metro and Ryan Dotson from King County Parks to learn more about the service.
The goal of the service is to provide resources for as many hikers as possible to get to trailheads, particularly those without easy access to them. Miller and Dotson both spoke about King County’s desire to identify gaps in accessibility to the outdoors and fill those gaps; Trailhead Direct is one of those efforts.
Miller emphasized how much effort they put into gathering feedback and working with current and potential users to better serve them.
“A big part of Trailhead Direct has been working collaboratively with the community,” he said. “We’re always listening to our community, and keep open ears and open minds about how we can change and modify the services we run.”
Dotson says another goal is to encourage hikers to recreate responsibly. Through educational brochures and signage in the buses about things like what to pack for a hike and hiking etiquette, those who use Trailhead Direct can become more hiking-savvy.
“It’s really important that we use Trailhead Direct as a vehicle, no pun intended, to amplify messaging around recreating responsibly,” Dotson said. “[We want to] ensure that community members who do access these great places do it in a responsible way and continue to be good stewards of public lands."
A new plan for a new year
Trailhead Direct will run one route from the Capitol Hill Link light rail station to Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe and Little Si, with a stop at the Eastgate Park & Ride in Bellevue. Due to transit staff shortages, they won't run additional routes like they have in the past. Miller says it was important to ensure they could provide a reliable service to users, rather than spreading themselves too thin.
The decision to start the route from Capitol Hill Link light station was due to its accessibility to users through public transit, as well as ridership from past seasons. The recent Link expansion to north Seattle and Via to Transit serving southeast Seattle provide users with multiple options to reach the Trailhead Direct stop. Additionally, the Mount Si route has proven to be very popular among riders in the past.
A personal look
I remember when I first heard about Trailhead Direct in 2018. I was beginning to train for what would be the biggest hike I’ve ever done: a southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. If you were looking for me on any weekend that year, I was almost certainly out hiking.
I didn’t have a car for a while that year, so Trailhead Direct was one of the only ways I could get to a trailhead. During that time, I was thankful to be able to get to the mountains without having to drive myself. Mount Si is probably my favorite conditioning hike because of its relatively consistent grade throughout and well-maintained trail, but it can be difficult to get there without a car. With Trailhead Direct, it was no sweat.
When I did have my car, it was nice to not have to worry about leaving it at the trailhead. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about gas; Trailhead Direct only requires a bus fare one-way.
I didn’t even have to remember my Discover Pass. I always have it, but often realize two or three miles into my hike I don’t remember if I put it on my dashboard. Then I spend the rest of my hike worrying about finding a ticket on my windshield instead of enjoying my time outside.
I didn’t have to worry at all about parking. I also love hiking on Tiger Mountain due to its extensive trail network and proximity to home, but it’s hard to find a space in the lot on a busy weekend. A few summers ago, I took a nearby bus to the Mount Baker Transit Center, where many bus lines converge, and was able to hop on the next Trailhead Direct. Easy as pie.
One of my favorite aspects of Trailhead Direct was that I didn’t have to drive myself home after a day of hiking. During my training, I would sometimes end up pulling long hiking days of more than 15 miles by doing the same hike multiple times or making my way through multiple trails in a big trail network. After those hikes, the last thing my feet wanted to do was hold down a gas pedal all the way home.
Of course, I also took the Trailhead Direct for the same reason a lot of people take public transit: It was more environmentally friendly. I have always preferred hiking solo, so I would otherwise have driven only myself.
I’m incredibly grateful to King County Parks and King County Metro for continuing to offer the service; I already know I’ll be using it this year.
Support the service
Miller says one of the best ways to support the service is to use it, and share your thoughts to let King County Parks and King County Metro know how they can improve the service. They want any decisions they make to be supported by data, and much of this data comes from online and onboard surveys.
The feedback Miller and Dotson have received about Trailhead Direct in the past has been largely positive, with a high satisfaction rate. The public has a lot of enthusiasm for the service, and they hope that stays true in the future with the community’s feedback.
WTA wants to see Trailhead Direct succeed, too. We know that transit is a large barrier to getting new folks outside, and we work to support transit to trails solutions locally and nationally.
This year, Trailhead Direct will run every weekend and Metro holiday from Saturday, May 28, to Sunday, September 11. “We know that demand for access to the outdoors is stronger than ever,” Miller says. “We’re really happy that we’re able to provide this service to help people get out there.”