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Trekking by Transit: Tips from a WTA trip reporter

Posted by Anna Roth at Mar 17, 2023 10:00 AM |
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Kim Huntress Inskeep is a Seattle-based writer and transit and active-transportation advocate who writes trip reports under the name TransitTrekker. When we noticed how far afield she had gotten using transit systems, we had to know more about her approach. So we called her up and asked her a few questions.

Kim Huntress Inskeep is a Seattle-based writer and transit and active-transportation advocate who writes trip reports under the name TransitTrekker. When we noticed how far afield she had gotten using transit systems, we had to know more about her approach. So we called her up and asked her a few questions.

Kimberly in Captiol Hill at Pike and Broadway.
Kim on the bike lanes on Broadway in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Photo courtesy Kim Huntress Inskeep.

WTA: WHat would you tell someone to convince them to hike via transit? 

Kim: There’s more than one way to get to a trailhead, and taking transit is one of the best. It’s kinder to yourself, our trails, and our planet. While a door-step to trailhead trip might technically take longer than driving, taking transit can also give you some time back for yourself. If you can be flexible and are willing to invest a little time in planning, transit hiking can be a rewarding way to get outside. 

Was your interest in hiking always dependent on transit or have you accessed trails other ways? 

Growing up in San Diego, my family did some hiking and camping. A few years after I finished high school, I moved up to Washington to attend (the Evergreen State College). I met friends up here who had been hiking and backpacking since the 1970s, and I tagged along with them a lot. I think Goat Lake might have been one of my first backpacking trips.

I also got to know our rail trail system really well. I've been bikepacking using buses and trains for a long time, so it strikes me as weird that, until recently, I bought into the idea that you need a car to go hiking or backpacking. But now that I’ve made a point of seeking out transit-accessible trailheads, I’ve learned just how much is doable — although it should be far easier.

What about transit systems is interesting to you? 

It’s more about necessity than interest! I had to leave home while I was still in high school and never got a driver’s license. Paying rent and other necessities were priority, so a car was out of reach. Since then, transit has been the main way I get around, along with bicycling.

But I also like how safe buses and trains feel, especially at faster speeds. I also appreciate that transit is by far the most climate- and salmon-friendly way to travel. And I like that I can get a sense of the communities I’m traveling to and through from sharing space with local folks. Especially in transit systems that serve rural communities, the drivers know their regular passengers well, so I catch bits of local news and color I’d never hear otherwise.

Aside from that, are there things about transit hiking you think are better than driving to the trailhead? 

It gives you back all that time you'd spend driving to and from the trailhead! You can do so many things during the bus ride that you can’t while driving. You can relax. You can give your full attention to your kid — a lot of my friends’ younger kids seem to LOVE riding the bus, it's like an extra adventure for them. You can catch up on work or personal email or call a friend. You can clear space on your phone by deleting some of the 3,000 photos you took of your pets, or read more about the trail you’re headed to.

You also don’t have to worry about all the things that come with driving, like whether there will be space in the parking lot, break-ins or how expensive gas is. If traffic is bad and there’s an HOV lane, your bus is going to glide past all that congestion.

Wallace Falls late 2021.JPG
Wallace Falls is one of Washington's most popular hiking destinations. It's also one of the locations Kim (and you) can access via transit. Photo courtesy Kim Huntress Inskeep.

That sounds great. So what does a typical day hike look like for you? 

Cool, slow and quiet. It’s likely on a weekday, because I freelance, which gives me the flexibility to take advantage of weekday bus frequency. These hikes tend to be pretty quiet — I suspect that since most of the places I can get to most easily via transit are not as far afield, people assume they are more crowded, when in fact, especially on weekdays, they can really provide a bit of solitude.

I also prefer hiking in cooler weather so I’ll go hiking on overcast or chilly days. Often my hikes are full-day affairs, but don’t have to be — it’s just that the older I get, the more I mosey. Moseying is underrated. 

Moseying is great. So how do you pack what you need for a day hike? I know I like having a change of shoes and some extra snacks in the car. Do you bring those along or do without?

If I’m out in warmer weather, I might clip some sandals to my backpack to change into on the way back, and an extra snack or two if I know I’m not going to be able to grab something at a store on the way home.

I always bring extra socks, and in cold weather, extra gloves and a hat — small, easy to pack stuff that can make a big difference if I end up out longer than I planned to be. Otherwise, my pack probably looks a lot like anyone else’s.

Any stories about mishaps or inconveniences using transit?

Recently I had the very rare experience of the bus I was on breaking down, but it ended up being a hiccup rather than a hardship. I was returning from Dosewallips State Park when the bus's windshield wiper broke while it was raining. After a couple of miles the driver decided it was too dangerous to keep driving and called in to dispatch for a new bus. We pulled over in Quilcene and 20 minutes later were on a new bus. I did have to check the bus schedule, but it turned out that I just needed to get off at an earlier stop to make my connecting route. Shout out to Jefferson Transit for their safety and efficiency!

dosewallips state park_transittrekker.jpeg
After a hike in Dosewallips State Park, Kim had a hiccup getting home on the bus. But just 20 minutes after the bus stopped, she was back on her way. Photo courtesy Kim Huntress Inskeep.

Generally though, most inconveniences are around the lack of bus frequency and connecting service, especially in rural areas. A lot of the smaller transit systems that run near trailheads don’t have Sunday service, and that limits what’s possible for weekend trips. Plus, right now there is an overall driver shortage that is reducing service.

The other big barrier for me is if I want to use my bike for the trip. Having secure short-term bike storage at trailheads would be a gamechanger  — something like the bike lockers available at some Link stations. In a lot of cases, it would help in reaching trailheads that are just beyond comfortable walking distance from bus stops but are easy bike trips. There are some backpacking trips that would be much more doable via transit if I knew I could count on secure bike storage at the trailhead. 

How would you pack for a transit-powered backpacking trip?

For backpacking, I am almost always going to be hiking from a bus stop to the trailhead. So preparing for a backpacking trip involves research about how I'm getting to the trailhead as much as what I'm bringing with me. I look at walking routes and street views to determine if there are road shoulders or sidewalks that I'm comfortable walking on.

As far as packing, it's important that I bring things with multiple uses as much as possible to keep pack weight down. One of my favorites is a rainskirt that I bought for bicycling but has turned out to be really great in lieu of rain pants for hiking. It doubles as an extra layer in the tent, a groundcover, a privacy screen or a tarp. I also always bring along a privy kit in addition to the usual 10 essentials.

I do try to pack extra snacks and water, in case I have to transfer at a place without a store or cafe to duck into. I like to print out my bus schedule itinerary and have paper maps — I find them easier to use than little map apps on the phone. But I do take photos of those schedules and maps, too.

Does your family hike? Friends? Have you been able to get any of them to convert to transit hiking?

Among my friends and personal community, a lot of folks can’t drive or don’t own cars, so they don’t require converting! Among many of my friends and neighbors who do drive, there seems to be a lot of interest and enthusiasm, and I know quite a few have used Trailhead Direct. 

Ok last question. Can you give us 5 things that someone who is interested in starting to hike using transit should know or have with them?  

As with any trip into the outdoors, you should have the 10 essentials and let someone know your plans. Here are 5 more tips.


You can start close to home! Chances are your city’s largest parks are already served by transit. (Note that WTA already provides transit directions to many trailheads; be sure and check our hiking guide before you head out)


Know your transit schedule and turnaround time so you can make the last bus, and have a plan B if you miss it. Look up taxi service numbers for where you'll be in case ride hailing apps don't serve the area. This is especially important the farther afield you are traveling.


Know your bus etiquette! Let folks with wheelchairs, mobility aids, kids, groceries and other heavy loads board and de-board first, and yield ADA seating to those who need it. Observe posted rules of riding. And thank your bus driver when you get off.


Prepare your fare. Make sure your transit pass is loaded. If you are traveling in rural areas or outside the city, have small bills and change for fare or download their fare apps ahead of time.
Pro-tip: Many systems including Island Transit (on Whidbey and Camano Islands) and Intercity Transit in Olympia are now free to ride. Since October of 2022 all kids 18 and under ride free on almost every transit system in the state.


Most of us in Washington state have some access to transit-based recreation. Once you have taken that initial time to learn which route schedules and days work best for you, doing those trips is pretty easy! In fact, if you live near the Sound Transit 554 bus route from Seattle to Issaquah, you have almost-365-days-a-year access to the Issaquah Alps.

A final note from WTA

Currently, transit hiking is most feasible for folks with flexible schedules (it's easier to hike during the week when transit routes run most frequently) and those willing to devote time to research. WTA has included transit directions in our "Getting There" section of each hike in our database for trailheads serviced by buses. (We included this information trailheads up to a mile away from a stop, so be sure you know where you'll be dropped off by the bus!). There are more trails than you might think that are accessible by bus, but they're not necessarily Washington's most popular.

Washington's a long way from having a robust transit system that anyone can access. But as Kim notes, "Investing in transit will by default improve transit access to the outdoors. Expanding transit is one of the very most effective things we can do to promote quality of life overall for rural and urban Washington and more equitable access to the outdoors."

Kim has a deep resume in transit and active-transportation advocacy. Currently, she's writing The Transit Trekker Manual to help nondrivers more easily access the outdoors near and far, and to make it easier for people who want to drive less to enjoy car-free recreation.