A Guide to Hiking around Seattle without a Car

blanca lake

The mountains in near Seattle look absolutely stunning, with the snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes. While I was planning my first trip to Seattle, I resolved to do at least one hike with around 2,000ft elevation gain so I could experience these views myself.

Unfortunately, most of the beautiful hikes with decent elevation gain are at least an hour away from Seattle. I wouldn’t have access to a car, and I also didn’t want to hike alone in in the winter. So, I went looking for friends in one of the many local hiking Facebook groups. I luckily found someone who wanted to do the same alpine lake hike, so we made plans to tackle it together. Our hike ended up being the highlight of my trip—and I made a new friend along the way!

If you’re also hoping to hike during your visit to Seattle, but won’t have a car, here are four different things you can do to get out on the trails.

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How to Hike in Seattle without a Car

Seattle mountains at sunrise from a car dashboard
pacific northwest forest

1. Explore the easier trails accessible by public transport

There are a handful of parks and forests surrounding the city, such as:

I didn’t get out to any of them myself, as I was looking for a longer hike with more elevation gain. If you’re looking for walks that are gentler and shorter, these parks are your place. Most have trails that are just a couple miles with under 200ft gain. Discovery Park is the largest park in the city, and is probably the most popular.

For more about how to get to these parks, check out this article, which includes a map.

mountains in snohomish
mountains peeking through the trees

2. Use the Trailhead Direct Shuttle

If you’re looking for a tougher hike, you might want to take the Trailhead Direct Shuttle to one of their three destinations on the same line. The caveat is that the shuttle only operates on weekends and holidays from late April to late October. Since I was in Seattle on weekdays in mid-November, I was out of luck.

If the schedule works for you though, you have access to these trailheads: Mount SiMount Teneriffe, and Little Si.

Tickets cost $2.75 one way for adults, and $1.50 for youth (6-18).

Mount Si is a classic hike, with 3,150ft gain over 8 miles. Some locals say that the views aren’t the best for the effort, however.

Little Si is another classic, but is much more manageable at 1,300ft of gain over 3.7 miles.

Mount Teneriffe is a monster of a day hike at 3,800ft of gain over 13 miles. You’ll pass by a waterfall and enjoy less-trafficked trails.

frozen virgin lake
blanca lake

3. Find a local hiking buddy (with a car) using Facebook groups

If you’re arriving when the Trailhead Direct Shuttle isn’t operating, or you want to find a local hiking buddy, you should try posting in one of the many Pacific Northwest Hiking Facebook groups. I would also recommend this route if you’re looking for an even prettier hike than those accessible by bus/shuttle. You tend to have to get 2 hours outside of Seattle to see the really stunning landscapes with alpine lakes (can you tell I’m obsessed with alpine lakes lol).

Here are some of the groups I joined:

The most promising group is probably Washington Hikers and Climbers, as it has 125,000 members. The admin, Lee, was also super friendly and offered to take me on a hike if I didn’t find anyone through the group. That said, you’re more likely to find people near you in the Seattle Hiking group, as it’s for the city specifically, and not the whole state or region. That group is actually where I found my hiking friend!

I posted in 3 groups and got around 10 responses. If you go this route, I would recommend sharing a hike you want to do in your post, as that’s how I found my hiking buddy—he said he’d been wanting to do the same hike I was interested in (it made “picking” a buddy easy).

I also suggest emphasizing that you want to find a buddy easily accessible by public transport from Seattle. Two nice women had offered to take me hiking, but they lived in Bothell, which was almost an hour outside of Seattle. In your post, you should also offer to chip in for gas—it’s only fair, and it’s good to make it clear that you’re not just in this to get free transportation.

Of course, this method is risky as you’re finding people on the internet. You might not click with the person and have to spend 10 miles with them in awkward silence. Or even worse, the person might be a creep or murderer. That’s why I made sure to message back and forth with my hiking friend—we both shared a quick background of ourselves, and got to know each other a little better. You should also make sure to tell someone else where you’re going, send them the FB profile of who you’re going with, and how long you expect to be gone. It’s important to take safety precautions!

My hiking buddy was awesome, and we talked about all kinds of things easily, even though we’re totally different people at very different stages of life. I’m super glad I got to meet him and make a new friend, and am glad I took the chance of hiking with a stranger. We also saw the loveliest views on our Blanca Lake Hike, which is where all the photos are from! Thanks to Jeff for photos 1, 6 , and 8 🙂

blanca lake
snowy hike with traction

4. Book a Tour

If you’re willing to spend some money ($200-300 per person), you can join a tour to Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park. These tours will pick you up in Seattle, take you to the best sports these gorgeous parks, and give you some time to explore on your own.

Hiking Gear I Recommend

Trekking poles—These are helpful for hikes with significant elevation gain, as they take some strain off of your legs; they also have kept me from falling on steep descents. I use Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles. They’re pricey, but I really wanted high-quality, lightweight Z-fold poles since I was hoping to use them for trail races. If Black Diamond is out of your budget, these Foxelli poles and Paria poles are well-reviewed and about half the price. Remember that hiking poles aren’t always accepted in carry-on luggage. I ended up paying for a checked bag both ways, just to be safe!

Hiking boots—I purchased Clorts boots several years ago since they were the most affordable hiking boots I saw on Amazon. The model I got back then is now unavailable, but this pair looks similar, and has more ankle support than mine.

Spikes/traction—These are important for winter hikes with snow/ice. I bought Yaktrax Run Traction to slip over my boots. They worked well on this hike, and I can also use them for my wintery New England runs.

Hydration pack—I didn’t bring a hydration vest on my hike, but I recommend getting one if you plan to hike often since you can drink easily, and the vest doubles as a small backpack.

blanca lake hike in the winter

Seattle Hiking Tips

  • Check to see if your hike requires a parking pass or entry fee. Most hikes charge by number of cars parked, so if you go by bus, you shouldn’t need one. If you drive with a local though, make sure they have the pass. You can see which pass you need, along with lots of other helpful info, on the Washington Trails Association website. Here’s the page from my Blanca Lake hike, for example, which describes the hike and offers a place for people to leave reviews/advice.
  • Bring toilet paper. Some trailheads have bathrooms, but they often don’t.
  • Take a bag for trash, as there aren’t usually trash cans along the way.
  • In the winter, if you bring a hydration pack, fill it with hot water. I didn’t bring my hydration vest because I thought the water would freeze up in the tube, but my hiking friend shared this hot water hack with me. It keeps you warm, and it prevents the water from freezing!

I hope this post was helpful! If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. If you’re looking for things to do within Seattle, check out my post on the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass and why you should visit at night.

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