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A Guide to Hiking around Seattle without a Car

December 8, 2019
blanca lake
 
Last month, I jetted off to Seattle for a ~business trip~ (it sounds so fancy haha). I was interviewing for a running industry job, and got my stay extended so I could see the area. I didn’t end up landing the job, so I’m glad I got a mostly-comped trip to the Pacific Northwest in the process. 
 
While I was planning my trip, I resolved to do at least one hike with around 2,000ft elevation gain. The mountains in the area looked absolutely stunning, with the snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes. The Northeast has some decent hiking, but it’s mostly wooded, and the views pale in comparison to those out West. 
 
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 tripand 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 4 different things you can do to get out on the trails.

How to Hike in Seattle without a Car

Seattle mountains at sunrise from a car dashboardpacific 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 4 destinations. 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 Si (multiple trailheads, pickup in Seattle)
  • Issaquah Alps (multiple trailheads, pickup in Seattle)
  • Mailbox Peak (no pickup in Seattle, but pickup point accessible by bus)
  • Cougar Mountain (no pickup in Seattle, but pickup point accessible by bus)
Tickets cost $2.75 one way for adults, and $1.50 for youth (6-18).
 
Mailbox Peak one of the best-known and is the most difficult, with 4000ft gain over 9.4mi. Mount Si is another classic hike, with 3150ft gain over 8 miles. Some locals say that the views aren’t the best for the effort, however. The landscapes from atop Mailbox Peak are considered more impressive, and you get to see the iconic mailbox at the summit.
 
Another local favorite is Poo Poo Point (great name lol) in the Issaquah Alps, which is 3.8mi with 1740ft gain via the Chirico Trail. This trail has a lovely view of Mt Rainier, the iconic snow-covered peak (actually an active volcano :O) that’s the tallest mountain in Washington.
 

Note that not every route has pickup in Seattle; for Mailbox Peak and Cougar Mountain, you’ll need to go outside of the city to catch the Trailhead Direct Shuttle. You can reach these pickup points by public transit, but it will add another 30-40mins to your trip.

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 buddyhe 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 gasit’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 friendwe 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 an Airbnb Experience

 
*This and the following section contain affiliate links, meaning I may earn commission on any bookings you complete or purchases you make. This doesn’t cost you any extra.*
 
One final option is to try Airbnb Experiences, where you can find local experiences from cooking classes to photoshoots. These experiences are all offered by locals, and Airbnb takes commission from each booking. You can find locals who will take you on a hike on this platform, though be prepared to pay at least $80, if not a lot more. 
 

Hiking Gear I Recommend

 
Trekking polesThese 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 at $110, 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 ($60) and Paria poles ($50) are well-reviewed. 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 bootsI purchased Clorts boots a few years ago since they were the most affordable hiking boots I saw on Amazon ($40). The model I got back then is now unavailable, but this pair looks similar ($66), and has more ankle support than mine. 
 
Spikes/tractionThese are important for winter hikes with snow/ice. I bought Yaktrax Run Traction ($40) to slip over my boots. They worked well on this hike, and I can also use them for my wintery New England runs. 
 
Hydration packI didn’t bring my hydration vest on these hikes, but I use this Triwonder one ($66) for my trail runs and shorter hikes. I like that it doubles as a small backpack at 10L, has a phone pocket on the left chest, and lets me secure my poles on the back with the adjustable elastic. You also get a free emergency blanket and whistle with the pack.

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.
  • 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 reach out 🙂
Happy trails,

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About Me

I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it).
As a liberal arts grad/endurance athlete/travel enthusiast, I find beauty in many spheres. Consequently, I have no idea where life will lead me. Here is where I document my (mis)adventures and try to offer some helpful advice. Feel free to join me for the ride. Read More

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