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Hiker Approved: King County's Transit-to-Trail Service Proves Popular

Posted by Christina Hickman at Dec 04, 2018 12:22 PM |

The first full season of Trailhead Direct city-to-trail shuttle service wrapped up at the end of October. What did we learn from the pilot project?

The results are in, and they're good!

The first full season Trailhead Direct—an effort co-led by King County Metro and King County Parks to connect hikers to popular trails via public transit—wrapped up at the end of October. The success of the program could prove to be a model for more transit-to-trail options for the future.

If you're car-free in the city, Trailhead Direct makes it easy to hit the trails. Photo courtesy of Eli Brownell, King County Parks.

It’s pretty popular

King County reports that on weekends and holidays from April to October, hikers took 20,373 trips (more than 10,000 roundtrips) on the three routes (Mount Baker Transit Center to Issaquah Alps, Capitol Hill Link light rail station to Mount Si, and a satellite parking lot in North Bend to Mailbox Peak).


More than 60 percent of passengers took Trailhead Direct more than once and nearly 20 percent took it at least four times. WTA trails and communications specialist Claudia Lopez used Trailhead Direct to get to Margaret’s Way and Chybinski Loop trails from Seattle on a foggy October afternoon.

“The buses are small but clean, and all the drivers I encountered were friendly and helpful," she said. "It was a scenic and peaceful journey with the fall colors outside my window.”

Hikers bound for the Issaquah Alps wait to board Trailhead Direct at the Mount Baker Transit Center. Photo courtesy of Eli Brownell, King County Parks.

more riders with Environmental impact on their mind

King County tallied 8,526 trips on the route to the Issaquah Alps (launched in April) and 8,197 trips to Mount Si/Mount Teneriffe (launched in May), but only 3,156 to Mailbox Peak. While it is definitely possible some hikers may have shied away from Mailbox Peak due to its difficult nature, this option included having to travel to a parking lot in North Bend before taking the shuttle—and “not owning a car” was the number 2 reason why hikers surveyed took Trailhead Direct.

The top reason those surveyed took Trailhead Direct? It’s “more environmentally friendly than driving.”

more car-free options in Washington

In the Columbia River Gorge, you'll find even more ways to access trails via transit. 

  • The West End Transit (or WET bus) connects nine trailheads and Gorge communities on summer weekends.
  • The Dog Mountain Shuttle (another WET bus) takes hikers from the Skamania County Fairgrounds in Stevenson to the Dog Mountain trailhead every half hour on summer weekends. (This is also the time of year when you must acquire a permit for the hike.
  • On the Oregon side of the Gorge, from May to September, the Columbia Gorge Express takes riders from Portland to Cascade Locks and Hood River in addition to Rooster Rock and Multnomah Falls.

WTA and the future of trail access

WTA was an early advocate for and continues to be a proud partner on the Trailhead Direct project.

"All of the riders point to an even greater need for more transit-to-trail projects like this in the future," said Jill Simmons, executive director of WTA. "We are excited to continue fostering the growth of projects like this to ensure that trails are accessible to everyone wanting to experience the outdoors, whether you have a car or not."

Stay tuned to Trailhead Direct’s website for updates on the 2019 season.


Dick Burkhart on Hiker Approved: King County's Transit-to-Trail Service Proves Popular

It would be great to have a bus going to the Rattlesnake Mtn trailheads as well. Especially so people could hike from one end (Snoqualmie Pt) to the other (Rattlesnake Lake).

Posted by:

Dick Burkhart on Dec 06, 2018 04:58 PM

nuntheless on Hiker Approved: King County's Transit-to-Trail Service Proves Popular

I agree, a bus out to Rattlesnake Ledge would be great. Also, if wta would add suggestions for King County Metro routes to reach trailheads, that would be great, too.

Posted by:

nuntheless on Dec 08, 2018 03:47 PM

a_beautiful_adventure on Hiker Approved: King County's Transit-to-Trail Service Proves Popular

Hi Christina! The transportation option provided by Trailhead Direct in 2018 was welcome, however I would love to see King County Metro support more trails with increased frequency in 2019. The limited transportation options to outdoor recreation in the Seattle Metropolitan area is a problem partly because the volume of people seeking recreational activities has significantly increased following area population growth. A potential solution would be to develop public transportation options to support current demand.
Transportation options to outdoor recreation opportunities near the Seattle metropolitan area is an issue of importance because 23% of the area population enjoys hiking as a recreational activity, and King County residents and tourists report that they enjoy hiking an average of 8.2 times each year (Seattle Parks and Recreation, 2016, p 13-16). With a 2017 population of 2.2 million people (Office of Planning and Community Development, 2018), more than 4.1 million hikes are happening near Seattle each year.
This heavy volume of people using area trails results in vehicles parked along the roadside for miles before and after popular trailheads. Mace, Marquit, and Bates (2013) suggests that park areas were historically designed to be reached by car, however when national parks reach visitation levels that exceed road availability and facility capacity, rather than decrease park space to increase road and parking space, national parks have elected to implement voluntary or mandatory shuttle services to reduce congestion, maintain safety, and continue to provide an authentic outdoor experience for all visitors. The frequency of shuttle availability has proven to be the most important factor in the success of park area shuttle programs with visitors specifying a maximum wait time of 15-25 minutes (Mace, et al, 2013).
With limited weekend and holiday service provided during the summer of 2018, and no schedule posted yet for 2019, Trailhead Direct needs work to meet public transportation demand. A survey of Trailhead Direct riders reflected that the top reasons for using public transportation to access popular trailheads was because doing so is more “environmentally friendly”, closely followed by “not owning a car” (Constantine, 2018, para. 6). By providing year-round weekend service, weekday service during summer months, and increased trip frequency during peak periods, Trailhead Direct could meet their stated goals of making hiking accessible to all people and reducing dangerous overcrowding at popular trailheads.

Constantine, D. (2018). 10,000 round trips: Hikers embrace Trailhead Direct in its first full
season. Retrieved from
Mace, B., Marquit, L., & Bates, J. (2013). Visitor assessment of the mandatory alternative
transportation system at Zion National Park. Environmental Management, 52(5), 1271-1285.
Office of Planning and Community Development. (2018). About Seattle: population. Retrieved
Seattle Parks and Recreation. (2016). 2016 Seattle recreation demand study. Retrieved from

Posted by:

a_beautiful_adventure on Mar 27, 2019 05:08 PM