Transit Hikes: Point Roberts

Lily Point Marine Park, Point Roberts – Photo by Flickr User Loutron Glouton

I’ve always been drawn to geopolitical oddities.  Humans frequently draw straight, arbitrary lines and the terrain makes a mockery of it, such as Minnesota’s Northwest Angle or the Kentucky Bend.  Other examples, such as the bizarre Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau, are so anachronistic that you can almost imagine medieval barons drunkenly gambling away their various land holdings parcel by parcel.

Washington is home to one of the stranger examples in the United States, Point Roberts, a ‘practical exclave’ on the tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula just south of the Vancouver suburb of Delta.  Jutting just past the 49th parallel makes it part of the United States, one of (I believe) only two settlements in the western U.S. accessible by land only via Canada (the other is the tiny hamlet of Hyder, Alaska).

Point Roberts also makes a great day trip or short overnight visit, and it’s easily accessible via transit.  When I lived in Vancouver BC I visited twice, each time spending a lazy half-day circumnavigating the peninsula on foot.

The easiest way to get to Point Roberts car-free from Seattle is as follows:

  • Take the first Quick Coach of the day from the Seattle Center Best Western (200 Taylor Ave North) to Bridgeport Station on the Canada Line.  The trip takes 3 hours and costs $51 round-trip.
  • Transfer to TransLink Route 601 (map) to South Delta.  The ride takes 50 minutes and costs $3.75.
  • From the corner of 54th St and 2nd Ave, walk 3/4 of a mile to the border crossing.  Present your passport and be on your way.
  • Either stay overnight, or catch the last Quick Coach back to Seattle.
Here’s a overview map:

The transit connections are easy.  TransLink #601 runs every half hour 7 days per week until 10pm, and the border crossing is open 24/7/365.  Anchoring your trip at Bridgeport Station also gives you the option to explore Vancouver’s rail transit with ease.  Taking Amtrak Cascades is also possible for longer stays but will take roughly twice as long and require three transfers to reach Point Roberts (Amtrak–>SkyTrain–>Canada Line–>601).

Land use here is very similar to the San Juan Islands;  thick (and brushy) second-growth forests, pockets of old growth, quiet and narrow roads, scattered homes of widely varying quality, a small grocery store, and a high-end marina on the southwestern tip.  A leisurely 3-mile walk will bring you to the steep cliffs of Lily Point, where on clear days you will have expansive views of Boundary Bay and Mt Baker.  Hike down from the bluff to the beach at low tide and you may spot Purple Sea Stars, and you’ll have a chance to see the pilings remaining in the beach from the old Alaska Packers Cannery.  By no means a wilderness adventure, Point Roberts is merely a chance see American gas priced in litres, to set foot in an accident of geography, to pass through a comically excessive border patrol checkpoint, and to walk a few miles on quiet roads for the sheer pleasure of it.

Previous Transit Hikes:

Shaw Island and Friday Harbor

Wallace Falls

Deception Pass/Whidbey Island Loop

 

Comments

  1. Erik G. says

    Nice post Zach.

    Atlantic Cities did a write up about Pt. Roberts a few days back:

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2012/02/strange-existence-point-roberts-washington/1265/

    That excessive border paranoia (follow the $) apparently makes it an excellent place for protected witnesses to live. Here is a link to the Tourism agency there:

    http://pointrobertstourism.com/

    And I see that the conservative Canadian National Post had an article on it Monday:
    http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/02/27/point-roberts-washington-a-little-slice-of-the-u-s-only-accessible-through-canada/

    • Erik G. says

      I have no time to find a citation right now, but I recall that because Point Roberts was used as a military “camp” during the times of border tensions between the U.S. and Western Canada, a large part of downtown Vancouver was held either in reserve or in fact used as a camp for the British Army, and so we can thank Point Roberts for the existence of Stanley Park.

      Here’s a pretty good site explaining enclaves and exclaves:

      http://geosite.jankrogh.com/exclaves.htm

      And here’s my favorite one in the former West Berlin, Steinstücken:

      http://www.berlin.de/mauer/zahlen_fakten/gebietsaustausch/index.en.html

      • MIke says

        An oddity of using Lat/Long to divide up countries, rather than logic, or maybe the boundary commission only knows how to draw straight lines.
        Pt. Roberts is part of Whatcom County, and it’s very odd to see county trucks clearing customs each day to provide road, building, health, and other services.
        But not a bad beach head if we ever have to invade Canada when we run out of middle east countries to conquer.

      • EvergreenRailfan says

        Last year, my mother won a trip to Vancouver and Whistler through the lottery second chance drawing. The guy taking us from the hotel in Vancouver to Whistler told us a story about the Whatcom County deputies assigned to Point Roberts, they have to leave their weapons at the border, and pick up another one at the next crossing. I can imagine it would make a good place to protect a witness.

        Did not know that the bus to South Delta got that close to the border crossing, thanks for the info. I’ll look into it if I ever get up that way again. My 2 days in Vancouver I was mainly riding everything I could with the Skytrain, Canada Line, Seabus, and the bus.

      • says

        @Mike – Its not really even lat/long as much as politics. When the treaty was being negotiated Britain suggested that the line be drawn so that Pt. Roberts ended up within Canada/Britain because of the difficulty it would cause the US, but the US refused.

      • K H says

        MIke –

        Years ago when I used to deadhead my charter coach up to Vancouver very early in the morning, I’d follow the Blaine School District school bus across the border. It was deadheading over there to pick up high school kids and bring them to Blaine HS.

  2. Rod N. says

    Fifty-four forty or fight. We should have fought, then we wouldn’t have to worry about access to Point Roberts. Hehe

    • MIke says

      Given how far the US is willing to go to ‘protect our oil supplies’, and if the middle east is any indication of that, then I wouldn’t want to piss off Canada anytime in the next 100 years.

      • Dan Carey says

        Hey now, Canada is the only country to have beat back a US invasion. That was about 200 years ago though. I guess we learned our lesson. :)

  3. downintacoma says

    These posts are cool, but here’s an idea for the truly ambitious transit rider:

    The Bellingham Amtrak station is located quite literally at the Port of Bellingham, which has a ferry terminal. Get off the train, walk across the tracks, and you’re there — less than 500 feet of walking.

    But this is not a WSF terminal – this is the southern-most point on the Alaska Marine Highway system, and the majority of southeast Alaska is at your disposal. (If you try hard enough, the rest of Alaska is accessible, too.)

    That’s right: ride transit to the Last Frontier. And because of the Amtrak connection, it can be done from anywhere along the Cascades rail corridor.

    • Lloyd says

      This was much easier for Seattleites until the Alaska Ferry terminal moved north to B’ham about 15+ years ago. In April on 1989 I took the 15/18 from my place on lower QA right to first and Jackson and walked over to Pier 48 and rode the Matanuska to Skagway and back in a week. It is a great trip; well worth doing, especially at the “shoulder season” in April/early May or late September when the cruise ships are NOT in Alaska and the fares are lower.

  4. David Seater says

    If the US customs agent at Point Roberts asks, “Did you come from the other side?” he actually means “the other side of the US” and not “the other side of the border (Canada).” If you respond, “The other side of what?” then he will glare at you.

    • Anthony says

      And if you answer the border agent with a “yes”, and you HAVEN’T crossed from Pt. Roberts, they’ll know you are lying. Its a trick they use constantly, and of course just tried to get me with last weekend.

      So, moral of the story is, never lie to the border guard.

      Also, great thread here, can’t wait for the next installment!

      • Rod N. says

        Yeah, don’t lie.

        Don’t say a dang thing; except answer their questions. The dudes can ruin your life, just like certain police officers, today. I remember the U.S. border agents removing the hub caps off our 1967 Volkswagen, in 1969. Of course that was at the U.S. border in Idaho. They even took apart my good old cigarette lighter, back when I used to smoke. Of course they found nuthin’…but I am sure they were hopin’ to find a marijuana seed…

        Fascist Idaho gestapo U.S. Border patrol agents in action….1969 style. Talk about pigz….oinkity, oink. Snort.

        The good old days.

    • MIke says

      I wonder how much of it is owned by Canadians. A bunch, I bet. Just too weird. I’d bet Whatcom Co. would just give it to Canada if they could.

      • downintacoma says

        Not a chance – I bet Whatcom county is happy to reap the revenue provided to them by Point Roberts. Besides, then you’d have to deal with the messy business of either moving or naturalizing the Americans who live there.

  5. Anthony says

    That area of northern Whatcom county has been fluid for years. The amount of property owned by Canadians is substantial, to say the least they aren’t excited about the onerous border regulations when it comes to going just twenty miles south of their current home.

    Downintacoma said it well, border ain’t changin, the county loves the profits they get, and with the rise of the Canadian currency it only gets better for them.

  6. Anna says

    Loving this feature on Seattle Transit Blog. Now, how to get the slopes and back via transit? =)

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