This summer various hiking interests have banded together to respond to congestion at parking lots at popular trailheads. The “Snoqualmie Valley Adventure Shuttle” will run on weekends from June 6th through September 12th. Reservations are recommended.

The shuttle will be an 11-passenger van running from North Bend P&R to Little Si, Mount Teneriffe, and Mount Si trailheads, running every half hour through the heart of the day. On Saturdays, this connects with Route 208, providing 7 round trips to Issaquah Transit Center, which the 554 in turn serves regularly from Downtown Seattle.


This is a sensible response to congested lots, a lifeline to carless hiking enthusiasts, and an encouraging initiative. The idea of special routes with enhanced frequency on weekends to recreational destinations is a good one that I wish Metro would embrace. At the risk of being churlish about this positive step, however, there are several problems with this implementation.

The round trip fare is $5 per person, which includes $25 in “SnoValley Adventure Bucks” good for some credit and local businesses. As a daily park Discover Pass is $10/car*, parties of two will break even if they have no use for the Adventure Bucks. While not gouging passengers by any means, this price point fails to reward most people for the greater inconvenience of taking parking pressure off the trailheads. For most parties of two or more, the optimal strategy is to go straight to the trailhead and use North Bend strictly as an overflow lot, assuming there is space available on the van.

Furthermore, the 208 is a thin line with which to connect, one that doesn’t run at all on Sundays. This is perhaps an inevitable consequence of sponsorship by North Bend and efforts to control costs, but direct service to Issaquah would make an all-transit trip downright convenient. With two-hour-plus headways on the 208, this shuttle is, again, more in service to a North Bend satellite lot than a true transit alternative.

But once again, bravo to the City of North Bend, DNR, Mountains to Sound Greenway, and Washington Trails Association for putting this service together. Hopefully this summer’s pilot will demonstrate that there is demand for these trips.

* $30/year for unlimited access.

23 Replies to “New Summer Hiking Shuttle”

  1. It’d be nice if they offered an earlier time. If you get to Mt. Si by 10:20, it’s like trying to walk through Times Square.

    1. The next earlier time with a route 208 trip to connect to would have to leave North Bend at 7:45 in the morning. There’s also the factor that on a sunny day, the trailhead parking typically fills up around 10:00 in the morning, so there’s less motivation for people arriving at earlier times to ride it.

    2. The posted schedule also looks like the maximum span of service that could be achieved with just one driver working an 8-hour day, with no overtime. Any increase in the span of service would likely significantly increase labor costs.

  2. I think this is a great idea. Besides just helping with overflow parking, it will also enable some nice thru-hikes that would otherwise be impossible without the inconvenience of car shuttles. For instance, you can go up Mt. Si. the old trail and come down on the the new trail. You can even use it to do a thru-hike between the Mt. Si. and the Mt. Tenerrife Trail.

    There is also a nice route 208 connection not listed in the schedule – the trip leaving Issaquah at 9:07 connects with the 10:00 shuttle trip with about a 15-minute wait in North Bend.

    It remains to be seen how popular this will be. Most people who hike this already have Discover Passes, so the motivation to ride the shuttle won’t come from saving on the parking pass. Most of the use it does get will come from people who want to hike in and out different trailheads or people arriving late in the morning when they know the trailhead parking will likely be completely full.

    1. Yeah, I agree. I very much doubt that this will reduce driving much at all. People will simply use the park and ride lot instead of the hiking lot. This makes a lot of sense, given the huge numbers of people who hike these trails (Mount Si especially). There are National Parks (like Zion) where they don’t allow people to park at the parking lot, but ask them to ride shuttles. Rainier runs a shuttle, but not very often. In both cases it is nice for folks who want to do a one way hike, or not spend all day waiting for a parking spot to open up.

      But in neither case are you going to get huge numbers of people who take public transportation from the nearest city. The same is true with this. I think you are talking about four bus rides from a typical location in Seattle (Ballard to downtown, downtown to Issaquah, Issaquah to North Bend, then the shuttle) and no Sunday service, as mentioned. You might get someone to bike and then take the shuttle (and thus avoid the gravel road). Then again, it’s been almost thirty years since I last did Mount Si, so I’m not even sure the road is gravel.

      On the other hand, a mountain shuttle could easily be justified. Stop downtown, this park and ride, along with the Snow Lakes and PCT trail (at Snoqualmie Pass). That is all paved, and all those trips are very popular. There would be no loop trip possibility, unless the rider was backpacking though. Nonetheless, I think that would be popular with day hikers and backpackers alike.

    1. That train map is great. Do you know of one that is more detailed (maybe a Google Maps overlay)? I’m always curious about such things and find information like that hard to find.

      My wife and I like to travel and hike a lot. In Europe, we never drove. We would often take a train or a bus or both to the trailhead. Sometimes we would take a gondola. The Alps are a lot less wild than our mountains (in Washington or Montana) but it sure was nice to be able to take public transportation everywhere. Some of these places were huge tourist destinations (like Mount Blanc) while others were a lot less popular, but still had decent rail and bus service.

      If that ever happens here I think it would be similar — a combination of trains and buses. With few exceptions (Glacier being one of them) the trains aren’t that great for getting to a nice trailhead. At least, not alone. I could easily see a bus picking up people in Hyak, and shuttling them to various spots around Snoqualmie Pass. But even then it isn’t an ideal location (both because it requires heading south from Seattle and the tunnel is through the best stuff). Stevens Pass is similar. I think as a ski/train shuttle it holds great promise. But where a train, bus combo would be ideal would be for some place like Artist Point. Take a high speed train up to Bellingham, then take a bus up to the end of the Mount Baker highway. There are a ton of great hikes off the road, too, but most of them require driving a ways on bad gravel roads.

      My biggest fantasy public transportation hiking trip would be to Hurricane Ridge. They could add a passenger only ferry to Port Angeles. From there you could take a bus shuttle right to the end of the road. This would also allow for a one way hike (down) if the bus stopped off at a trailhead along the way (which would be really easy). This, to me, would be extremely popular on a nice day (and probably really quiet when the weather is bad).

      Of course, as with a lot of these ideas, what would make the most sense is car rentals on the other end. High speed (or even decent speed) rail to Bellingham could easily be followed by renting a car and driving to the mountains. Snoqualmie or Stevens Pass is trickier, but places like Cle Elum or Leavenworth would not be. Put in some decent trail service and a car rental lot and you could get quite a few people off the road (especially on a busy weekend).

      1. A platform at Scenic (west portal of the Cascade Tunnel at Stevens) and a gondola to the slopes would be cool (or from the east portal if that works, but there’s more room at the west end and it’s closer to the summit).

        Of course the way the weather is going, nobody in their right mind would put a thin dime in a thing like that!

    2. My Dad rode the ski train to the old Milwaukee Ski Bowl – he loved to go to the slopes that way (and talk about it!). The GN also ran specials up to Leavenworth for the national ski jumping championships when the old ski jump on the north side of town was suitable for such things. They drew massive crowds to that in the ’30s.

      I’d love for that to still be a thing…train to the slopes. Unfortunately (and I’m a hiker, but still) the old Milwaukee is no more than a trail. It was by far the best route Seattle-Spokane as far as grades went and would have been the logical location for through trains between the city were they ever to happen again.

      Thanks for the link!

  3. As a transit geek, I love it. It solves the problem of automobile crowding, adds to the places you can go without a car, and decreases the cost of getting there. Love it.

    As a hiker, not so much. The problem, really, is that nature is where you go to get away from people; anything that is a viable transit project isn’t a wilderness-experience type hike. This isn’t to say it isn’t worthwhile, but that its function is more akin to a public park (a badass park) than a wilderness area. Great for a workout in the woods and a little respite, but a qualitatively different experience from being deep in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

    As a person more interested in the latter than the former, I only do Si (or Teneriffe) early or late in the day, when the crowds are lighter and the light is prettier, and early or late in the season, when the better hikes are too snowy. This means that the shuttle isn’t useful to me; but of course, that’s a function of the fact that wilderness and transit are opposing goals.

    1. I think the odds of finding solitude are pretty low on Si, any time of year (but especially when there is a lot of snow higher up). Little Si isn’t that bad and Teneriffe is probably the least crowded, but just about any hike in the area is going to be crowded. This is true of plenty of other places (Snow Lake is a zoo) but you if you endure the crowds for a while, you can get away from them by simply hiking farther, or off trail. That is probably true of Si as well (there are probably lots of little trails away from the crowds — I don’t know). You can also go on a rainy day (although it wouldn’t surprise me if Si is busy even then). So I don’t think it detracts from anyone’s wilderness experience (because it is so crowded already).

      Overall, I’ll never use this but I think it is a good thing. On the other hand, I would use the shuttle I mentioned above (downtown, North Bend, PCT, Snow Lakes) at least a couple times a year. Yeah, those places are crowded, but they are mighty nice (and the crowds thin out if you go far enough).

    2. As a hiker, not so much. The problem, really, is that nature is where you go to get away from people

      I have to say this smacks of “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” If it’s a very popular attraction that overwhelms the driving infrastructure, then this is the proper response.

      1. To be honest, other than the proximity to Seattle (shorter drive) I don’t get the appeal of Mount Si. The woods are nice, but the view is mediocre, really. Nothing like you get if you drive another fifteen minutes and head up Granite Mountain or Bandera or Defiance. But it is open almost all year (as EHS said).

        Tenerriffe has a much nicer view from the top (it is essentially what blocks a lot of the good stuff from Si). I went up the old trail (more of a path) and down the new one and I don’t think I’ll do it ever again. The view is nice from the top, but not very wild (you can see substantial clear cut action). Not as good (in my book) as any of the other mountains I mentioned (to be fair — both Defiance and Bandera look like crap if you look south — towards the freeway and clearcuts on the other side – but they are much better than Teneriffe if you look north). But the main problem is the trail is really rugged — lots of rocks and very steep sections. So despite the distance, it is no PCT.

        Little Si, on the other hand, is a really nice little hike, especially if you don’t want to go very far, or aren’t concerned with getting jaw dropping views.

        Anyway, I agree with your overall point, Martin — these hikes are very popular — serving them with buses makes a lot of sense. I wish there was more of that.

      2. I have to say this smacks of “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” If it’s a very popular attraction that overwhelms the driving infrastructure, then this is the proper response.

        I interpreted it more as “I don’t want to go there, it’s too crowded.” Buses to popular destinations are great. They’ll never be a great solution for people who are specifically looking for something that isn’t a popular destination.

    3. “The problem, really, is that nature is where you go to get away from people; anything that is a viable transit project isn’t a wilderness-experience type hike.”

      That’s only because you’re used to the skeletal transit in the US. In Europe there would be a bus because transit should go everywhere to even minor attractions. Otherwise it encourages car dependency (you can’t get to many parts of Washington without a car) and owning a car just for these kinds of trips (some people in Pugetopolis own cars mostly for access to the trails, but then they have the car so they use it for in-town trips too). The only exception would be a private farm which probably doesn’t have transit to its front door, but the nearest town center has a train station. But if a large company set up an office the government would force it to have a transit plan, either on the existing network or creating an extension. And similarly, any significant tourist attraction would have transit. Maybe not its own train station or a full-sized bus, but something.

  4. So isn’t this the same crowd that decries sub-area equity and criticizes any proposed additions to transit service to Issaquah, let alone North Bend? I thought you folk never left Capitol Hill?

    1. Don’t forget – King County Metro’s dollars aren’t paying for this service. If they were, the service would cost vastly more money to operate.

      The adventure shuttle saves a lot of money by not needing to provide paratransit trips or be wheelchair accessible (nobody in a wheelchair is going to hike up Mt. Si anyway), as well as not being subject to the numerous rules and regulations imposed by the FTA and the Metro bus driver union.

      Long-term, a robot-driven van shuttle to popular hiking destinations could be quite popular. Eliminate the labor cost and it could probably take people all the way from Seattle for $5-$10 round trip and still mostly pay for itself.

  5. This is a good place to start. I hope it does well and they can justify expanding the program.

    I’m curious what businesses have signed onto the “SnoValley Adventure Bucks” program. I doubt there’ll be much return for them with this pilot program, but an expanded program that hits more of the Valley could provide some nice business potential.

    It would be great to add in a stop at both ends of Rattlesnake ridge (Rattlesnake lake and ledge on one end, Snoqualmie Point Park and Stan’s Overlook on the other end).

    How about this route on roughly 75-90 minute headways:
    Highlands P&R
    Snoqualmie Point Park
    North Bend P&R
    Rattlesnake Lake
    North Bend P&R
    Downtown Snoqualmie (corner of Railroad & King, or thereabouts)
    Snoqualmie Ridge (corner of Snoqualmie Parkway and Center, or follow the 208 routing via Fairway, Ridge & Douglas and have the stop at Ridge and Center)
    Highlands P&R

    Having the option to do one of these hikes in the morning, then swing by the Snoqualmie Brewery (for example) for a few pints and a bite to eat afterwards would be great. I think that is the kind of thing that could attract some decent crowds.

    1. …and full disclosure: I live on Snoqualmie Ridge, so these options are quite attractive to me.

      1. You do? Then I’d like to ask, what do Ridge residents think of routes 208 and 628? How many of them ride it never, occasionally, often? Do they use it for local trips to Issaquah, downtown Snoqualmie or North Bend, or do they only use them for trips to Seattle? What would they think of rerouting the 208 to the Issaquah Highlands P&R instead of the Issaquah TC and central Issaquah? Would that not matter because the Highlands P&R is closer anyway, or would it be a drag because they go to central Issaquah a lot?

      2. I can only speak for myself and my wife, so be sure to take what I say with a large grain of salt.

        I’ve not ridden transit from home since we moved there. I do know of one neighbor who rides transit (I assume the 208) a few times a week.

        When we first moved to the ridge, my wife occasionally commuted via the 215, which took her all the way into Seattle. But since that route was deleted, I can’t imagine transit commuting makes sense for just about anyone on the ridge. Or for that matter any other trip.

        Anyone who lives out here, especially in the fairly wealthy area of the ridge, has a car or two at least. If you are going to just about anywhere, you are going to drive.

        Regarding where to go in Issaquah, given a choice, I’d rather it go to the highlands because being able to walk to the movie theater and a few resturants/bars has some appeal. The transit center doesn’t have the same walkability. But for anyone that does commute using the 208, I think it becomes a case where making any kind of change probably isn’t worth the political costs of forcing people to change their transfers and other connections.

      3. I was thinking of central and eastern Issaquah, the area by City Hall that the 208 goes through. I was wondering if that was a significant destination for Ridge riders but it sounds from our limited evidence that it’s not. If that turns out to be the case, then it’s a mostly separate transit market that could be shifted to another route.

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