Trailhead Direct 2017 route
Credit: King County

Declaring the first season of Trailhead Direct a success, King County is preparing for a second season while considering expanding the program to North Bend.

Trailhead Direct provided hikers an option to access trails in the Issaquah Alps using public transportation. The pilot program, which ran on weekends and holidays from early August to mid-October, aimed to reduce congestion at trailheads and broaden access to public lands.  

Nineteen-seat vans ran every 30 minutes between 7 am and 6 pm, picking up riders at Issaquah’s two park-and-rides and stopping at three trailheads on Squak and Tiger mountains. Riders were charged an off-peak fare.

According to Lizzy Jessup, a project manager at King County Parks, about 900 hikers used the service, averaging roughly 40 riders a day. An on-board survey found over 90% of riders thought the service could reduce congestion at trailheads, and many riders wanted to see the service expand to more locations. The on-board survey also found hikers accessed the Trailhead Direct shuttles both by driving themselves to the park-and-ride lots and also by taking Metro route 271 and Sound Transit route 554 from Seattle.

Jessup said King County Parks and King County Metro Transit are still weighing possible changes to the route and timing of the shuttles for next year. She added that, due to low ridership, the stop at the Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride will probably be eliminated this year.

The two King County agencies also hope to expand the program and connect to trails in North Bend. Jessup said one consideration in North Bend is using satellite parking lots to add parking near trailheads.

On Tuesday, members of the outdoor community gathered to brainstorm ideas on alternative transportation to the outdoors and the future of the Trailhead Direct service, hosted by the Wilderness Society and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

“Everyone should be able to access the outdoors,” said Ben Hughey, a policy lead at Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, starting the discussion.

Hughey added that transportation was the No. 2 obstacle for people of color accessing the outdoors, citing a poll done by New America Media. Time was the No. 1 obstacle.

Even if Trailhead Direct does expand to North Bend, there are still hundreds of other trails in the region requiring alternative transportation options to make them accessible without needing a car.

One possibility Hughey said was being considered by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust was charter bus service. The idea was modeled off the Canadian non-profit charter bus service, PARKBUS, which shuttles back and forth between National and Provincial Parks and major cities.

Another option brought to the table was the app TOTAGO. The app gives the location of trailheads accessible by bus from several major cities around the US. Along with providing transit directions to trailheads and hike descriptions, the app also gives timings of buses for the return trip.

Attendees also offered suggestions for next year, including adjusting the timing of the Trailhead Direct service to match the arrival times of buses from Seattle. Another idea was to run the shuttles in both directions around the looped route.

Though many decisions about next year’s service are yet to be finalized, Jessup said Trailhead Direct would run for the full 2018 hiking season.

18 Replies to “Trailhead Direct to Continue for a Second Hiking Season”

  1. I’m surprised Metro doesn’t do a Friday-Sunday route up to Snoqualmie West with a stop at every I-90 exit. 80% of the driving I do is to access skiing/hiking/fishing along the I-90 corridor…and I’m probably not alone in that. Public transit to the ski lift or trailhead in the “real” mountains would be pretty cool.

    1. This is a great suggestion! I would suggest the following stops…over a half-dozen are within walking distance of the highway exits.

      -Downtown
      -Judkins Park
      -Mercer Island P&R
      -Eastgate P&R
      -Issaquah P&R
      -High Point/Grand Ridge TH (exit 20)
      -South Rattlesnake TH (exit 27)
      -Olallie/Twin Falls/Mt Washington (exit 38)
      -McClellan Butte (exit 42)
      -Bandera (exit 45)
      -Granite Mtn (exit 47)
      -PCT (exit 52)

      Honestly having that route would increase the likelihood of me finally ditching my car.

      1. Yes. Great idea for many great hiking trails along the I-90 corridor. Given the existing heavy usage (e.g. lots of cars in the Alpental parking lot) and proximity to dense King County population (provide the route, and lots of folks will change from non-hikers to hikers), I’m guessing there is a good chance for a profitable route with vehicles sized to the demand. Perhaps a mechanism for riders to give Transit advanced notice of their hiking plans to help Transit adjust size and number of vehicles accordingly.

      2. 50 miles is borderline manageable for a long transit route. Route 422 (Stanwood to Seattle) is roughly the same length, but is non-stop. Trimming a few of the P&R stops (or truncating it to Bellevue) would make it feasible, in my eyes.

      3. Yes, I agree that promotion is the answer only after one is offering a quality product. I was focusing on obtaining reasonable public transit access to the trailheads along the I-90 corridor and Snoqualmie Pass area. Thinking details for the first time and thinking starting the hiking route as far east as possible is the best answer, I’m looking at existing routes to see the eastern-most reasonable access they provide. I see neither the 628 nor the 208 provide reasonable 7-day-a-week access to North Bend, so that puts the west end of the hiking route at Issaquah until North Bend service is improved. The hiking route will need adequate stops to get to a decent selection of the trailheads. Tradeoffs for a product that sells likely favor stops at more trailheads over a quicker route. Reasonable 7-day-a week access to North Bend would be great, because a shorter hiking route starting at North Bend instead of Issaquah could support a more-marketable higher frequency on the hiking route.

      4. @Bruce, the 422 has one stop in Lynnwood and a few in Marysville; I don’t see any problem with this bus stopping at a couple P&R’s along the way. From Joe’s list, I’d cut only Mercer Island.

  2. Which of the trails are good for a short hike; i.e., where you can go somewhere before it gets steep? I didn’t use the shuttle last year because I think asdf2 said Poo Poo point is a long steep hike, but what about going part of the way? Which of these trails have moderate heads that might be suitable for a wider user base? And maybe we (the hiking community) should publicize this more, in the same way that cycletracks make biking accessible to a wider variety of people.

    And which is the trail that goes to Coal Creek/Factoria (240/241)? The 240 will have 30-minute Sundays and evenings starting this Saturday.

    1. The 240 goes right to the trailhead. Beware that this trailhead has exactly zero parking spaces, so if you want to get there, you need to take the bus.

  3. [OT] now the great outdoors are becoming accessible to all. I hope one day the North Cascades receive the same treatment. Ditto Mount Rainier.

    In my Paul Keating voice: THIS IS A WIN FOR THE TRUE BELIEVERS OF TRANSIT! You know, this is a big step towards, “a cooperative, decent, nice place to live where people have regard for each other.”

    1. It’s a step toward comprehensive transit too. According to an expat, in China you can get anywhere in the country on transit so you never need a car. Switzerland is the same I gather, including the ski resorts. This is the ultimate goal.

  4. I suspect ridership for the “I-90 Hiking” route would increase significantly if Transit actively promotes the route. And increased ridership would support a more robust route.

  5. Marketing promotions help. But, at the end of the day, in order to get repeat customers, the system needs to be convenient – and making the system convenient requires attention to detail in the scheduling.

    Last year’s shuttle added too much wait time getting to/from the 554 because Metro failed to coordinate schedules with the Sound Transit route. The Trailhead Direct’s cause was also not helped by the fact that the 554 runs just once an hour on weekend mornings until about 10:30 AM, or the fact that the each the trails it goes to can be reached from the 554 directly (albeit by walking through the neighborhoods a few blocks to get to a different trailhead, on the other side of the mountain).

    With regards to the proposed North Bend extension, it *has* to go at least to Issaquah in order to stand a chance at getting riders (at least until the 208 gets a *lot* more frequent, and starts running at all on Sunday). I fear the system is going to be set up so that you effectively *still* need a car to get to the shuttle stop, in which case the shuttle, itself, will offer very little value over just driving to the trailhead (at best, it would save people that don’t have a Discover Pass a few dollars).

    1. Yes, I agree that promotion is the answer only after one is offering a quality product. I was focusing on obtaining reasonable public transit access to the trailheads along the I-90 corridor and Snoqualmie Pass area. Thinking details for the first time and thinking starting the hiking route as far east as possible is the best answer, I’m looking at existing routes to see the eastern-most reasonable access they provide. I see neither the 628 nor the 208 provide reasonable 7-day-a-week access to North Bend, so that puts the west end of the hiking route at Issaquah until North Bend service is improved. The hiking route will need adequate stops to get to a decent selection of the trailheads. Tradeoffs for a product that sells likely favor stops at more trailheads over a quicker route. Reasonable 7-day-a week access to North Bend would be great, because a shorter hiking route starting at North Bend instead of Issaquah could support a more-marketable higher frequency on the hiking route.

      1. On second thought, a solid tie in with the 7-day-a week generally-high-frequency 554 at Issaquah is likely the best choice for a high-quality I-90 corridor hiking route – better than a tie in at North Bend where even an improved service would offer less frequency – not to mention another transfer. Use the freeway from Issaquah to quickly get to the I-90 corridor trail heads.

  6. This is excellent news. My partner and a friend went out to Squak Mountain last year (62->554->shuttle), and it was very seamless. Hopefully we’ll have some more time this summer to try some other trail heads.

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