For those in the Greater Seattle area who don’t drive, many outdoor activities might feel less accessible — or even impossible. But with public transit, local public programs designed to get folks outdoors and a little digging online, you can hit the trails without your own wheels. 

In 2017, Seattle Department of Transportation, King County Parks and King County Metro created Trailhead Direct, a popular seasonal bus route for those who want to hike during the summer. In 2021, the program offered routes to Mount Si and the Issaquah Alps. Another great resource for getting to the great outdoors without a car: the Washington Trails Association how-to page for bus-accessible hikes around Seattle. 

Want to go the extra mile? Check out outdoorsy groups on Meetup

I’m used to getting outdoors without a car. As an undergraduate in the 2010s, I spent my free time experiencing the Pacific Northwest’s natural charms and taking advantage of our proximity to nature. I depended on friends and family for rides, convincing them to go with me in the first place, then promising not to ruin their cars with forest debris and mud stains. 

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Before the pandemic, I took my nature escapes into my own hands and tested a bunch of outdoor adventure groups, including a handful on Meetup, a platform where users can find groups to pursue leisurely activities while meeting new people. 

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The Seattle Transit Hikers Meetup was my favorite because it helped me discover the world of transit hiking, leading to what I thought were hard-to-reach-sans-car places. The Meetup’s founder, Eric Feiveson, along with his co-organizers, would organize car-free hikes around Vashon Island, Cougar Mountain and beyond on a near-weekly basis.

The group was new then and felt like a true hidden gem on the internet. I had so much fun meeting people outside my bubble through this Meetup that the thought of transit hiking alone, which I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing, never really crossed my mind. 

The organizers provide clear details on the hike, from what to expect in terms of distance, surroundings and highlights, as well as multiple public transportation route suggestions for getting to the meeting spot in the event descriptions. They work to make the outdoors accessible and also stress-free, allowing a deeper appreciation for being outdoors. 

Moreover, the adventures were always affordable. Seattle Transit Hikers events only require hikers to pay for public transit fares, dress in weather-appropriate attire and bring a packed lunch.

When I’m back in Seattle to visit friends and family, I often find myself hungry for adventure and without a ride. 

Back in the Pacific Northwest last month, I was ecstatic to find the Seattle Transit Hikers Meetup had grown to over 7,000 members and had a few events on the horizon, including the Hidden Trails of North Kirkland hike. The rules are the same: just show up with the right shoes and lunch. 

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The day of the hike was a rare clear and sunny January day, bordering on warm, and more than 20 people showed up to make the most of the forecast. Everyone kept a respectful distance from each other; per the group’s coronavirus safety measures, face masks are required on public transportation, but attendees have the choice to take them off once outdoors. 

The group provides instructions for gathering at a central meeting point, in this case a bus stop in Kirkland’s Juanita neighborhood; we took off after a group head count. 

At Juanita Beach Park, we walked by the stunning Juanita Bay that glimmered when the sun hit, and then made our way up a residential hill onto unmarked trails. Feiveson and the other organizers always check out the trails on their own beforehand. (Sometimes the organizers will open their planning hikes to other attendees, but they are clearly marked as such online.) We soon were in the O.O. Denny Park trail system, surrounded by trees and crossing over streams colored sea-foam green. 

Feiveson said the group has really grown during the pandemic as people sought out low-risk human interactions and the outdoors. He always tries to make sure there is at least one event happening every other week, rain or shine, but with the help of other organizers, like Pat Tressel, who has a penchant for maps, hikes happen more frequently. 

A few times a year, Seattle Transit Hikers also organizes hikes that are farther away and more intensive, like a Bellingham trip that requires a full day, as well as overnight trips. Past trips have gone to Portland, Whidbey Island for camping and British Columbia. In fact, there’s a multiday transit hike to Vancouver, B.C., coming up in May. 

“When you organize hikes around the transit system, you reconsider and question things,” Feiveson explained when asked why he started the Meetup if he knows how to drive. “I like the new perspective, and it makes through-hikes [one-way routes] possible,” he said.

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“Nobody needs to wake up early to ensure they get a parking space at the more popular destinations, you can sleep in.”

Beyond the hike itself, it was so refreshing to connect with new people in real life. The attendees were an eclectic bunch of all ages (adults only, though) who shared a common appreciation for nature and the PNW. I surveyed the group to figure out who had cars and who knew how to drive. Many wanted to utilize public transportation for different reasons, ranging from environmental concerns to simple curiosity. 

Some echoed that it’s nice to forget about the car and immerse themselves fully in nature; others praised the year-round scheduling, the lack of planning required for participants and the fun social aspect of the group. 

Emerging from the woods at the Lake Washington waterfront, we found picnic tables and stopped to enjoy lunch while admiring Mount Rainier in the distance and the ducks nearby.

On our way back to the bus stop, I overheard language exchanges, where people were practicing a foreign language, and thoughtful conversations about the global state of the world, all while folks picked up litter found along the way. It was comforting to know a group of strangers can come together to connect with one another and Mother Nature.

At the end of the 8-mile hike, we all went our separate ways on different buses. Another attendee summed up the experience best when they said “connecting with nature is the perfect Sunday activity.”