In January I visited Florida for family matters and managed to slip away from the confines of the subdivision for a couple of local transit hikes.
Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) stops at three preserves on its way to Anna Maria Island — Neal, Perico, and Robinson. I aimed for Robinson. (Note the pdf does not say but the main MCAT site notes service is Monday-Saturday.)
On my first trip I got off the bus at the Manatee Ave W at Perico Way stop, which looked to be a short walk backtracking east to the path leading to the preserve entrance.
En route to Robinson I discovered Perico Preserve, which shares an entry point on Manatee Ave W with Robinson. The Perico entrance at first gives an unremarkable impression, with a trail running alongside both the bayou but also the regrettable SFH development across the bayou. I didn’t expect much, and meant to take only a short detour onto what I assumed was just a single, short loop trail.
I was surprised and mesmerized pretty quickly, and ended up spending my midday at Perico. The first time it occurred to me to look up into tree tops, I saw an osprey chowing down on a fish in on a low tree branch not too far from me.
Perico can’t have more three miles of trails. Yet I easily found myself wandering for a couple of hours through this tranquil preserve’s varied ecosystems, from desert-like to more typical (to me) Florida tropical forest (and the SFH development quickly recedes from view).
Bicycles are allowed in many parts of Perico (and Robinson), and most areas where they are not are gated off with clear signage, and, thankfully and thoughtfully, with bike racks adjacent the gates. Generally I found both people walking and rolling to be communicative and considerate of sharing the space, with the vast majority of cyclists riding slowly and giving others lots of space when passing. (I’m uncertain about Neal, since I did not visit.) Kid-friendly, for sure, though Robinson seemed more popular for little kids.
This is Florida, so these preserve trails are quite flat (certainly by my Pacific Northwest standards). Some surfaces are paved — Robinson in particular has some long paved pathways. Those remaining unpaved are mostly hard-packed enough that I think any mobility aid that can handle intermittent gravel and small debris could work here. The portapotty on the other side of the Manatee Ave W (see below) is large-ish but I can’t confirm if it would work well for a wheelchair user.
I found a portapotty at a Perico trailhead (a parking lot west of the bus stop at Perico Way) that was literally full of shit, up to the top of the toilet seat. You can walk under Manatee Ave W at the bridge over the bayou via a bike/walk path to another parking lot with portapotty that on my visit was in much better condition. There are also several bathrooms at nearby Robinson Preserve, though they are a bit of a trek.
This path under the arterial is also the path you’ll want to take to cross the arterial to catch the bus back toward Bradenton.
No dogs allowed here; I assume because it’s a small, sensitive area that is still being rehabilitated and to minimize potential threats to wildlife.
Tl;dr — MCAT Route 3 from Downtown Bradenton (and from points east mostly along Manatee Ave) will take you to three fantastic and pretty damn accessible day hikes at three reserves. I recommend a full, long day to fully explore Robinson, arriving early, and at least a half day each at Perico and Neal Preserves (though note I wasn’t able to scout Neal personally). If you remain on the 3, you can enjoy Anna Maria Island, which looks like it could be a pretty sweet car-free destination.
Some other notes: I remain confused as to the difference between the seasonal (always free? 7 days a week?) MCAT beach shuttle and route 3. My Saturday visit to Perico required a transfer in a strip mall parking lot (easy, because traveling both coming and going the transfer bus was waiting and departed immediately after passengers boarded). When I visited Robinson using the same route and bus stop on a weekday, the bus I boarded at the downtown Bradenton transit hub was outfitted as a trolley and traveled to the beach without requiring that parking lot transfer. The route 3 does not operate on Sundays, but the beach shuttle might? I’d clarify with the driver because MCAT doesn’t make it very clear.
MCAT has some things Seattle area transit does not always have, like public restrooms at the downtown transit hub in Bradenton. In late 2022 it started an 18-month fare-free pilot. Buses have onboard electronic signage with audio that in theory announces next stops clearly both visually and with audio. However, some fundamental communications failures marred my initial good impressions as well as costing me quite a bit of time, including zero posted info about schedule reductions related to the operator shortage. Signal timing at downtown crosswalks required long waits to cross the street, and the two main E-W one-way streets are effectively highways. Outside the immediate downtown. area near the transit center, signalized crossings thin out quickly, requiring long walks. One downtown highlight: Kefi Streetside Cafe, just around the corner from the downtown Bradenton transit center. It has ample outdoor seating, pipes through cool and not-too-loud music, and is well-buffered from the adjacent parking lot.
More on Robinson Preserve in another post; there are some great things going on there for car-free recreators.
I needed a quick reset so took a short trip up to Deception Pass State Park last week, getting in the last of off-season cabin rates. (Some people are forever young; I am forever thrifty.)
With the return of Amtrak Cascade’s full schedule, this is probably one of the best (longish) day or multi-day transit treks you can do in western Washington. It’s a fairly quick trip if you use Amtrak, or are based in Bellingham or Everett. Deception Pass is a large park with many miles of trails both beach and forest, some of which allow bicycles. Nearby, mostly quiet back roads of north Whidbey Island offer more bicycling. Swimming in Cranberry Lake. Crabbing and fishing (in season). Kayak rentals. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Not up for tent camping? Rent a simple cabin, with nearby access to showers and restrooms.
On my first visit, in March of 2021, I took two days to bicycle to the park, via the Bainbridge Ferry, the Kitsap Peninsula, and the Coupeville Ferry, then via Whidbey’s back roads. Peak-pandemic Amtrak schedules were either non-existent or I didn’t want to be indoors for hours at the time, masked or not, so my itinerary minimized transit, planning just a couple of short bus rides for the return trip.
Amtrak Cascades reverted to its full pre-pandemic schedule in early March, which made this trip a lot quicker and easier than my earlier trip.
The trip from King Street Station to Deception Pass is about 2.5 hours. That includes a 30-minute layover at Skagit Station, just enough time for a quick trip to the Skagit Food Coop a few blocks away in downtown Mt. Vernon. If you opt to chill in the station, it has all the basics: restroom, water fountain, and some seating (but no longer has a coffee shop).
It is possible to do this trip via public transit in a bunch of different ways (details on a couple of those below). But this Amtrak-based itinerary cuts out at least 2 transfers for those starting south of Everett. You can do these trips Monday-Saturday, though Saturdayschedules are more limited — you’ll want to plan your return accordingly if you are doing a day trip, or plan to stay over through Sunday if you are weekending.
From Seattle or points south via Amtrak
Amtrak Cascades to Mt. Vernon/Skagit Station. Roundtrip fare ~$30 & up, ~90-minute ride from Seattle; some runs are via buses, which are comfy and have bathrooms on board
30 minute layover at Skagit Station
Skagit Transit 40X to March’s Point. $1 each way; leaves at 15 after on the hour; ~ 25-minute ride and little to no layover. Don’t panic that the 40X is scheduled to arrive at the same time the 411W is scheduled to depart, because the 40X typically arrives a few minutes prior than its scheduled arrival time unless there is major traffic disruption. If you’re concerned, ask the driver about it. If in the unlikely event you miss the connection, there’s a coffee shop across the street at March’s Point where you can wait for the next 411W, which runs hourly. Or, if you brought a bike, you have an hour to ride up to the Tommy Thompson Trail and enjoy the ride across Fidalgo Bay and back.
Island Transit 411W to Deception Pass State Park/Coronet Bay Road; Fare-free, ~ 10-minute ride. This is the first stop after the bus crosses the bridges over Pass Island between Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island, and is just after the stoplight at Coronet Bay Rd, the main park entrance. Island Transit does not make any stops near the Fidalgo side of the park or the pass (you can walk and hike or bike from the Whidbey side, though).
From Bellingham or Everett
Amtrak won’t save you much time if you’re coming from Bellingham or Everett. County connectors are good options unless you prefer the more cush ride on Amtrak.
From Bellingham Station, take the connector route 80X to Skagit Station, then catch the connections as described above. This bus is operated jointly by Skagit Transit and Whatcom Transit Authority, so look for the route number, not the transit agency “livery.” $2, 45-minute ride
From Everett Station, take the county connector route 90X to Skagit Station, then catch the connections to Deception Pass as described above. $2, 35-minute ride
If Amtrak feels pricey or you don’t mind a longer journey, below are some fairly direct transit options from Seattle to Mt Vernon/Skagit Station that are considerably cheaper.
From south Seattle, anywhere along the Link 1 line, or UW
From Downtown Seattle and points north without good access to Link
King County Metro RapidRide E to Aurora Village Transit Center, then Community Transit SWIFT Blue line to Everett Station, then county connector route 90X to Skagit Station, then catch the connections as described above
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are among the most direct options from the Bellingham, Everett, and Seattle areas.
My Amtrak (bus) fare was $30 roundtrip from Seattle booked the day before I left, leaving the total roundtrip fare around $35. The 7-minute walk in the rain to catch the route 12 home on my return trip would have been fine had I not overpacked, so I splurged and caught a yellow cab from King Street Station to Capitol Hill, which with a tip came to $13.92.
Train fares often cost more, but vary. (Frustratingly, the Amtrak bus runs skip Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Stanwood, all good hubs to connect to other outdoor adventures.)
NB! Skagit, and Whatcom don’t use ORCA so either bring small bills or download their fare payment apps.
If you want your bicycle with you at Deception Pass — there are some nice back roads near the Whidbey side of the park, and if you don’t mind riding SR 20 for short sections, a bike comes in handy if you don’t want to hike to the Fidalgo side — Amtrak Cascades buses do allow two standard-size bikes to be put in the luggage compartment. You must book that space when you book your ticket. Cascades trains have 10 spaces for standard-size bikes; you also must book ahead. $5 each way per bicycle (bus or train).
For a long time the question of whether bikes needed to be boxed to be stowed in the bus luggage hold was unclear, but as of this writing, I finally feel confident saying that on Amtrak Cascades bus runs, there is no need to box your bike. Folding bikes like Bromptons that meet size requirements (max 34x15x48) can be carried on as part of Amtrak’s baggage allowance and should not require a separate reservation or fee. (I have done this on trains, but not buses, but I would feel comfortable putting the Brompton in the bus’s luggage hold.)
Cyclists could plot a route from Mt Vernon to Deception Pass that takes you through Skagit County farmland, or find someone’s Ride with GPS route to follow, so long as you don’t mind some sections of SR 20 where shoulders narrow. Riding the more direct highway routes from Mt Vernon is not IMHO that great (speaking not from experience but from scouting this as a possible outing). If you can get to Edmonds, a great bike option is to take the ferry to Clinton and ride back roads to Oak Harbor before putting your bike on the bus to Deception Pass on the 411W, or to take the Island Transit 1N from Clinton to Oak Harbor and take back roads to the park. Assuming you’re not up for the near-century ride all the way to the park.
Regrettably, at this time there aren’t any good transit options for non-standard assistive cycles and other non-standard bicycle sizes.
There are hiker/biker sites between the Lower Loop and Forest Loops campgrounds, although they tend to be hard to find and don’t offer any prime real estate. Call ahead in the winter, though, because the Quarry Pond campground is the only one open in the off-season, and there are no hiker/biker sites listed on the map. (I think I confirmed verbally back in 2021 that they are available? Best to call ahead.) The most important thing to note about hiker/biker sites is that they do not require a reservation — these sites are first-come, first-served, and, according to a ranger/staff I spoke with in 2021, these sites rarely fill up, even in peak season. They are typically priced lower than standard campsites, too.
If you want a more scenic campsite in the peak season, you can book standard campsites in advance, or book one of the cabins at Quarry Pond. A private resort catering mostly to RVs (and does not allow tents at all) North Whidbey RV Park does have two rental cabins that sleep 4 persons each, with kitchens and full baths. It’s adjacent to the main park entrance near the Quarry Pond campground.
— This is a popular park in peak season (and somewhat in the off season). If you prefer not to use a hiker/biker site, you’ll want to reserve well in advance.
— As noted above, the 411W between March’s Point and the main park entrance at Coronet Bay Road doesn’t make any stops, including flag stops, on the Fidalgo side of the park. You can hike or bike from the Whidbey side. A couple of the hiking trails allow hikers to avoid crossing or walking along SR20 to reach the bridges to the Fidalgo side. However, you’ll need to navigate the narrow bridge walkway as well as short sections along the SR-20 where day trippers park to gawk briefly at the pass. It can get crowded and can require walking through or around the parked cars uncomfortably close to SR-20 traffic. If there are better options, they are not obvious. The only option for cycling to the Fidalgo side is to use SR20, which has zero shoulder along the bridge and requires a left turn onto Rosario Rd. on a section of the highway that has limited visibility.
— Ask for the printed park map at the ranger station park administration office (on SR-20 and reachable on foot via the Quarry Pond campground) it’s super helpful. Usually there are a few in the brochure case outside.
— A small convenience store with gas station is located within walking distance of the Quarry Pond camping area. (This is also the closest place to catch the 411W northbound back to March’s Point).
— If you’re doing a longer stay and need to stock up, the 411W will take you to the many services in Oak Harbor, including two larger grocery stores. Catch this at the same stop you got off at, the main intersection at the park entrance.
— During winter, only the Quarry Pond campground is open.
— There are some seasonal concessions in the park, a coffee stand being perhaps the most important.
— Seasonal canoe, kayak, and standup paddle boarding rentals are available.
— You’ll likely hear and/or see noise from the jets flying out of nearby Whidbey Naval Air Station. During my 2021 visit, these were incredibly loud and fast. This time around, whatever exercises they were up to were markedly less loud.
— The park’s website says there is a mile or two of ADA-standard trails; I believe this is between the Sound and Cranberry Lake. The trails I’ve hiked in the park, other than this one, don’t appear to be above-average accessible in any respect.
— I find the check-in instructions at Quarry Pond confusing. You might call ahead to confirm exactly where to check in. In my case, I was staying at a reserved cabin, and was able to go straight there. But I would have been confused by what to do when camping.
This post was edited to tidy some errors and add information about walking and biking between the Whidbey and Fidalgo sections of the park.
A while back I started writing trip reports for some of my hikes over at the very helpful Washington Trails Association (WTA) site. It seemed like a small but potentially effective way to share information about transit-accessible trails and to plant the seed in more folks’ minds that transit to trails is a thing you can do or something that just might be more possible than previously assumed. So when Anna Roth over at WTA reached out after noticing my trip reports, I was more than happy to chat. Here’s the Q&A.
I was equally pleased that at least one of those trip reports, for North Kitsap Heritage Park, prompted a fellow hiker to try out a transit trek — scroll to the bottom of the trip report to read the comments.