View of Deception Pass bridge in the far distance, looking across the water from near Deception Pass Marina

3-day Car-free Vacations Around Washington state

I’m away this week so I’m scheduling a few quick posts sharing some of the car-free content I’ve found around the web in my research for The Transit Trekker Manual.

Here’s an old post from The Sightline Institute asking for car-free vacation ideas, with a bunch of comments offering up suggestions and experiences. Not surprisingly, the San Juan Islands and Port Townsend make a lot of appearances.

All of my vacations are car-free because I don’t have a driver’s license (fun, random fact: for some reason the WADOL styles this “driver license.”). But it’s interesting to see the interest even 15 years ago for car-free recreation options….

The photo above is from my March 2021 transit trek to Deception Pass on Whidbey Island.

Quick Guide to Island County Transit Treks

Close up of stained glass window, looking out from a camping cabin at Camano Island State Park, into the trees around the park.

When I posted the quick guide to Whatcom County transit treks recently, I noted how smaller transit agencies seem to be ahead of the game when it comes to featuring transit-accessible recreation info on their websites compared to larger transit systems here in Washington state. Island Transit is no exception. Their guides also include separate links highlighting some accessible (to wheeled mobility devices) trails reachable by transit on the Northern part of Whidbey Island and Southern Whidbey.

I like how the guides are organized, breaking the county down by region, which makes it a little less overwhelming. Whidbey in particular is a looooooong island and is better acclimated to in parts if you aren’t already familiar with it.

Pro-tip: The Camano guide doesn’t note that there is a volunteer-run shuttle service based at Cama Beach State Park that you may be able to ride to Camano Island State Park, just a short distance away. Camano Island SP is also an easy bike ride (a tad hilly, but not for long) or a mostly-pleasant hike from Cama Beach, with a segment that runs alongside the road connecting the parks, sometimes closer and sometimes farther from the road.

Heads up that Island Transit does not currently have any Sunday service. Good news: sometime in spring of 2023 the agency will begin expanding service, including adding Sunday schedules on some routes. The expansion is likely going to make Whidbey and Camano two of the easiest weekend transit trek destinations from the Puget Sound region.

Two small buses (think van-sized) pulled up at a small transit station on Camano Island. There is a fire department building in the background and the sky is bright, bright blue with just a few puffs of clouds low in the sky. A few tall leafless trees are scattered in the background.

Top image: Looking out the window of a cabin at Camano Island State Park. Copyright Transit Trekker 2022.

Bottom image: Island Transit buses at Terry’s Corner, the main transit hub on Camano Island. Copyright Transit Trekker 2022.

Saco, Maine daytrip: A Transit Trek With a Little of Everything.

My partner was born in Portland and most of his family still lives nearby. I’ve wanted to return ever since our only trip to Portland, especially for the food, and proximity to some thrilling and rugged coastal lands. Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast during our visit, delaying our return to our then-home in New York City. I was not unhappy to be stranded in Portland for a couple of extra days.

I’m determined to make a transit trek to Acadia National Park in the not-too-distant future, and to find other transit outings in a state that doesn’t have a lot of rural transit options. Stay tuned. In the meantime, Tweeter soymilkcreamer based in Maine generously put together this trip that offers a little of everything and can be taken via Amtrak’s Downeaster service. I added links to include accessibility information and indigenous peoples’ history and a little additional information.

If you have done this trip in the past or end up trying it as a result of this post, I’d love to hear about it via the contact form or in the comments section below.

Destination: Saco and Old Orbach Beach, Southern Coastal Maine

Trip Type

This seasonal day trip offers a 7.3 mile walk in urban, suburban, beach and forest settings. The trip is accessible via the Amtrak Downeaster which operates in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Highlights include pitchpine growing along the shore, Saco’s historic urban core and optional forest trails and boardwalks in Ferry Beach State Park.

Points of Origin

This trek is a station to station walk and can originate in Saco or Old Orchard Beach though the directions are written with Saco as the starting point.

Useful Links

Amtrak Downeaster Schedule
Ferry Beach State Park
Maine Parks Information

Backround Reading

  • A brief bit of history about indigenous people who first lived in the area can be found here.
  • Though currently used for residential and commercial purposes, numerous brick buildings near Saco station are typical of textile mills constructed in northern New England from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. The buildings are part of a larger, pedestrian friendly district composed of former mills along the Saco River. A brief history of mills at this site can be found here.

Scouting Notes

This trip guide is based on the author’s own experience completing this trip.

Distance and Elevation

Approximately 7.3 miles from station to station. Mostly flat.

Trail Surface

Surfaces range from brick and concrete sidewalks to forest floor and sand beaches.
Elevation changes are negligible.

Cautions

The forest trails in Ferry Beach State Park can be mosquito rich. Insect repellent is recommended.

Accessibility Notes

  • The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry maintains a site on park accessibility, which indicates that a beach wheelchair is available.
  • The author walked this route and it includes about 3 miles of sandy beach walking. If riding a bike, Seaside Avenue runs parallel to the beach and would likely be preferable.
  • Bikes can be brought aboard Amtrak’s Downeaster line for an additional fee. Quick release front wheels will make boarding with a bike easier. Amtrak bike policies vary by route, but generally only “standard” bicycles can be accomodated.

Kid Considerations

The terrain is kid friendly.

Dog Considerations

Dogs are not allowed on the beach from April 1st through September 30th.

Seasonal Access and Related Notes

  • The Old Orchard Beach station is seasonal and typically operates May through October. Check the Amtrak Downeaster schedule to determine whether the train is stopping at Old Orchard Beach.
  • The route described requires fording Goosefare Brook. It’s shallow and maybe 20 feet wide.
  • If biking, continue on Bayview Rd. and turn left on Seacost Ave. Seacoast Ave. is not accessible from Ferry Beach State Park Rd.
  • Beach Street (Route 9) in Saco is popular with cyclists during the warmer months but features no dedicated cycling infrastructure.
  • Old Orchard Beach is a popular warm weather coastal destination in southern Maine.

Transit to Trailhead

Distance and Conditions: About 7 miles one-way or 14 roundtrip

  • Starting at Saco station, travel east about 200 feet to Main St.
  • Turn left on Main St. and walk .3 miles to School St.
  • Turn right onto School St. and continue for .4 miles to James St.
  • Make a left onto James St. and continue for .1 miles
  • Turn right on Beach Street and continue for 2.5 miles
  • Turn left onto Bayview Road and continue for .3 miles
  • Turn right onto Ferry Beach State Park Road and continue for .7 miles (forest trails branch off of this road, extend your hike by exploring these short intersecting loops).
  • After reaching a parking area, the road becomes a trail and leads to the beach. If you enter using the road rather than a trail, be prepared to pay a $0-$7 fee per person based on age and residency.
  • Turn left and travel along the sandy beach for 3 miles.
  • After fording Goosefare Brook, you can return to the street and travel along a parallel route if interested in viewing coastal neighborhoods.
  • Old Orchard Beach station is on 1st St between Heath St. and Staples St.

Fare, payment and transfers

Fares will vary depending on where along the Downeaster you begin this journey. Payment can be made using the Amtrak app or kiosks located at stations.

Transit Apps

Amtrak app

Frequency

The Downeaster makes five daily roundtrips between Boston, MA and Brunswick, ME

Other notes of interest

  • The Saco and Biddeford mill district is a labyrinthian collection of looming red brick buildings situated along the falls of the Saco River. The former mills contain restaurants and breweries. Visitors can wander through the old mills and along a designated Riverwalk. More info here.
  • Banded Brewing in the Pepperell Mill has good, unique beer.
  • Downtown Biddeford is adjacent to the mills. Main St features a handful of restaurants, bars and coffee options and is pleasant to walk.
  • When beginning in Saco, I stop by Fernleaf Bakery at 20 Free St. for a quick, reasonably priced and pretty good breakfast sandwich.
  • If time allows, walk the pier at the end of Old Orchard Street in Old Orchard Beach. Old Orchard Beach offers a seaside atmosphere not found elsewhere in Maine.