Camping at Dash Point State Park via bike and bus from Seattle

I found a new bike camping spot near Seattle!

My full trip is posted on my Ride with GPS Ride Report: Bike camping at Dash Point State Park, but since day one could work well for a family (reversed to get back) I’ve got it on the blog here, with some extra kid stuff thrown in. Here’s my Ride with GPS recording of the trip and my Strava recording of the trip.

Once a month I deliver my kids to Seattle via Amtrak train so they can spend some quality time with their dad. Lately we’ve been leaving early enough that I can catch a train back home to Portland the same day. For these trips I carry them the eight miles to our train station on my cargo bike and leave it locked with every lock we own until I come back to it at night. When we haven’t been able to travel early enough for a same-day train I’ve brought a bike along and stayed at a friend’s house, but no one was staying in town for the three-day weekend. My friend invited me to stay at her house even though she’d be away, but that didn’t seem as fun as having her home (and to tell the truth, she lives around the corner from our old place and I wasn’t eager to climb my old hills now that I’m a grateful flatlander). I had the bright idea to camp overnight, but all my familiar spots didn’t seem to fit the bill very well. I love camping at Fay Bainbridge Park with the kids — the beach, play structure, and summer owl show are awesome. But without kids it can feel like a parking lot. And Illahee State Park Campground is closed for sewer repair work (and the Illahee Hiker/Biker sites are closed indefinitely for renovation). Manchester State Park, like the other two, relies on a ferry ride which didn’t seem like something that would pair well with rushing to the train in the morning.

A non-ferry spot close to Seattle I’d love to camp at someday is Tolt MacDonald, but it seemed quite far from the train station which led to my idea to check out campgrounds close to one of the next couple stations down, Tukwila or Tacoma.

Enter Dash Point State Park! I had to bring a bus-friendly bike to begin with, so I could bus with the kids to the Portland train station so I decided that rather than bike three hours to a new-to-me campground and arrive after dark I pedaled just a few blocks from Seattle’s King Street Station to catch Sound Transit 578 Seattle to Federal Way/Puyallup. Most Seattle buses have three slots on the bike rack, but the tour bus style Sound Transit coaches — like the 578 — only have two. One slot was already taken so I made it on the first 578 to arrive, phew. Otherwise I’d have had to wait 20 minutes for the next one. I’m not sure how to tell if a Sound Transit bus is a double bus with three bike slots or tall bus with two other than by looking it up in Google image search. Once on board my bus ride was one stop/30 minutes to the Federal Way Transit Center. If I were to do this with my kids, I’d need to be on my Brompton folding bike and carry it inside the bus (which holds more than my road bike anyway!) so we could fit their two bikes on the bus rack. We’d probably consider catching the bus upline, too.

The bus let me off next to a big shopping mall, The Commons at Federal Way. Bike lockers have been on my mind thanks to my last BikePortland column: Family Biking: Taking kids and bikes on MAX light rail and I notice Federal Way TC has bike lockers. They seem expensive, but you already have a locker card, stowing bikes full of camping gear in one and then hitting the mall for lunch and window shopping could work.

The mall is surrounded by busy roads with no bike markings of any sort so I opted to skirt around it on the wide sidewalk. It might be more fun to cut through the parking lot, depending on time of day. For a Friday evening I figured I was better off on the sidewalk, which had no one walking on it anyway. These sorts of sidewalks really seem more like multi-use paths. FYI, it’s legal to bike on the sidewalk here. Happily, a bike lane appeared as soon as I was beyond the mall.

I saw several route options in Google maps and opted for the slightly longer one since it utilized a trail, which seemed especially smart for a Friday evening. Car traffic at the start of any weekend, and especially a holiday weekend, can be a little unfriendly. This route was 7.7 miles/50 minutes while the shorter two were 6.2 and 6.4 miles/both 38 minutes.

The BPA Trail, named for the Bonneville Power Administration, is something else! I saw so many people on it! In wheelchairs, on skateboards, walking with bags of groceries, walking dogs, on bikes, jogging, bird watching. I stuck to the main paved trail, but there are multiple well-used parallel gravel trails. What a gem! If you have kids who are cool with walking a mile and then hiking, it’d be worth bus here without bikes: The Mountaineers: BPA Trail (“optional, short, dirt side trail goes to a lake in a wildlife refuge” !!! ). The Mountaineers call it “minimal elevation gain,” but I’m pretty sure my kids would consider it very uppy-downy.

A couple street crossing were tricky — I had to zoom way in on my saved Ride with GPS route map to figure out the trail continuation and I was thankful it wasn’t dark out yet. Also, some of the bollards at street crossings were a bit of a tight squeeze. On any ride I think about how it could work for any sort of bike and wide cargo bikes would have to be careful in these spots.

The roads after the BPA Trail had shoulders of varying width, but mostly wide. It was a pleasant ride. 5.5 miles of the way (out of 7.7 miles) I passed a shopping center (where Northshore Parkway and Hoyt Road SW meet) that would have yielded good options for sit-down dinner or grocery supplies. You’ll find it right after the “Welcome to Federal Way” sign where you probably just stopped for a photo op:

I love that Google Maps’ bike directions routed me into Dash Point State Park via a trail! I would not have loved this had it been darker, though. As it was, some of the tree canopy made it quite dark, but after dazzling a hiker with my bike light, I turned it off. This is definitely more of a walking path, but there was no “no bikes” sign so slow-moving bikes are OK. I was fine on my road bike with 25mm slick tires, even with some tree roots poking out here and there.

Dash Point State Park doesn’t have hiker/biker (a.k.a. primitive) sites which are $12 and not reservable, plus I felt safer paying ahead of time so I secured a $25 economy site that looked safely in the middle of everything. Some of the economy sites have space for two tents and the regular sites are only $5 more. I biked through the whole campground as I looked for my site and loved the look of the place! Large bathrooms with showers and sinks for washing dishes on the outside, a cute campfire area, and cute cabins. The sign near the other (real) entrance to the park said camping was full, and I saw tons of families with little kids, groups of happy teenagers, and even a French camper van.

Here’s some more about the park on Outdoor Project and TripAdvisor.

I didn’t visit the beach, but I know it’s great and well worth biking down and then back up the hill. Not that I’ve biked to it before, mind you, but when the kids were 2 years old and 3 weeks old and I had a car, I drove there for a day visit with friends.

Dash Point State Park beach nine years ago

Did I mention Pixie came, too? She was in my backpack the whole time.

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2 thoughts on “Camping at Dash Point State Park via bike and bus from Seattle

  1. Hi Madi!

    Sounds like a great adventure. I think of you a lot when I’m deciding whether to bike or drive somewhere and I drive because I’m tired/the ride seems too difficult/etc. I think ‘Madi would have to ride so she’d make it work’. I hope you’re enjoying life in portland!

    Love, Rochelle

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