Emmi Lia counts vehicles in the parking lot for the Mailbox Peak trailhead near the Middle Fork Snoqualmie area, as part of research for the University of Washington Earthlab. The research was part of an effort to more accurately estimate how many people are using trails. The area is very popular with hikers, so it’s important for folks to park conscientiously. (Washington Trails Association)

Emmi Lia counts vehicles in the parking lot for the Mailbox Peak trailhead near the Middle Fork Snoqualmie area, as part of research for the University of Washington Earthlab. The research was part of an effort to more accurately estimate how many people are using trails. The area is very popular with hikers, so it’s important for folks to park conscientiously. (Washington Trails Association)

How to park the car like a pro at crowded trailhead lots

Five tips for stashing your ride without blocking others — or getting a ticket.

  • Sunday, April 4, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

Washington Trails Association

You’ve likely seen full parking lots at popular trailheads all across Washington. Maybe you’ve even waited for a spot, or seen someone negotiating a tricky maneuver in order to get out of the car and onto the trail.

You want to go hiking, but so do lots of other folks, so consider how others (like emergency vehicles) are going to be able to get around your vehicle before you head off down the trail.

Here are five tips to get you started:

At the trailhead parking lot, park like you’re in the city. Parking lots at trailheads have finite space, and it’s important to use it well. Park perpendicular to the border of the lot (the nose or the tailgate of your car should be facing the edge of the lot).

Get close to the car next to you — just enough space that you can get out of your car without dinging the one next to you. Think about how close you can park in a grocery store lot. You should be able to park that close in a trailhead lot, too.

If you must park on the road, pull well off. If the lot is full, it may be possible to park roadside. However there are a few factors to consider in this case.

• Are there no parking signs? Please respect them. Don’t park there. If you park in a no-parking area, (or within 10 feet of those signs) you may get a ticket. And getting a citation is a drag when you just returned from a spectacular hike.

• Is there enough room for emergency vehicles to go by? This is important to remember. Be sure there’s enough room for an ambulance (or search and rescue vehicle, horse trailer or a tow truck) to go by. And remember these are usually wider than your average vehicle.

• Are you blocking a turnout? Turnouts aren’t parking areas. They’re so that drivers can turn around or get out of the way for each other as they travel on narrow roads. Be sure your car isn’t in one, if you’re parking roadside.

• Are there people parked on the other side of the road? Parking on both sides of the road really restricts the travel lanes. If people are parked on one side, it’s probably best not to park on the other side.

• Is there sufficient space for your car to be parked well enough off the road? Basically, is your car going to roll down the hill if you pull far enough off the road? If you can’t leave your car where it is without affecting the flow of traffic, it’s best to go find another spot to park or hike.

Display your pass. Passes are an integral part to hiking; the fees you pay for a parking pass go to maintaining the trails you enjoy. So if you have one, show it off. Put it in your dashboard, with the appropriate side up. Not sure which pass you need? Go to www.wta.org/passes for help.

Lot full? You may need to find another place to hike. There are thousands of hikes in Washington. You can use our Hiking Guide at www.wta.org/hikes to find a backup (or our app, if you’re already out and about). If you have a backup hike plan in mind, you’ll never need to scramble or park dangerously.

Take a bus or bike. A surefire way to reduce the need to manage a parking lot is to not drive to your hike. If you hike as a group, try carpooling. If you prefer going solo, hit up a trailhead serviced by Trailhead Direct, tinyurl.com/EDHParking. Or use our Hike Finder Map, www.wta.org/map, to find a trailhead close to your house, and try making your whole outing foot-powered.

Washington Trails Association promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places. Get inspired to go hiking and learn how you can help protect trails at www.wta.org.

Tips for driving on forest roads

Pay attention to signs. Clearly posted routes using white horizontal numbers on a brown background indicate routes that are better suited to passenger cars than are roads marked by signs with vertical numbers. Also keep a lookout for parking signs when you arrive at the trailhead to ensure you’re parking in designated areas.

Go slow, and keep to the right. Besides saving your car from pothole damage, it will also give you time to stop if you encounter an oncoming car, logging truck or obstacle.

Exercise passing courtesy. When approaching another car on a single-lane road, look for a turnout to wait in and let the other pass. Give drivers going uphill the right of way, even if that means backing up.

Don’t tailgate. Don’t drive so close to another vehicle in front of you that all you see is their dust. Back off and give them lots of space.

Clear your vision and stay seen. Keeping your headlights on at all times will help others see your car amid a cloud of dust. Wipe off your headlights before leaving the trailhead — especially in evening hours — to remove accumulated dust.

Don’t count on Google, cell service or roadside assistance. Have a detailed map and extra supplies in your car in case you get a flat or get stuck. It might be awhile before you can flag down help.

Check recent trip reports for your hike before heading out. Trip reports often mention any rough road conditions or hazards to be aware of.

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