Vashon Island Hiking With or Without a Car

This post was originally published in March 2019 and updated in December 2020.

Vashon Island is a wonderful, close to home (still in King County!) destination for a weekend or a day trip from the Seattle area any time of year. Vashon Island hiking is one of the best ways to spend a day on Vashon. The trails are beautiful, well maintained, free and not crowded!

If you don’t drive or just don’t feel like driving, Vashon Island hiking is perfect to access by transit or bike (read about other ways to take public transit to trailheads near Seattle here). I’ll describe some trail options first, then how to get to the trailhead by bike (and ferry), bus (and ferry) and driving (and ferry). No matter what, you’ll be taking a ferry to go to Vashon Island, which is all part of the fun. Bainbridge Island is another island near Seattle that has wonderful hiking and can be accessed on transit.

Vashon Island is the homeland of the Suquamish and other Coast Salish people.

Best Vashon Island Hikes

Mt Rainier in the distance across the water on a sunny day. In the foreground are trees from one the Vashon Island hiking trails
Epic Tahoma (Mt Rainier) views from Maury Island Marine Park (my personal favorite hike on Vashon Island)

Vashon Island hiking trails are mostly open to bikes and horses as well as hiking. I haven’t found that to be a problem, these trails are not nearly as busy as shared use trails on the mainland and all the bikers and equestrians that I have encountered along these trails have been extremely courteous along with the hikers! These trails are all open to dogs though it is imperative to keep your dog on leash with the shared use of these trails. Trails are all well maintained with very few rocks or roots along any of the trails. When it’s wet you may encounter some mud and horse manure here and there.

All the Vashon Island hiking trails recommend here are part of the King County Parks system and don’t require a parking pass. I highly recommend downloading the excellent maps before you go, especially for Island Center Forest and Dockton Forest since there are so many trails and so many options. Sometimes the trail maps are also available at the trailhead.

Most of these trails do not have toilets or trash cans.

Related: What to wear for a hike in the Pacific Northwest, what to bring on a hike in the Pacific Northwest

Island Center Forest

A second growth forest in Island Center Forest, a Vashon Island hiking, biking and horse trail. The trees are straight and tall and have green foliage.
The magical Island Center Forest goes on for nearly as many miles as you could want and also rewards a short walk
  • Best For: Long walks of solitude in the forest! You can really explore endlessly here with very few other people and lots of birds singing. There are both flat and hilly trails.
  • Distance: Up to 10 miles in the trail system, you can create your own loops from the map for any distance up to that.
  • Elevation Gain: Up to a couple hundred feet, depending on how far you go and on which trails.
  • Parking and Transit: If you’re driving, there are four trailheads and options for where to start (see the map). The closest ones are very close to “downtown” Vashon, just west of the Vashon Highway on 188th St and 103rd St. If you’re taking the bus, take the 118 or 119 from the Seattle ferry or the 118 from the Tacoma ferry. Get off at 188th St and walk about a mile to the trailhead.

Maury Island Marine Park

A gravel beach on a Vashon Island Hiking trail in Maury Island Marine park. There is driftwood on the beach and trees behind it on the right. To the left is the calm water of the Salish Sea. A distant island is visible in the background. It's a sunny day.
The quiet beach in Maury Island Marine Park
  • Best For: Epic views of Mt Rainier and a secluded beach! The trail to the beach is wide, gravel and in very good condition although it’s a steep drop (400 feet in just over half a mile) and then a steep climb back up. Perfect picnic tables invite you to stay awhile. If you decide to loop around the park a bit, be aware that many of the trails are quite steep.
  • Distance: 1.2 miles round trip to the beach and back, 2.5 mile loop around the park to the beach, the viewpoint and the road; 3 miles total of trails in the park
  • Elevation Gain: 400 feet down then up to the beach; up to 500 feet doing all the trails
  • Parking and Transit: The main parking lot is off SW 244th St. There are also a few parking spots at the viewpoint on SW 248th St. To take the bus, take the 119 from the Seattle ferry and get off near the Golf Course (ask the driver where to get off). It’s about a mile and a half from the bus stop to the trailhead. It’s much less convenient to bus here from the Tacoma ferry because you have to take the 118 and transfer in the Vashon town area to the 119. But you can do it!

Dockton Forest and Maury Island Natural Area

Looking uphill at trees in Dockton Forest, a Vashon Island hiking trail. The trees are thick and green and there is lots of fern and shrubby underbrush. It's a sunny day but only a bit of sunlight is filtered into the forest.
The beautiful forest in Dockton Forest. Photo credit: Jen Martin
  • Best For: Similar to Island Forest, Dockton Forest provides the opportunity for many miles of forest wandering with very few people! There are many possible loops so I recommend making your own loop from the map. If you like, a longer hike takes you to Maury Island Natural Area which includes a beach. Dockton Park also has a boat launch and picnic area.
  • Distance: Up to 10 miles (or as little as you want!)
  • Elevation Gain: Up to 500 feet
  • Parking and Transit: There are two parking areas, one at Dockton Park on Dockton Road along Quartermaster Harbor. The other is just up the hill from there on 94th Ave. To take the bus, from the Seattle ferry, take the 118. Get off at the last stop (or ask the driver) and walk about a third of a mile to the trailhead on 94th Ave. Similar to nearby Maury Island Marine Park, to take the bus from the Tacoma ferry you’ll need to transfer from the 118 to 119 to get to Maury Island.

Shinglemill Creek Preserve and Fern Cove

Fern Cove in the Shinglemill Creek Preserve on Vashon Island. The tide is out and the beach is wide with a stream entering the cove. There are distant islands and nearer by forest. It's a sunny day just before sunset
Low tide in Fern Cove just before sunset in winter
  • Best For: A short walk to a beautiful beach with lots of birds, or a forest walk along a beautiful creek. Sometimes there are spawning salmon in the creek in late fall and winter.
  • Distance: 0.5 miles round trip to Fern Cove; 3 miles round trip from top to Fern Cove
  • Elevation Gain: flat to Fern Cove from lower trailhead; 400 feet down from top to Fern Cove
  • Parking and Transit: If you’re driving, you have two options, the upper trailhead or the lower one. If you want to take a quick, flat walk to Fern Cove then go for the lower trailhead on Cedarhurst road. There is room for a few cars to park here, make sure you are not blocking the road on the blind corner! You can also park here if you want to do the whole hike but starting going up instead of down. The bigger parking and trailhead is at the top of the hill and the trail system off 156th St, across the road from the Vashon Winery (convenient!). Metro 118 and 119 from the Seattle ferry and the 118 from the Tacoma ferry will take you to the upper trailhead. Get off at 156th (you can ask the driver!) and walk about a mile to the trailhead.

Vashon Island Hiking By Bike

The trails in Island Center Forest would be fun to bike, and many of the trails on the island are open to bikes (especially Island Center Forest and Dockton Forest). You can also leave your bike at the trailhead and hike the trails after biking to them! To get there from Seattle (you can also take the ferry from Pt Defiance in Tacoma to the south side of the island in Tahlequah), first you’ll need to get to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. You could either bike there from home, or you could take your bike on the Rapid Ride C Line to the fauntleroy ferry terminal.

Biking on the ferry has some big advantages over driving, it’s much cheaper (you pay a passenger fare ($5.55) plus an additional $1-$4 for the bike on different routes-it’s $1 on the Vashon route) and you never have to wait for a full ferry. To take your bike on the ferry, you’ll pay your fare and line up in the same area as walk on passengers (you can ask any ferry employee if you’re not sure what to do). The ferries ask that you arrive 20 minutes before the ferry departure. The Vashon ferry goes frequently, you can also check the schedule here.

Typically you will load before cars and unload before cars as well, but the crew will direct you where to go. Once on board, you’ll see yellow ropes along the railings that you can tie your bike to.

Inside a large metal boat, ties for bikes
A bike tied to one of the yellow ropes along the railings for tying up bikes

Once on the island, you’ll unload before the cars and then you’ll hit the hardest part of the ride, the ferry hill! You can always take the bus or walk up the hill too if you’re not up for it. The ride to the Island Center Forest trailhead is about 6 miles from the ferry, going through the town of Vashon (where the restaurants and shops are). After the ferry hill the ride is mostly flat. You’ll stay on the main road until you turn right on SW 178th St (just past the town), then left on 103rd Ave SW, right onto Gateway Trail and finally right on SW 188th St (there are signs when you leave the main road).

To continue on to Dockton Forest, It’s an additional 6 miles. Instead of turning right past the town, continue straight to SW 204th St and turn right, then angle right onto Monument Road, and angle left onto Quartermaster Drive. Turn right onto Dockton Road which will take you straight to the park!

Vashon Island Hiking by Bus

I am a big fan of hikes I can take transit to. Our family is a one car family so driving isn’t always an option, I also like the lower impact on the environment, and sometimes I’m just done with driving! To get to Vashon Island hiking by bus, first you’ll get to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal in West Seattle on the Rapid Ride C Line. Then, you’ll take the ferry to the Vashon Terminal, and then ride King County Metro Route 118 or 119 . If you’re taking the Tahlequah ferry from Tacoma, you’ll take the 118 (and will need to transfer if going to the Vashon Island hiking trails on Maury Island).

If you come from Tacoma, you’ll be at the Tahlequah terminal at the south end of the island, which also connects to the 118. If you’re not sure where to get off, just ask the driver! They’ll help you find the closest bus stop to the trailhead and where to get back on.

Vashon Island Hiking by Car

You can also drive to and around the island! Be aware that on Friday evenings and Sunday/holiday afternoons there may be long lines for the ferry and you could be waiting awhile (Fridays going to the island, Sundays or holidays returning to Seattle). In addition, taking a care on the ferry is expensive ($15.40 for the car and driver and $5.55 for each additional person). Once on the island, the distances are short and the drives scenic! You can access the same trailheads the same way described above.

Electric Vehicle Charging

Currently there are not any fast chargers for electric vehicles on Vashon Island, but the distances are short so you probably don’t need one. There are several Level 2 chargers.

Best places to Eat and Drink after Vashon Island Hikes

Vashon Island has lots of great food options for such a small community! I love the hand pies and beer at Camp Colvos Brewing as well as the pizza at O Sole Mio. O Sole Mio has very affordable and giant to go pizza slices! When visiting islands, it’s always important to find an excellent bakery and for that I recommend the Vashon Island Baking Company! If you really want to dive into Vashon Island’s food and food oriented activities, read this fantastic article from fellow Seattle blogger the Emerald Palate about all your foodie options.

Vashon also has five wineries! Two of the wineries don’t have tasting rooms and the others have limited hours (especially in winter), so make sure to check their websites before visiting. There are also two cideries and if their tasting rooms aren’t open, you can grab a bottle of local cider at the liquor store on the island.

Another fellow Seattle blogger, Wet Boots Dry Hops, has an excellent review of Vashon’s other wonderful brewery, Vashon Brewing Community Pub!

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!