You’ve no doubt experienced this situation: it’s Thursday evening, the weekend promises to be sunny and all you want is to go hiking in a magnificent place. The problem is, you don’t have a car to get to the trail head. Or maybe you’ve just arrived in a new city and don’t have any friends yet to go on an adventure? Or you just don’t know where the nature spots are near you.
Solution? Parkbus! This bus service is a great way to get to national parks from certain Canadian cities if you don’t have a car. I’m a big fan – and MEC has supported Parkbus as one of its community partners since its humble beginnings.
Parkbus connects many major Canadian cities to almost 75 national and provincial parks. It’s been going for nearly a decade and serves about 20,000 people across Canada every year (!). The goal? To help more people get access to being active outdoors. Day trips, family camping or wilderness expeditions – Parkbus can get you there. Check out Parkbus destinations to find trips near you, and see what group hikes they’ve got planned through the ActiveDays program.
Along with reducing barriers to people getting outside, Parkbus has some other wins. Collective transportation (i.e., a bus) helps minimize environmental impact of individual cars. The team works very closely with national and provincial parks to decide on where to go and when to go, and teaches people to be responsible outdoors along the way.
“For every trip, we send pre-departure info, including tips on packing, safety and Leave No Trace, along with trip preparation for people who are going to remote wilderness,” explains Alex Berlyand, one of the two founders of Parkbus.
“There’s a pretty strong educational component that’s emphasized by our Ambassador program – volunteers on board who talk about these kind of things,” he continues. Parkbus also partners with organizations such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservancy of Canada to provide experts to talk about the educational side of their programs.
How it all started
“Parkbus came from our personal experience of living in a big city without a car,” explains Boris Issaev, the other Parkbus founder. “When we turned 18 and started driving, we realized all these amazing places outside of Toronto exist. It was an eye-opening experience, so we wondered why there wasn’t a bus service. We never really expected this to be our full-time job.”
In 2010, Boris and Alex emailed MEC Toronto with their idea for a bus that goes to parks, and a short time later they were invited to the store to survey what MEC members were looking for with a park bus service. “This really was the catalyst for the whole project,” explains Boris.
Initially, the pair aimed to work with larger bus companies, but were pushed back. “So we rented a big white van,” Boris says. “We were under 25 then, and only one place in the middle of nowhere would rent to us. We drove everyone for free out of our own pockets because we didn’t want to disappoint people. On that first run there were some amazing people who really inspired us to continue,” he adds.
Shortly afterward, MEC jumped on board with funding to help kick things off, and Parkbus has been growing ever since.
Group hikes, free shuttles and gear rental deals
Along with lack of transportation, other issues can prevent people from enjoying the outdoors. Lack of outdoor skills and gear, financial constraints, and not knowing people to go with are real barriers, so MEC is working with Parkbus to help break these down.
Guided hikes: In partnership with MEC, Parkbus offers ActiveDays, which aims to build communities in the outdoors. These outings give you the opportunity to meet other hikers, go on a guided hike with a Parkbus facilitator, and learn about the park you’re in from outdoor experts.
Free shuttles: A free (yep, free) shuttle service you can take from four Canadian cities to national parks. These TD Park Express free shuttles greatly reduce the financial barriers to getting outside.
50% off gear rentals: Need gear for your trip? When you register for a Parkbus trip, you get 50% off gear rentals through MEC to help you get outside.
Subsidized trips: Parkbus runs NatureLink, a program that provides subsidized trips for new Canadians to introduce them to the outdoors.
In the past three years, Parkbus has really taken off and MEC has been with them the whole way. An idea that started with one bus every few months has grown into multiple programs that work with different age ranges, abilities, demographics and places – it’s exciting to see how they have programming for everyone.
Not bad for something that started out with two guys and a van.