Trail Mix

20 trails where you can hike, bike, and hug a tree, all within one hour of downtown.

By Craig Romano and Allison Williams June 1, 2011 Published in the June 2011 issue of Seattle Met

It’s almost summer, the sun is returning, and the days are getting longer. There’s plenty of daylight for exploring the world-class trails of the Northwest, the beautiful vistas and valleys that make surviving a soggy spring worth it. It takes less than an hour to get to a good uphill slog or riverside ramble, so what are you waiting for? Dig out your boots—daylight’s burning. 🌲



After-Work Trails

Alki Beach
Length 7 miles
15 minutes from Seattle

The view that launched a million postcards might be West Seattle’s most obvious calling card, but it competes with the simple charm of the urban shore. Start a ramble at Jack Block Park—drooling over the skyline on the way—then round the point at Anchor Park and make for the Alki Point lighthouse a mile and a half farther. Though swarmed on sunny afternoons, the wide concrete trail that separates street from sand clears out on cooler evenings. Watch For A 1/18 replica of the Statue of Liberty, erected by Boy Scouts in 1952; it was replaced in 2008 after the original was battered by wind and water. 

Getting There Take the West Seattle Bridge to the Harbor Ave exit, turning right onto Harbor Ave SW and parking on the street. Alternately, take the Elliott Bay Water Taxi to Seacrest Park or bus No. 37 to Harbor Ave SW & 30th Ave SW or bus No. 56 to 63rd Ave SW & Alki Ave SW.


Lord Hill
Length 1 to 12 miles
50 minutes from Seattle

Road Trip Old byways serve as trails on Lord Hill.

Image: Craig Romano

Named for an early settler (not the big guy in the sky), Lord Hill Regional Park is right in Everett’s backyard. This sprawling 1,500-acre wilderness on the Snohomish overflows with conifers, quiet trails, and frog-filled pools. Mix and match your route to fit any time window on more than 12 miles of well-maintained trails and old roads. Include Temple Lake Loop for quiet contemplation, hilly Pipeline if you have energy to burn, and the dams of Beaver Lake Loop to see wildlife. Watch For An indistinct side trail off the main route near the Pipeline Trail junction that leads to a grassy bluff with sweeping views. 

Getting There Follow SR 522 to Woodinville. Then take SR 9 north to Snohomish, exiting onto 2nd St. Head east 1 mile, turn right onto Lincoln Ave (Old Snohomish Monroe Rd), and after 2.7 miles turn right onto 127th Ave SE. The trailhead is in 1.6 miles.


Grand Ridge
Length 3.3 miles
30 minutes from Seattle

This new 1,300-acre wilderness area is the remedy for Tiger Mountain fatigue. Located directly north of that popular peak, it feels impressively removed from the Sammamish and Issaquah neighborhoods bordering its western limits. Make the loop up the Grand Ridge’s grand southern face, or add a five-and-a-half-mile traverse of the ridge on the main thoroughfare. Watch For A beautiful grove of mature western red cedars midridge. 

Getting There Follow I-90 East to Exit 20. Turn left onto 270th Ave and look for the trailhead on the right.


Coal Creek
Length 6 miles
20 minutes from Seattle

Follow the small but mighty Coal Creek through a deep ravine, past old mine shafts, rail ties, and other coal-mining remnants from the late 1800s. Now reforested, Coal Creek Park is a rugged surprise among the suburban hills. The grade is relatively flat—more a place to stretch the legs than to tire yourself out after a day in the cubicle. Watch For North Fork Falls, which plummets into a dank ravine just before the trail reaches the turnaround point. 

Getting There Take Exit 10 off of I-405 and follow the Coal Creek Pkwy for about 1 mile to the trailhead.


Gazzam Lake
Length 4 miles
50 minutes from Seattle

With big cedars, firs, and maples, this placid little lake is a wild enclave among the tony estates of Bainbridge Island. Amble through nearly 450 tranquil acres of mature forest, and keep your eyes peeled for deer, coyotes, owls, and even an occasional bear. Watch For A half-mile spur leads to Close Beach, a spectacular stretch of undeveloped shoreline on the Port Orchard Narrows. 

Getting There Ferry to Bainbridge Island, then turn left onto Winslow Way W. Take a right on Madison Ave N and left onto Wyatt Way NW. Turn left on Eagle Harbor Dr NE and bear right onto Bucklin Hill Rd NE. Continue on Blakely Ave NE. Turn right onto NE Baker Hill Rd and right onto gravel Deerpath Ln NE, which leads to the trailhead. Travel times vary due to ferries.


Trails with a View

Use It or Lose It Double Bluff Beach ­borders Useless Bay.

Image: Craig Romano


Granite Mountain
Length 8 miles 
50 minutes from Seattle

The 360-degree views from Granite Mountain are worth the rough haul it takes to see them. Grind upward 3,800 vertical feet through flower and huckleberry patches to the 5,629-foot open summit. It’s graced with a handsome fire lookout, popular despite the area’s early-season avalanche danger. Spin to see Mount Rainier and Snoqualmie Pass on the horizon, and a dazzling array of sparkling alpine lakes in the nearer distance. Watch For Resident marmots, with their trademark whistle, in the upper reaches of the mountain. 

Getting There Take I-90 East to Exit 47, then turn left onto Asahel Curtis Rd. After passing over the highway, turn left again for the trailhead.


De Leo Wall
Length 4 miles
25 minutes from Seattle

There are free maps of Cougar Mountain’s pathways at the parking area, but there’s no reason to fear this hopeless tangle of trails. Trust the signage (your route from the Wildside Trail to Marshall’s Hill Trail to the De Leo Wall Trail is simpler than it sounds) and resist the urge to play peeping Tom into suburban backyards. Locals jog along these wide paths regularly, but late in the afternoon you may still encounter the loop’s lookout point—and modest panorama of Mount Rainier and the Issaquah hills—in solitude. Watch For The sealed-off Ford Slope mine shaft next to a photo display and a rusty train car. 

Getting There From Exit 13 on I-90 East, turn right onto Lakemont Blvd SE; after 2.5 miles, look for the trailhead on the left.


Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk
Length 4 miles 
55 minutes from Seattle

If you’ve ever wanted to get a heron’s point of view but weren’t about to get wet, venture onto the new boardwalk in the reborn Nisqually Delta off I-5 near Olympia. The dikes in the wildlife refuge were removed after a century of reshaping the wetlands, making the area a lot muddier and more hospitable to fowl and fish. The $2.8 million wooden platform gets you a mile farther in to the wetland than your boots alone could ever take you, showing off the southern Sound up to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Watch For A bald eagle’s nest—and if you’re lucky, the patriotic resident himself—across the water from the end of the boardwalk. 

Getting There Take I-5 South to Exit 114, then take a right onto Brown Farm Rd NE, which leads directly into the refuge. 


McClellan Butte
Length 9 miles
45 minutes from Seattle

Hovering 5,162 feet over the Snoqualmie River, McClellan has a fairly pointy peak for a butte. You’ll clamber up 3,700 vertical feet of steep, timbered slopes to reach it, where there’s a risk of avalanches in the early parts of the year. The final pitch is an especially unnerving scramble, but the reward is a vista of Seattle and the Olympics—one you’ll share with far fewer than are atop nearby Mount Si. Watch For A rare view of the Cedar River Reservoir; most people never see this wild, blank spot on the map. 

Getting There Take I-90 East to Exit 42. Turn right onto W Tinkham Rd and look for the trailhead entrance immediately on the right.


Double Bluff Beach
Length 4 miles
60 minutes from Seattle

Whidbey Island’s southern shore boasts a beach so sandy you can go barefoot—doing that at most Washington shores is like losing a fight with a pumice stone. The trail is the sandy expanse itself, positioned beneath two towering 300-foot bluffs and wide enough at any tide that you needn’t crawl over driftwood. Dogs are similarly liberated, since it’s quite possibly the biggest leash-free beach on the West Coast. Looking up, Mount Rainier hovers above the Seattle skyline to the south, but the panorama also includes views of Mount Baker, Three Fingers Mountain, Mount Pilchuck, and the jagged Olympic range. Watch For Pigeon guillemots, surf scoters, and buffleheads—and other seabirds with less funny-sounding names—in and above Admiralty Inlet. 

Getting There Take the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island. Continue north on SR 525 for 8.5 miles, then turn left onto Double Bluff Rd. Proceed for 2 miles to Double Bluff Park. Travel times vary due to ferries.


Biking Trails

Mud Mountain Rim Trail 
Length 10 miles
60 minutes from Seattle

Leave time before or after your ride to wander the Mud Mountain Dam recreation area, with its picnic spaces and wading pool, near Enumclaw. The biking and hiking trail gets rooty and, of course, muddy in places, but boardwalks span the worst points. The short but intense ride takes you to a rim above the White River, then connects to a river trail that continues to the banks of Scatter Creek. Watch For The flood--controlling Mud Mountain Dam, once the highest earth and rock dam in the world. 

Getting There From Auburn, take Hwy 167 to Hwy 410 East. After 6 miles, turn right onto Mud Mountain Rd, which leads to the Mud Mountain Dam Project.


Cedar River Trail
Length 34 miles
20 minutes from Seattle

Smooth Sailing A biker books it down Cedar River Trail.

Image: Robert Higdon

Running southeast from Renton, this straight shot from busy city to quiet countryside is perfect for putting in a few miles after work. It follows the Cedar River for about a dozen paved and then five gravel miles, going from the shores of Lake Washington to those of the Cedar River Watershed, where -Seattle’s drinking water is sourced. Watch For Cedar River Trail Park, a multiuse community space that’s ideally placed for a recovery break. 

Getting There Take Exit 2 off of I-405 and follow Rainier Ave north. Turn right onto Airport Way S, then left onto N 6th St and follow it to the trailhead in Cedar River Trail Park.




3.Snoqualmie Valley Trail
Length 63 miles
40 minutes from Seattle

Start in the town of Carnation and pedal south on a wide unpaved route. You’ll pass working farms and nature refuges in a rural corner of King County that looks much as it did a hundred years ago. The trail, another former rail line, snakes by the sloughs of the Snoqualmie River. Toward the end, it heads uphill and skirts the Meadowbrook Farm Preserve, then terminates at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain. Watch For Great views of Mount Si when you look up and possible cougar tracks in the dirt when you look down. 

Getting There Follow SR 203 to Carnation. Turn right onto Entwistle St to reach the trailhead in Nick Loutsis Park.


John Wayne Pioneer Trail 
Length 200 miles
40 minutes from Seattle

Like many area cycle routes, this over-the-mountains byway was originally a railway easement. That means the maximum grade is 6 percent (trains don’t do steep), hills even the laziest among us can pedal. From the western terminus in Iron Horse State Park near North Bend, you can bike from Rattlesnake Lake (which doesn’t have rattlers) all the way to the Columbia River in Central Washington’s desert steppe (which has plenty of rattlers). Though the rail tunnels have been closed to bike traffic, the detours around them provide miles of breathtaking scenery. The gentle dirt and gravel path welcomes a steady stream of cyclists from newbie to expert, but it’s an especially good introduction for the beginning mountain biker. Watch For A series of vertigo-inducing trestles spanning Change, Hall, and Mine creeks. 

Getting There Take I-90 East to Exit 32 in North Bend; turn right onto 436th Ave SE, which becomes Cedar Falls Rd. Continue 3.1 miles to the trailhead. 


Centennial Trail 
Length 46 miles
40 minutes from Seattle

Chug along on this paved rail trail through wetlands rich in wildlife, quiet woodlots, and the old town of Arlington. You’ll be right at the edge of suburbia, but the roll from Snohomish to Bryant feels fully rural. Views of Mount Pilchuck and Three Fingers are sublime, and you’ll pass by the bird havens of Lake Cassidy and Lake Bryant. Don’t forget to stop and smell the trilliums. Watch For The replica of an 1890s rail depot in Machias that serves as a snack shop. 

Getting There Exit SR 9 in Snohomish following 2nd St E to Maple Ave. Turn right on Maple; the trailhead is at the intersection of Pine Ave.


Wild Trails

Wallace Lake
Length 8.2 miles
60 minutes from Seattle 

Silent Spring All's quiet on the shores of Wallace Lake.

Image: Craig Romano

While the nearby waterfall overflows with hikers there’s near solitude at Wallace Lake, the best-kept secret within the 4,735-acre Wallace Falls State Park. En route to this large backcountry lake, meander through mature forest lined with ferns and up a gentle climb along the river’s north fork. Once lakeside, find one of the few sandy beaches or make a play for the trout with your fishing pole. Watch For Impressive views of formidable Mount Index from the lake’s Pebble Beach, reached by following an old logging road around the shore. 

Getting There From Everett, follow US 2 East to Gold Bar. Turn left onto 1st St, then right onto May Creek Rd. Continue for 1.5 miles to the trailhead at Wallace Falls State Park. 




Lime Kiln Trail
Length 7 miles
60 minutes from Seattle 

Follow an old rail line along the South Fork Stillaguamish River, which runs deep into a maple-lined canyon. Look for the giant stone blast furnace the trail was named for, along with historic relics like old saw blades and bedsprings littering the forest floor. This remote locale once supported a thriving railway community, but it has been reclaimed by greenery and thrushes calling overhead. Watch For A short loop leads to a gravel bar on the river, where dippers dive for insects. 

Getting There Follow SR 92 East to Granite Falls. Turn right onto S Granite Ave, then left onto E Pioneer St, which soon becomes Menzel Lake Rd. After a mile, turn left onto Waite Mill Rd, which reaches the trailhead at Robe Canyon Historic Park. 


Wilderness Peak
Length 8 miles
25 minutes from Seattle

You’re still near the highway when you start up the southeast corner of the Issaquah Alps, but its small parking lot keeps trail traffic low. The forested summit deters crowds, too; there’s no postcard panorama as incentive. With alders and boulders, marshes and meadows, this second-growth forest is about as wild as it gets this close to the city. Watch For The summit registry collects names and messages from visitors, making up in entertainment value what the top lacks in views. 

Getting There Take I-90 East to Exit 15, and turn right onto Renton Issaquah Rd. Look for the trailhead sign after 3 miles, and turn right into the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park.


Pratt Lake
Length 12 miles
50 minutes from Seattle

Set within a remote rugged basin, Pratt Lake is as wild a body of water to be found in the Cascade Mountains. Yet the alpine lake sits just behind peaks that cradle Interstate 90; starting there, you’ll quickly leave civilization behind. It’s a tough grunt up and over the imposing ridge, through forest and the occasional rocky slope, but the reward is a tranquil, uncrowded shoreline. Bring a fishing pole or simply doze on the rocks with sandpipers and dragonflies. Watch For Look down on little Olallie Lake from a viewpoint about three miles in.

Getting There Follow I-90 East to Exit 47. Turn left and, after passing over the highway, turn left again for the trailhead.


Mount Teneriffe
Length 14 miles
50 minutes from Seattle

If Mount Si is Mr. Popularity, his closest neighbor, Mount Teneriffe, is the strong and silent type. You’ll endure confusing trails (official, unofficial, and under-construction), a heart-seizing uphill climb, and a scramble to the top. But the view at 4,788 feet shows off the Cascades at their best, and you’re unlikely to share it with strangers. The midmountain Kamikaze Falls is as yet unreachable by sanctioned trails, though it’s an ethereal standout. Watch For Mountain goats that make their home up on the peak, or bears in the lower elevations. 

Getting There Take I-90 East to Exit 31. At the traffic circle, follow North Bend Blvd N, then take a right on North Bend Way, and a left on SE Mount Si Rd. After 3 miles, park in the wide turnaround area on the side of the road.  


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