Five Washington Urban Trails for Outdoor Social Distancing

Burke-Gilman Trail
Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail connects the city to Bothell. Photo James Harnois

Five no-hassle escapes that are right in town

written by Gregg Herrington

In his 1950 memoir, Of Men and Mountains, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas of Yakima County wrote, “Men can find deep solitude and, under conditions of grandeur that are startling, he can come to know both himself and God.” Washington is a paradise for backcountry and wilderness hikers like Douglas. But flat, paved, close-to-home trails are increasingly part of our urban landscapes. They offer places for escape, reflection and exercise, if only for a lunch-hour walk, and require no special equipment or long drives.

We’ve selected five of Washington’s urban trails to feature—in Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Wenatchee and Spokane. But the state is rich with close-in paths and trails. Local and state governments, nonprofits such as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, businesses, individual donors and enthusiastic volunteers are largely responsible for our urban-trails trend.

Bellingham, Taylor Dock
In Bellingham, Taylor Dock is a perfect stroll.

Bellingham to Fairhaven on the South Bay Trail

Twenty-three miles south of the Canadian border, this college-town trail links downtown Bellingham with the city’s Historic Fairhaven District 2.5 miles south. In addition to scenic delights along the way there are restaurants, pizza parlors, shops and a park near each end.

The route, including an over-the-water boardwalk-style stretch, offers views of Bellingham Bay’s kayakers, pleasure boaters and harbor seals, as well as the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island, B.C. (on a clear day).

Paulette Freeman of Bellingham said the Taylor Dock on the “boardwalk” is her favorite place “to slow down and take in the views across the bay” as well as on land, where the grand Chrysalis Inn and Spa is a prominent feature with its splendid views from the patio bar and restaurant.

The trail’s south end at the Village Green, 1207 10th St. in Fairhaven, is close by the Colophon Cafe and other restaurants and shops, such as Village Books. Near the trail’s north end at Railroad Avenue and Maple Street are La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro and the Depot Market, which hosts a Saturday farmers market in season. Two miles south, at 470 Bayview Drive, is scenic Boulevard Park, an alternative north-end starting point or a destination itself, with its picnic tables and the rustic Woods Coffee shop.

The trail surface includes city sidewalks and crushed gravel, primarily in the north end. It’s OK for bikes, but not so much for in-line skates.

More online:

Seattle Trail Has Sound, Locks, Lakes, UW

Seattle’s—and perhaps the state’s—busiest hiking/cycling/skating venue is the 19.8-mile Burke-Gilman Trail, from Golden Gardens Park on Puget Sound’s Shilshole Bay to suburban Bothell.

Eastbound, the B-G Trail passes through Ballard with its Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks that link Puget Sound to Lake Washington. The trail continues through the Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods, along the north shore of Lake Union and the east edge of the University of Washington campus before wrapping around the north end of Lake Washington via the cities of Lake Forest Park and Kenmore. The Burke-Gilman ends in Bothell’s Blythe Park, where the name changes to the Sammamish River Trail and continues 11 miles to Marymoor Park in Redmond.

Except for a 1.4-mile section in Ballard, where the route is over city streets and sidewalks, the Burke-Gilman Trail is off-street and paved, much of it along a former railroad grade. Among many near-trail restaurants are the HUB (Husky Union Building) on the UW campus, Great State Burgers, 3600 NE 45th St., and Gretchen’s Place, 5432 Sand Point Way NE.

More online: The Burke-Gilman Trail

Tacoma Waterfront Walk Can Fill a Day

If you have just one day to play in Tacoma, you can’t go wrong on the Commencement Bay waterfront and its 3.5-mile Ruston Way path.

Dune Peninsula Park
One of Tacoma’s trails is this gem in Dune Peninsula Park.

“Every inch of this paved route features unobstructed views of mountains, the city and the bay, with occasional sightings of seals and even whales,” said Hunter George of Metro Parks Tacoma. “There’s something for everyone—bike and boat rentals, a fishing pier, bars, restaurants and an ice cream parlor.”

The east-end starting point is Chinese Reconciliation Park on the waterfront, 1741 N. Schuster Parkway. It’s just below the historic Old Town neighborhood and the Spar family-friendly restaurant, 2121 N. 30th St., which is said to have been Tacoma’s first saloon. A little farther east, the Tacoma Museum District is worthy of a full day itself.

At the west end, the Ruston Way Path connects to the new 55-acre Dune Peninsula park, which features a trail and, for the kids, six slides down a 60-foot slope. From there, the new Wilson Way pedestrian bridge leads to 760-acre Point Defiance Park, including zoo, aquarium, old-growth forest and more trails. There’s free parking along Ruston Way and in Point Defiance Park.

More online: Waterfront Trails

Travel Tacoma

Cross the Columbia on Apple Capital Loop

After dams, the Wenatchee Valley’s most prominent manmade feature is arguably the 10-mile Apple Capital Loop Trail along both sides of the area’s most prominent natural feature, the Columbia River.

The paved trail links Wenatchee and East Wenatchee via the Odabashian Bridge on the north carrying U.S. Highways 2 and 97 and the pedestrian Pipeline Bridge on the south. The circuit is perfect for many bikers, while shorter, out-and-back excursions from any point on the loop are sufficient for most walkers.

Trail attractions and parking on the Wenatchee (west) side include the cavernous Pybus Public Market at the foot of Orondo Avenue and three parks north of it to Confluence Park, where a side trail connects to the Horan Natural Area. Wildlife sightings there have included a moose.

The East Wenatchee side is more woodsy and winding, with optional extensions, north 5.5 miles past Rocky Reach Dam to Lincoln Rock State Park and south 2.2 miles to Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park. East-side parking is at the foot of 19th and 27th streets and just north of Odabashian Bridge.

More online: Apple Capital Loop

Views on Spokane’s Riverfront-Gonzaga Loop

Susie Long works in downtown Spokane and often walks the 2.2-mile Riverfront Park-Gonzaga University trail on her lunch hour. “A walk on the Loop is a great way to see many parts of the city in one fell swoop,” she said. “You get park, river, urban sights and sounds, public art, wooded areas and more.”

The Don Kardong pedestrian bridge crosses the Spokane River. Photo Jon Jonckers

Starting on the park’s south side at Rotary Fountain on Howard Street, head east past the 1909 carousel, a kid-friendly giant Radio Flyer wagon and outdoor statues. Cross the Spokane River on the Don Kardong pedestrian bridge to Gonzaga, where Centennial Trail breaks off toward Idaho. Spend a few minutes on campus and check out the Bing Crosby statue in honor of the late crooner and Gonzaga benefactor, who grew up in Spokane.

Turn back west on the loop trail and cross through Riverfront Park (site of the 1974 Spokane World’s Fair) to the starting point, near the must-see gondola rides above the tumbling Spokane River. Cap your outing at Atticus Coffee and Gift Shop a block south on Howard Street.

More online: Spokane Trails (scroll down to No. 1)

More trails to trek

Here are some more Washington urban trails worth discovering.

• Aberdeen: East Aberdeen Waterfront Walkway

• Anacortes: Tommy Thompson Trail

• Asotin-Clarkston: Greenbelt Trail

• Ellensburg: Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park Trail

• Everett-Edmonds: Interurban Trail

• Issaquah-Redmond: East Lake Sammamish Trail

• Kirkland: Cross-Kirkland Corridor

• Longview: Lake Sacajawea Park Trail

• Silverdale (Kitsap County): Clear Creek Trail

• Tri-Cities: Sacagawea Heritage Trail

• Vancouver: Columbia River Renaissance Trail

• Yakima-Selah-Naches-Union Gap: Yakima Greenway Trail

Thanks for the contributions of Craig Romano of Skagit County (, author of 20 hiking books, including several in his “Urban Trails” series.

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