Sweet Relief — 18 Regional Trails That Help You Avoid Traffic
By Bill Thorness
The Mountains to Sound Greenaways Trail is one of those little connectors that makes such a difference on your daily commute.
Have you ever happened upon a trail and thought, “Ah, sweet relief!” Sometimes it feels so good to get off the roads and away from other traffic. Trails are generally safer, quieter and more scenic than roads. And sometimes they even connect up and can take you exactly where you want to go.
So when I undertook revising my road riding guidebook, Biking Puget Sound, I wanted to use as many paved trails as possible. The 60 rides found in the newly released second edition include 28 altogether. Of course, I wish it were more.
Below are 18 of my favorite trails that you can incorporate into rides to get off the streets for a while.
In north Seattle, the Ship Canal Trail has become a favorite when I head downtown. It runs west from the Fremont Bridge on the Queen Anne side. Instead of climbing Dexter Ave. N., take the trail toward Magnolia, ride by Seattle Pacific University, then along the backside of shipyards.
It cuts under busy 15th Ave. W at the Ballard Bridge, then dead-ends at Fisherman’s Terminal. Continue forward on the street to connect to a left at Gilman Ave. W toward the city center.
The most pleasant central Seattle trail recently added is the western extension of the Mountains to Sound Greenways Trail, aka the I-90 Trail. It’s less than a mile, but the route around the north edge of Beacon Hill to Holgate Ave. S. makes a crucial east-west connection over I-5. From there you’re dumped onto the rough roads of the Sodo warehouse district, but connecting to Airport Way makes for a fairly stable ride south to Georgetown, while a link to the Sodo Trail will take you north.
The Sodo Trail gets my vote as the best emergency escape route. This all-too-brief trail runs alongside the Sound Transit light rail line and is separated by chain-link fence and goes through a bit of industrial commotion while also connecting with the sports stadiums. Find the north end under the I-90 interchange between 4th and 6th avenues south; it terminates where the trains turn into the Beacon Hill tunnel.
Another connection to the I-90 Trail is worth a footnote, but only because it’s too short. The Central Park Trail, accessed at 23rd Ave. S next to Jimi Hendrix Park, links the two sections of Judkins Park with Pratt Park and skirts a school and playfields before its north termination at Yesler Way. A calm alternative to busy arterials, it would make a great connection to a neighborhood “Greenway” street.
At Central Park’s south end, a branch trail through Judkins Park drops down to S. Hiawatha Place, which connects with S. Dearborn Street and crosses Rainier Avenue S. to connect to the International District.
I’ve surprised people with a suggestion that we take a trail ride to Issaquah, but continuing east on the I-90 Trail will get you there with only a little on-road riding.
The trail parallels I-90 across the floating bridge and Mercer Island, but many people hop off at the intersection with I-405 to loop Lake Washington. If you stay on it, though, you’ll parallel I-90 on a bike lane through Factoria, then cross the highway and pick up the trail again to Lake Sammamish. A few quiet street miles and you’re back on trails at the edge of Issaquah, through Lake Sammamish State Park and south into town.
The Juniper Trail in Issaquah will keep you off the main drag. At the town’s east edge, cross I-90 to where the new trails begin. These have been expanded and connected to the Highlands neighborhood or one can ride east to link with the Preston Trail, both up-and-back propositions.
The 30-mile long Centennial Trail extends from Snohomish to the Skagit County line and connects along the way Lake Stevens and Arlington.
The Highlands route is a recently developed district with its own small shopping area. Climb the well-landscaped trail that runs next to the road for a half-mile on the smooth street lane to the town square and check out the modern suburb-building techniques before heading back downhill.
The second loop, quite a bit longer, is to the highlands above Preston. The paved trail continues east a bit, but then gives way to the newest section, which is gravel and soft enough to be difficult for road bike tires.
Taking the road instead for that two-mile portion, pick up the paved trail again at Preston’s office park and sports fields. This takes you to the old Preston Trail, a six-mile route ending in the middle of the forest with a peek at Snoqualmie Falls in the distance. A connecting trail heading northeast and dropping down to Fall City would be a fantastic addition.
Back in Issaquah, skirt the north side of the big highway to connect to the new East Lake Sammamish Parkway Trail, which winds along the west edge of the road to the boat launch. At that point, the trail continues unpaved and cyclists usually switch to the street to reach Redmond.
From Marymoor Park, the old standby Sammamish River Trail heads north. Between Bothell and Woodinville you’ll find the North Creek Trail, accessible just west of Wilmot Gateway Park.
A recent connection heads north through marshlands, skirting the campuses of the University of Washington-Bothell and Cascadia College, then zig-zags through North Creek office parks on the east edge of I-405. It’s a good connection to Mill Creek and, via Cathcart, to the town of Snohomish.
If you’ve cycled Snohomish, you probably know the Centennial Trail. But did you know that each end has been extended? This Snohomish County jewel is now more than 30 miles long, terminating at the Skagit County line.
The trail’s south terminus has been lengthen into old Snohomish; pick it up at 2nd Street and Lincoln Avenue. From there, try for a metric century, all on the trail. The recent additions head first into Arlington, then north across a stunning new bridge and through marsh and farmlands. It terminates at a historic barn next to S.R. 9. If you continued north on that highway, you’d soon be crossing over I-5 into the Skagit Valley.
But the rural north is not the only place for extended trails. South in Pierce, Kitsap and Thurston counties, more trails await.
In Tacoma, a new Point Ruston Trail links expanding waterfront development east of the Point Defiance Ferry Terminal to the loftier neighborhood. The trail provides a direct, gentler grade to climb to Point Defiance Park or connect with the ferry to Vashon Island.
The Scott Pierson Trail takes cyclists along the S.R. 16 freeway to the Narrows Bridge. Across the bridge, in Kitsap County, you’ll find the Cushman Trail, which is about six miles long, mostly alongside S.R. 16 but protected and landscaped along the quiet waterfront town of Gig Harbor.
Farther south in the Olympia area, more expanded trails await. Recent additions to the Chehalis Western Trail at Lacey allow cyclists access to the north portion via bike-ped overpasses over arterials and I-5.
Trail connections have also been added to the east-west Woodland Trail and I-5 Trail, which together offer seamless commuting into downtown Olympia.
With these links and a tour of the adjacent Yelm-Tenino Trail, one could make it a very full day of riding nearly 100 miles, all of it on trails.
Whether you’re staying close to home or charting a new course, our expanding trail systems will certainly be welcome additions to your route.
Bill Thorness is author of Biking Puget Sound: 60 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans, Mountaineers Books.