The local cycling season launches this weekend with the riding of the Chilly Hilly. But wait, there's more: Mike McQuaide profiles five lesser-known regional bike trails around Puget Sound, beyond the Burke-Gilman.
On a chilly February bike ride on the Soos Creek Trail, under a blindingly bright morning sun, the world around us shimmers and shines. We’ve seen frost on the open fields and meadows that we’ve passed through, panes of ice in the forested swamplands, and here, on a snaking stretch through a thicket of willows, a sparkling veneer that’s so bright we’re squinting as we pedal past.
“It’s like a winter wonderland,” says Renton’s Susan Mokler, who co-leads today’s B.A.B.E.S. ride, a group ride for Cascade Bicycle Club (www.cascade.org). B.A.B.E.S. stands for Beautiful Area Biking Essentially South.
She’s right. And what’s also a wonderland is this trail itself, a peaceful, mostly flat six-mile ribbon of pavement that snakes through a variety of habitats, seemingly transporting you from one of the country’s major metropolitan areas to some bucolic countryside.
“I think it’s the most beautiful and diverse trail in the area,” Mokler says.
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“In summers, the forest section is nice and shady and keeps you cool. And in winter, like now, you see all the birds’ nests that you miss out on the rest of the year.”
Soos Creek is just one of many amazing paved or soft-surface trails in the area that is a haven for bicyclists and is not named the Burke-Gilman. In fact, within four miles of Soos Creek, there are four others — Lake Youngs, Cedar River, Interurban and Green River.
“Most everyone knows about the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River trails, but overall, there are about 300 miles of regional trails in the county,” says Robert Foxworthy, regional trails coordinator for King County Parks.
“King County Parks has been involved with about 175 miles of those, and our regional trails program has another 125 miles or so planned.”
And that’s just King County.
Pierce County boasts the Foothills Trail, a paved 15-miler from Puyallup to South Prairie. Just north, the 23-mile Centennial Trail stretches north from Snohomish almost all the way to the Snohomish-Skagit County line. And farther south, Olympia’s Chehalis Western Trail reaches for 20 miles from the state’s capital south to Rainier, where it T-bones with another trail — the 14.5-mile Yelm-Tenino Trail that takes you to either of those places.
With cycling season just around the corner — heck, Chilly Hilly is this weekend — and with a major segment of the well-traveled Burke-Gilman to close for renovation this spring (see sidebar), now’s a great time to get to know some of the lesser-known and underloved trails in the region. Here are five.
Since it’s still winter, we can’t do anything about your trail exploration being chilly, but for the most part these trails aren’t hilly.
Soos Creek Trail
KENT — Opened in 2007, this beloved paved trail meanders through the Soos Creek Valley — atop raised decking through the marshier stretches — from Southeast 192nd Street, just south of Renton, to 152nd Way Southeast, near Kent’s Lake Meridian Park. Along the way, it passes through Gary Grant Park — its playground makes a great stop for families — and offers parking and porta-potties at either end.
“We also use it to get to a lot of our longer rides,” says B.A.B.E.S. ride co-leader Terry Lehr-Franks. “It’s a great way to start and end a ride.”
In fact, upon exiting the Soos Creek trail, this day’s B.A.B.E.S. ride heads out to Black Diamond, home of the bicycle-friendly Black Diamond Bakery, about 10 miles from the trail’s south-end terminus.
Distance: Six miles one-way. Access points: North trailhead at corner of Southeast 192nd Street and 124th Avenue Southeast; Gary Grant Park at Southeast 208th and 137th Avenue Southeast; South Trailhead at 152nd Way Southeast. More info: www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/trails/regionaltrailssystem.aspx.
PUYALLUP TO SOUTH PRAIRIE — Once a rail bed for Burlington Northern Railway (abandoned in 1982), this 15-mile paved trail is a slice of rural cycling heaven. Passing through farms, fields and meadows — as well as the town of Orting — the Foothills trail travels alongside the Puyallup and Carbon rivers for much of the way, while also offering big-time views of everybody’s favorite, Mount Rainier.
“We see deer, coyote, bald eagles, beaver, fox and, in fall, the spawning salmon,” says Tacoma’s Carl Fisher during a break from Silk Road Smoothly, a weekly Thursday morning ride offered by the Tacoma Wheelmen Bicycle Club (www.twbc.org).
Named for its route, Silk Road Smoothly follows the entire Foothills trail from just east of Puyallup to South Prairie and back. Relatively flat, the trail climbs only about 400 feet.
“It’s a scenic trail, but what I really enjoy are the people you see and meet along the way,” says Tacoma’s Fred Swift, a Silk Road Smoothly regular.
“Little kids on their new bikes, the fast group returning from their ride, the guy with the walking stick who’s always out, the people out with their dogs — I like seeing all the folks who most likely wouldn’t be out exercising if it weren’t for the trail.”
Distance: 15 miles one-way. Getting there: From Highway 167 northwest of Puyallup, take the Highway 410 East exit toward Sumner. In 2 miles, exit 410 onto Highway 162 South (Valley Road) and follow for a half-mile. Turn right onto 80th Street. The Foothills Trail East Puyallup parking lot (with restrooms) is 0.7 miles ahead on the left. More info: www.co.pierce.wa.us/pc/abtus/ourorg/parks/foothillstrail.htm.
SNOHOMISH TO BRYANT — Already epic, this 23-mile paved trail reaching north from Snohomish just keeps getting epicer. (If that’s a word.) Last fall, a section from Arlington to Bryant was completed, with plans by the end of 2011 for the Centennial Trail to reach all the way north to the Skagit County line.
Much of the trail follows the old Northern Pacific (later Burlington Northern) railroad grade and passes through a pastoral setting of fields and farmland. Along the way it touches on the outskirts of Marysville and Lake Stevens while also passing through Arlington. (There is still a 1.5-mile gap just south of Arlington.) The trail features picnic tables, benches and restrooms at various points along the way. A nice touch: The Machias rest-stop area, about five miles north of Snohomish, resembles a vintage 1890s railroad depot.
The first few miles of the Centennial trail opened in 1989, Washington’s centennial; thus the trail’s name.
Distance: 23 miles one-way. Getting there: There are numerous access points; here’s how to get to the trail’s south terminus in Snohomish: From Interstate 5 head east on Highway 2 and exit at 88th Street Southeast and head west toward Snohomish on 92nd Street Southeast (88th becomes 92nd), which soon becomes Second Street. In 0.7 miles, turn right onto Maple Avenue and continue for another 0.7 miles to the Centennial Trail on your right. On-street parking is available. More info: www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/Departments/Parks.
Snoqualmie Valley Trail
DUVALL TO RATTLESNAKE LAKE — At 31 miles long, the Snoqualmie Valley is the longest of this Fab Five and follows the southern branch of the Old Milwaukee Road. Meandering along the Snoqualmie River, the trail showcases some of King County’s rural finest: scenic river valley with wide open spaces, working farmland, historic railroad trestles, the many faces of Mount Si, as well as the towns of Duvall, Carnation, Snoqualmie and North Bend. (There is one on-road detour section in Snoqualmie.)
Though not paved, the hard-packed gravel trail is terrific for mountain bikes, hybrids and for roadies who don’t mind getting a little dirt on their bikes. At Rattlesnake Lake, the Snoqualmie Trail connects to the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail.
Distance: 31 miles one-way. Getting there: Multiple access points; here’s how to get to the trail’s south terminus at Rattlesnake Lake: Head east on Interstate 90 to Exit 32 at the east end of North Bend. Go south on 436th Avenue Southeast (which becomes Cedar Falls Road Southeast) for 3.5 miles and park in one of the lots at Rattlesnake Lake. More info: www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/trails/regionaltrailssystem.aspx.
East Lake Sammamish Trail
LAKE SAMMAMISH — Tracing the eastern shoreline of Lake Sammamish, this 11-mile trail connects the Redmond end of the world with the Issaquah end. Trailwise, it connects the Burke Gilman-Sammamish River network with trails leading to the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway corridor — a vital link in the chain, indeed.
Along with featuring terrific views of the lake and those who frolic in and upon it, the trail provides stunning look-sees of the Cascades and her countless cousins, the foothills. At present the East Lake Sammamish Trail is hard-packed gravel, but that will change in the near future.
“If all goes according to plan, we’ll pave the north end in Redmond later this year, and next year the south end in Issaquah,” Foxworthy says.
Over the next several years, he says, the middle section will be paved as well.
Distance: 11 miles one-way. Getting there: Though there are no formal parking areas along the trail itself, two good access spots are Marymoor Park, at the trail’s north end in Redmond, and Lake Sammamish State Park, at the south end. More info: www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/trails/regionaltrailssystem.aspx.
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of “Day Hike! Central Cascades” (Sasquatch Books). He is currently working on a guide to the best road rides in Washington State (Mountaineers Books). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.