One Foot in Front of the Other
This week’s One Foot in Front of the Other walk features special guest Susanna Ryan, creator of Seattle Walk Report and author of “Secret Seattle,” who designed this excellent 3-mile loop around Mount Baker.
Stringing together several parks with stellar Lake Washington and Mount Rainier views, and with bits of living Seattle history scattered throughout the route, this walk is worth an afternoon. Check it out for a taste of the Central District and South Seattle as the seasons change.
South Seattle loop
Round-trip distance: 3.3 miles
Our walk starts at Sam Smith Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. Look for the paved path accented by a series of rock sculptures paired with philosophical musings from Lao Tze, Plato and others. “Crooked is the path of eternity,” writes the always-cheery Nietzsche, next to a metal etching of a stick figure on a winding trail between two obelisks. Each quote/stone duo has an antithesis opposite it on the path, with contrasts like DAWN / TWILIGHT scrawled across the concrete.
Continue down this existential pathway to the Mount Baker Ridge Tunnel, which prods anxiety in the form of passing bikers but is generally less thought-provoking. The tunnel was recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as an Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement in 1990 and today features an ever-changing collage of graffiti and freestyle art. There are gorgeous murals, like a pair of metallic snakes shimmering black and silver, and also abandoned sketches, CDC conspiracy theories and proclamations like, “We stan Nicki.”
You’ll emerge from the tunnel and be greeted by views across Lake Washington to Mercer Island and beyond. Keeping an eye out for bikers coming in hot from the Homer M. Hadley and Lacey V. Murrow memorial bridges, take three uphill lefts to reach Lake Washington Boulevard South and the East Portal Viewpoint.
Take a moment at this tiny plaza to admire the floating bridges, which were an engineering marvel upon their 1940 completion. The bridge-tunnel complex was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2008; of course, the real stars on the horizon are the Cascades and Mount Rainier beyond Seward Park to the southeast.
Follow Lake Washington Boulevard south through upper Mount Baker, which is rife with gorgeous gardens and homes worth unimaginable sums with giant evergreens in the front yards. A stone’s throw down the road is Colman Park, just beyond the Ellsworth Storey Cottages, built between 1913 and 1917.
Just before the sign welcoming visitors to this Olmsted Brothers-designed gem, hop on the dirt path leading into the woods at left. If you miss the shortcut, fret not: The dirt path leads to the boulevard, popular with bikers. Keep that head up.
Reconnect with the tree-lined boulevard at the bottom of the hill, inland from Colman Beach, and head south along Lake Washington Boulevard with the water to your left. Mount Baker Beach is a great place to catch your breath, use the restroom or take a dip in the lake (if you dare). (That parenthetical is pulling double duty; Lake Washington is frigid, sure, but on dry land, if you’re scared of spiders and you have to hit the bathroom, don’t look up. You’ve been warned.)
Turn away from the beach, cross the street and continue on the paved path into Mount Baker Park. Look for the impressive, 6-ton granite lantern between the path and Lake Park Drive South. This was a gift from Japanese businessman Kojiro Matsukata of Kobe, Japan, to the city of Seattle in 1911 following the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. Keep going uphill after admiring the faded lantern.
You’ll pop out of the park at the corner of South McClellan Street and Mount Rainier Drive South. Look for grassy Mount Baker Boulevard across the street, but don’t skip the can’t-miss neighborhood gardens leading to Franklin High School. On a walk last month, one especially eye-catching garden had sunflowers, pumpkins and flowers of all varieties of colors and smells blooming in gorgeous harmony.
On our walk, Susanna pointed out a hand-painted sign on the boulevard asking visitors not to play “hardball” here. She said it’s consistent with other antiquated park signs from the 1950s that still hang in trees at various Seattle parks, historical Easter eggs nailed right into tree trunks.
Beyond the high school, 30th Avenue South features more brick houses and pretty yards (including one yard within a yard outfitted for fairies, complete with a mushroom yurt of sorts). Our route leads uphill and north beyond the Franklin High School football field.
Martin Luther King Jr. Way South routes directly back to our starting point, but if you get distracted by a dog out for a neighborhood walk and miss your turn, South Walker Street also connects to Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park and our map. There’s a shallow pool and monument there that are worth a moment of silent reflection before finishing up this walk.
Whether on MLK or 28th Avenue South, walk north using the Seattle skyline as your guide. Beyond the Amy Yee Tennis Center and South Massachusetts Street is the southern edge of Sam Smith Park, where you’ll happen upon “Urban Peace Circle,” a bronze piece in the form of a lightning bolt by iconic Seattle sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa. The piece is dedicated to Seattle children killed by gun violence in the inner city.
Just beyond the bolt is the gravel pathway where we began. Check back in with William Blake, Isaiah and company if you’d like to further contemplate the meaning of life. Or (no judgment) just get back to your car and get home safe.