One Foot in Front of the Other

If Bridle Trails State Park is the ultimate local trail run for beginners, Redmond Watershed Preserve is the logical next step. The Washington State Parks website touts its “28 miles of well-maintained trails suitable for recreational horseback riding, walking, jogging, nature observing and general spiritual renewal.”

That might seem like overblown copy, but it’s not. This is a park that meets a number of varied needs, with a network of suburb-adjacent trails that accordion well — you can connect individual trails ranging in distance from 0.7 to 2.9 miles into as short or long a route as you like, making this an ideal spot for a range of trail users. From a safe distance, I observed daytime amblers; one other trail runner; two equestrians (remember to yield to horses); walkers clad in neon ponchos; and a handful of cheerful cyclists, including one who shouted pleasantly from his fat-tire perch as he sped past. “Do you think it’s going to rain?” he asked.

We were drenched. In previous years, I’ve logged a lot of wintertime miles on a treadmill, but in 2020, running in the rain has become a superior, crucial, COVID-necessitated replacement; as a practice, I don’t go running when it’s dark out, but a little rain won’t stop me. And so I went running at Redmond Watershed Preserve on a day so rainy and gray the most wooded sections of the park were visibly dim for midday, and I had the trail almost all to myself.

If you find low light and thin crowds spooky, run with a buddy, and keep in mind: When it comes to crowd estimates, your mileage may vary. I went on a weekday because this is my job, but if you arrive on a weekend and things look crowded-verging-on-dicey, be prepared, as always, to change your plan.

And plan ahead. As the name implies, you’ll be in a nature preserve, which means you have to abide by certain rules: The most wounding to Seattleites may be that dogs aren’t allowed. But if you can get past this, you’ll be richly rewarded, because Redmond Watershed Preserve is an especially user-friendly park, with clear signage, mile counts and maps at every junction between the trails. (The day I went, there was even a public notice that dead trees on the Trillium Trail would be removed on Dec. 21. No need to panic!)

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This glut of information makes it hard to get lost and incredibly easy to choose your own adventure from an array of connecting trails, adding on if you’ve got energy to spare, and backing off when you’ve had enough. For those with a more exploratory approach, you’ll find lots of pleasant little pockets to explore: The Old Pond Trail takes you out to — surprise! — a pond that resembles the Dead Marshes in “The Lord of the Rings.” The park’s northern perimeter sidles up to a residential neighborhood, and the Pipeline Regional Trail is named for an underground gas line; you’ll also pass under power lines amid the Douglas firs, a reminder that while this park feels like wilderness, you aren’t at all far from civilization.

And increasingly, that’s just what I need. A good four to five miles in a truly forested area an easy drive away has become essential to maintaining my sense of equilibrium — such as it is — amid the pandemic. I used to craft speed workouts on the treadmill in a basement gym in Ballard. With MSNBC on a screen above my head, the pounding of other pairs of feet on the machines beside me, the whirring of fans, and the pump-up jams in my earbuds, I’d see how fast I could go, toggling back and forth between bursts at top speed and short periods of recovery. It was a real workout, but the treadmill is a poor simulacrum of what it feels like, looks like and smells like when you run outside. I now have a hard time understanding how I could go an entire season without it.

A treadmill can keep you on pace, but a trail run means slowly working your body to the point of exhaustion, moving under needled branches, listening for wildlife and finding your way through a wilderness of your own choosing, away from the punishing impact of the usual concrete routine. On my latest trail run, I caught glimpses of bogs (remember bogs?), listened for the sounds of horses along the trail and generally got reacquainted with the vast natural world outside the walls of my apartment, something that has never failed to be an emotional and mental reset, a leveling out, a mercy.

On the drive back to Seattle, a rainbow broke through the cloud cover, a shot of color amid the convenience stores and power lines, a fitting end to another winter day when I went outside in spite of the precipitation, and found my equilibrium on a forested trail once more. If you want that, too, it’s out there waiting.

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Redmond Watershed Preserve

Distance: I managed to run over 4.5 miles by stringing together the Trillium Trail and Pipeline Regional Trail. You can do much more or less depending on your preference.

Good for: Trail runners, cyclists, equestrians and anyone with a need to go hiking but not the patience to drive farther than Redmond. When sharing the trail with horses, you should always be prepared to yield to horses by slowing down and moving to the side of the trail. It’s also not a good idea to wear headphones, which may distract you from seeing a horse and responding appropriately.

Parking situation: Easy. The main south lot also has restrooms and information.

Terrain: Mostly gentle grades, with a few muddy scrambles in the rain; trails and footbridges are wide and well-maintained.