No time to hit the backcountry? No problem! Put these urban hikes on your weekend agenda.
When Mount Rainier shows off its snowy peak, the call to abandon civilization and get your feet on a mountain can be tempting. But a trip to far-off trails is easily thwarted by challenges with transportation, resources, and/or time. So what to do when you need a dose of nature but can’t get out to the backcountry?
You can turn to your own backyard.
Craig Romano has written a series of guides to urban trails in the Puget Sound area. “Urban Trails Seattle” came out in August, and guides for Everett and Tacoma are slated for next year. Romano’s background is in backcountry hiking, but he knows that urban trails are an important way to promote inclusivity in the outdoors and engage communities in conservation efforts.
“It’s so important that we have these greenbelts in our backyards, because it allows people to constantly have access to nature … because to travel to a lot of the national parks requires leisure time and income,” said Romano.
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When asked about his own favorite urban trails, Romano demurred. “I’ve hiked 25,000 miles in this state, I’ve written 21 books … why don’t you ask me what my favorite song is too?” he said with a laugh.
Still, he came up with a couple of personal recommendations for me (Discovery Park and the Washington Park Arboretum) based on their proximity to the Queen Anne area and my nostalgia for the Northeast in the fall. Before long, he shared a diverse sampling of Seattle and Tacoma’s best urban trails.
Craig Romano’s trail recommendations
Discovery Park (Seattle)
“I know it’s kind of the go-to because it’s Seattle’s largest park … This is Seattle’s grand park. It’s a place that, if you live in Seattle, you bring out-of-town guests to, and if you don’t live in Seattle, it’s a place actually worth going to the city for nature. It’s that good of a park. It’s got bluffs and history, it was an old army base. There’s a lot of history there.”
Washington Park Arboretum (Seattle)
“I used to get a couple hours between classes and I would go for runs out there … if you are an East Coaster and you’re feeling homesick right now, the foliage is spectacular because of all the eastern hardwood trees that are in the arboretum, so it’s one of the best places for autumn foliage. And in the springtime you’ll get to see the best of the northwest … And there’s miles of trails, and lots of good cultural things there too — a Japanese garden and there’s an Asian Pacific new exhibit over there with plants and gardens and a floating bridge that connects to Foster Island. So you’re looking right out at Lake Washington.”
Lincoln Park (West Seattle)
“Big big trees. Almost a mile of shoreline walks. One of the best places for sunsets and for winter-storm watching too, when that time comes.”
Mercer Slough (Bellevue)
“It’s a big undeveloped cove on Lake Washington. It’s got preserved blueberry farms [from] when that area used to be all farmed. It’s got a nature center, which is great, connecting kids and adults to nature.”
Kelsey Creek Farms (Bellevue)
“It’s a preserved farm so there’s barnyard animals and beautiful trails there, and all kinds of events that go on there.”
Point Defiance Park (Tacoma)
“Probably one of the finest urban parks in the country, not just in the Northwest. It really is. It’s worth it. It’s got over 700 acres, old-growth forests, a promenade, a historic zoo, all those things. But I mean miles of trails, beautiful, beautiful trails. You could walk up the spine of Point Defiance old growth and you’d think you were in the Northwest 200 years ago. Point Defiance is a wonderful park. You could spend a couple of days there because they have a zoo there, an aquarium, a science center.”
The I-90 trail (Seattle segment)
“You go through the heart of Seattle’s historically African-American community, Italian-American community, Japanese-American truck farms. All this stuff. The old churches. The museums. It’s one of the most urban trails in the book. I mean, you’re right downtown. And you’re certainly not gonna get the natural views, but it’s loaded with tons of history.”
Go with a friend. “In general our parks are pretty safe out here. I still wouldn’t go into certain areas at night,” said Romano, noting that some of the more urban parks have good lighting, but “going into a dark forest is probably not a good idea.”
Be a good neighbor. “Whether you’re in Mount Rainier National Park or Seward Park, your basic etiquette and environmental awareness is always the same,” said Romano. “You don’t leave trash, you don’t cut switchbacks, you try to respect other users, you don’t blast music.”
Wear a decent pair of shoes. “You’re in the city, so you certainly don’t have to prepare yourself like you would be if you were heading out into the backcountry,” said Romano. “But it’s always good to have good footwear. That’s basic. If you’re gonna go off on uneven trails, high heels or flip-flops or boat shoes just aren’t going to do it.”
Pack the essentials. At night, Romano suggests wearing a reflective vest or a headlamp. “Even if it’s a paved road, if it crosses roads, make sure people can see you,” he said. Romano also suggests bringing a small pack with water, sunscreen and a rain jacket.
“Urban Trails Seattle” by Craig Romano, Mountaineers Books, 256 pp., $16.95