One Foot in Front of the Other

The University of Washington is again welcoming visitors to campus to admire the 29 cherry trees in the school’s Quad that attract thousands of visitors in a normal year. In the abnormal years of 2020 and 2021, though, when the cherry blossoms signaled the arrival of spring, the university asked folks to stay off campus as a COVID-19 precaution, thank you very much.

The trees have been in peak bloom the past couple of weeks and cherry enthusiasts evidently got the news: The area has been packed with tourists, photographers, students, picnickers, dogs and the occasional doofus ignoring the many signs instructing against climbing the trees.

This short walk offers the best of both worlds: A route that starts and ends with Seattle’s most famous cherry trees but breaks away to explore more of the UW, stretching down to Montlake Cut and Union Bay — and into Seattle history. Hat tip to the Seattle Cherry Blossom Run for the inspiration for this route. Andiamo!

UW cherry blossom loop

Round-trip distance: 2.2 miles

Start at the UW Quad, which very well may be packed. If you need a landmark (other than several dozen vibrant pink and white cherry trees), look for the turrets of Denny Hall, the oldest building on campus. In front of Denny Hall is Denny Yard; beyond that is the Quad.

To get there: Around campus, there are signs specifically directing cherry blossom traffic, but your best bet might be parking a bit farther away. There’s a paid lot by the Burke Museum at the north end of campus that’s reliable, or head to st.news/UWpark to learn more about visitor parking. I’m a street parking man myself, but to each their own.

Back to the walk: Yes, the Quad will be crowded. Take a lap, snap a selfie, DO NOT CLIMB THAT TREE! When you’ve had your fill, exit out the long side of the rectangle between Smith and Miller halls, moving away from Denny Hall. You’ll find portable toilets here, FYI.

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Cut through Grieg Garden, named for Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, whose bust holds the small, quiet green space together. It’s “the reverse of what folk singer Joni Mitchell once sang about — they ‘unpaved’ a parking lot and put up Paradise,” wrote Tom Griffin in a 2002 story in UW’s Columns magazine. Pulling at this thread — are the cherry trees on the Quad not, in fact, natural in origin, but rather a stolen collection from the tree museum Mitchell sang about? I’m just the walks guy but it’s worth investigating.

Carry on through the HUB Yard and look for the Sieg Building. Sieg is bordered by Benton Lane Northeast, across which is our next stop: Drumheller Fountain. Time it right and you might catch a group of ducks using the ramp to get into the fountain. Or take a break at one of the benches around the fountain to admire the blooming trees and flowers nearby.

Looking downhill beyond Rainier Vista, you’ll be able to see the Highway 520 bridge stretching across Lake Washington and the hillside houses of Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood beyond the highway. When you’re rested and ready, follow the grass toward the water.

Exiting campus (briefly) at its southeast end, use the protected crosswalk to get over busy Montlake Boulevard. Once on the same side of the street as Husky Stadium, walk toward Montlake Bridge; at the bridge, take the downhill path at left that traces the water.

Walking on gravelly Walla Walla Lane, you’ll be dumped behind the ASUW Shell House on Montlake Cut. The century-old building is packed with history: A World War I hangar for seaplanes, it was also the boathouse used by the 1936 Olympic gold medalist crew team immortalized in “The Boys in the Boat.”

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Continue on Walla Walla, keeping your eyes on the water for a chance at spotting an otter, heron, turtle or duck. It’s a quiet walk between the water and the Huskies stadiums — at least until the road curves left and uphill at Conibear Shell House, home of the Husky crew teams of today, where on a recent weeknight the speakers were pumping ’80s pop hits to an audience of none.

Keep hugging the water beyond the crew hangout; a path runs in front of Conibear and connects with Canal Road Northeast just beyond the building. Follow the gravel path and the water to Wahkiakum Lane — there, a wooden bridge goes right into Union Bay Natural Area, while our path veers left into … a parking lot.

You’ll want to walk between the soccer stadium and the track, cross the parking lot and take the pedestrian bridge over Montlake Boulevard. Immediately after the bridge is the Burke-Gilman Trail, so look both ways lest you lose a fight with a bicycle.

This last half-mile stretch of the walk features about 150 feet in vertical rise across several flights of stairs, so pop off that jacket if you’re quick to sweat. (No judgment; I took mine off.) At the top of the final set of stairs, cross East Stevens Way and continue uphill another block. Turn left, walking between the Communications Building and Clark Hall, and you’ll be greeted by the School of Music.

Beyond that is the Quad, which, in the spring, is its own sort of symphony. Or perhaps a circus. On my recent walk, while the Quad teemed with visitors in the late afternoon, the blossom-viewing experience was far more peaceful and no less mesmerizing at dusk.

Either way, take another lap or two to admire the blossoms — in another few weeks, they’ll be gone until next year.