One Foot in Front of the Other

Not much beats a summertime golden hour in Seattle, when the sun sinks beneath the clouds and the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, leaving the sky orange and pink above the boats in Puget Sound. (The sunrises are nice, too, but I see far fewer.)

This two-hour walk makes that panorama — looking out from the Seattle waterfront to Elliott Bay and beyond — the main attraction. If you’re fresh off the cruise ship, skip the Ferris wheel, grab an iced coffee and stretch your legs.

Beginning and ending at Olympic Sculpture Park at the northwest end of the Seattle waterfront, you’ll walk through a handful of connected waterfront parks and a short loop on Elliott Bay Trail before returning via a pair of bridges to retrace your steps along Elliott Bay, your journey scored by the sound of sporadic passing trains. Bring a buddy and plenty of water. Happy trails!

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Seattle waterfront parks walk

Round-trip distance: 5.7 miles

Each park on this list is well worth an hour of quiet reflection, but we don’t have all day, people. Start walking at Jaume Plensa’s “Echo,” and note how your perspective on the face changes as you circle the sculpture.

Keeping Elliott Bay to your left, walk the concrete boulevard a few hundred feet to the small beach that lies beyond. You can stick on the path or walk on the rocky beach among the driftwood that adults use for benches and children pretend are tightropes. (I am the latter.)

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Beyond the pocket beach, the trail meanders into Myrtle Edwards Park and right up to the water. On the other side of the train tracks, the Post-Intelligencer globe peeks through the trees. Folks picnic, read, nap and more in the green space here, or admire the views out to Alki Point from the benches by the trail.

A dirt path parallels concrete Elliott Bay Trail heading out of the park; look for the boulders and stick close to the waterfront, veering away from the pedestrian bridge that rises to cross the train tracks. Nearing Centennial Park, the walking paths merge and run parallel to the cycling lanes of Elliott Bay Trail, so be sure to look out for signage.

Make the giant silos of the Louis Dreyfus Corp. your next landmark. (Yes, like “Veep.”) Out in the bay you’ll find vessels ranging from sailboats to massive cargo ships and ferries darting across the Sound, pingponging back and forth all day long.

Sticking between the train tracks and the water, you’ll see plenty of green in Centennial and Elliott Bay parks. But I have a soft spot for Pier 86, aka Elliott Bay Fishing Pier, the old fishing pier closed in 2017 that wards off trespassers with threats of prosecution but is tattooed with graffiti. Dramatically backed by the bay, it seems like a legendary urban skatepark from a Tony Hawk video game.

Keep on the path until you reach the Beach at Expedia Group, a lovely waterfront park that’s open to the public. You’ll likely get an up-close view of a cruise ship and can rest here atop the park’s pyramidlike center point.

Beyond the beach, bikers and walkers share the path, so keep your head up. The trail continues beyond Pier 90 and the entrance to Terminal 91, passing under Magnolia Bridge as Elliott Bay Trail pushes into Interbay.

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I love this unique stretch of the trail, with barbed-wire fences rising overhead and shipping containers and loose train cars strewn about the yard. Seriously, though, keep your head up: The trail gets narrow between the fences near the pedestrian bridge and, despite the signs instructing folks to walk their bikes there, people often neglect to do so.

After going up and down the narrow bridge, the path continues north through the yard into Magnolia. Instead of exiting into a gravel lot, follow signs for Elliott Bay Trail and take a left at the clearing, hugging the fence and heading back toward our starting point.

You’ll be dropped at Smith Cove Park after crossing underneath Magnolia Bridge a second time. The small park, nestled between a marina and the cruise terminals, has a few benches and a nice vantage point back across our route, including a glimpse at the back of Terminal 91 that’s hard to get anywhere else.

Retrace your steps to Magnolia Bridge, then take the raised sidewalk onto the bridge. Continue past the bus stop and walk until the bridge ends, placing walkers at 15th Avenue West, which turns into Elliott Avenue just southeast of here. (Don’t mistakenly walk down the sketchy alley nearest the bridge.)

Look for the wacky Champion Party Supply store and carry on beyond Holy Mountain Brewing after that. A stone’s throw away, at the Expedia campus, is the impressive Helix Pedestrian Bridge, which will drop you on a path leading directly into Centennial Park near the silos. From there, retrace your steps to Point A.

You could spend all day on this walk, but by keeping pace and taking a few short breaks, you can get back to Olympic Sculpture Park in a bit longer than two hours. But if you want to take four, stick around and enjoy the sunset.