One Foot in Front of the Other

With the sunset inching later every evening, you can breathe easy, Seattle: Spring is coming.

Now, it isn’t here yet. Get out on a foggy March morning to try this walk from Portage Bay at the edge of the University of Washington campus to Foster Island on Union Bay; you doubtlessly still need a sweatshirt.

But foggy dawns give way to sunny Sunday afternoons, and this easy, muddy walk is an excellent way to kick off a quiet morning that nevertheless teems with life. Put on boots!

Fritz Hedges Waterway Park to Foster Point

Round-trip distance: 3.4 miles

Our walk begins at Fritz Hedges Waterway Park at the southwestern edge of the UW campus, where there is ample street parking on Northeast Boat Street.

The park, opened in fall 2020, has several clusters of yellow metal chairs pointed toward Portage Bay, but was more popular with the local waterfowl on a recent Sunday morning stroll. Seagulls circled and squawked; cars droned on the University and Ship Canal bridges; rowers glided across the bay, cutting and slapping the water with their oars.

Leave the park and trace the water’s edge, moving away from those bridges toward Agua Verde Cafe. At Sakuma Viewpoint next to Agua Verde, look out for the faded plaque honoring architect, adviser and UW teacher Donald K. Sakuma.

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Beyond the cafe, back on Boat Street, keep walking past Saint Bread, where you’ll find a flower bed planted in a well-worn kayak, cracking on its surface. It’s a nice touch beneath the stained-glass window of the bakery, which purportedly produces holy bread but doesn’t have bagels on its menu. (*Avoids tomatoes launched from audience.*)

Beyond Saint Bread, take a right onto San Juan Road toward the Ocean Teaching Building and the water. Once back in sight of Portage Bay flowing into the Montlake Cut, rejoice! The rest of the walk is basically a straight line; just follow the water. If you get lost, well, that might be on you.

San Juan Road ends quickly, leading directly to a path that hugs the water all the way to Montlake Bridge. In the clearing beyond the UW Fish Hatchery, the path diverges. I’m obligated to advise folks to follow the left fork, walk up the hill then down the stairs to explore the paved path along the cut. The right fork — which you definitely should not take, especially if you can’t bypass a 3-foot guardrail — is a path just as well-trodden that mirrors the Lake Washington Ship Canal Waterside Trail on the other side of the water.

No matter your vantage point, check out the murals painted by Seattle crew teams all along the moss-covered sidewalls of the cut, touting program titles from races past and featuring phrases that mash pop culture and row culture, like “THE SPRINT IS COMING,” “TEMPLE OF THE DAWG” and “ST. HANDSLONG STROKES.”

It’s louder by the Montlake Bridge, but still peaceful. I saw maybe two people by this point in my walk on a dry, relatively mild Sunday morning.

Stairs run up the hill from the waterfront path on either side of the Montlake Bridge; walk up on the east side and you’ll avoid crossing busy Montlake Boulevard on the other side of the water. (There’s a crosswalk if you do walk up and cross on the bridge’s west side.)

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Underneath the bridge, it’s muddy and you might encounter a graffiti ghoul with horns and soulless white eyes. He’s nicer than he looks and gazes creepily eastward, should you need help with cardinal directions.

Beyond the ghoul, take the stairs uphill — a healthy three or four stories to climb — and surface at the gothic Montlake Bridge. Between the water below, the tiny stained-glass panels on the bridges’ turrets, and the adjacent streetlamps, pronged and rusted seafoam green, crossing this bridge makes me feel like I’m going to Hogwarts as much as UW.

Across the Montlake Cut, turn immediately back toward the water and head down the stairs. (Yes, I’m serious; stop at the midlevel path to avoid a superfluous climb if you’d like.) Link up with the Lake Washington Ship Canal Waterside Trail, following the water to the gorgeous totem pole at the junction of that trail and the Arboretum Waterfront Trail.

Take a moment here to admire Union Bay sprawling before you; straight ahead you’ll see Foster Point, our destination.

If you’ve managed to keep your shoes clean to this point, prepare for your biggest challenge yet. The Arboretum Waterfront Trail across Marsh Island has reopened after work to improve the floating bridges that service the park. There’s a Seattle Parks and Recreation sign asking for community support in preserving the trail; it’s a worthwhile cause for a semiaquatic park that feels so unique to Seattle.

Stop at one of the docks jutting out from the trail for a moment of peace or to scan the marsh and bay for a nearby heron. On my recent walk, I encountered wildlife I’d never seen before on Marsh Island: Yang Yang, 1, “just a normal, regular old cat” who likes to explore the trail on his leash sometimes with his mom and her partner.

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There’s one more elevated observation deck on the floating trail worth a strop before reaching Foster Island, from which you can connect to the Washington Park Arboretum via the southward path. Or you can just chill (figuratively) on the rocks at Foster Point until the brisk breeze off Union Bay makes you too chill (literally). When you’re ready to head home, turn right back the way you came.

Hunt for new details on the way back or just walk at a natural pace and let the universe’s timing synchronize on its own. On my recent walk, that moment of serendipity came on the way back, when a group of smiling bikers whizzed by me on San Juan Road, one offering double peace signs. It was the perfect way to end the walk — and to foreshadow the stunning, sunny afternoon that would follow.

It’s getting nice out, Seattle. See y’all out there this spring.

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