Are you frustrated by having to stay out of our beautiful state parks and off trails on your bike outings — or looking for a release amid the pandemic causing the closures? Perhaps you’re considering knocking the rust off your chain now that you’ve got time for long rides. If so, how about exploring Seattle on street loops that show off our city?
Here are five routes that offer scenery through much of the city, rides that stay on arterials and side streets. (Washington state, Seattle and King County are still directing us to stay off public state lands and trails for now, of course.) Each is a moderate workout and can be linked for longer outings (or halved for shorter rides). If you take all five routes, you’ll ride 75 miles and experience 5,000 feet of elevation gain. (There are plenty of downhill stretches too, of course — follow along with our illustrated maps, and click the links in each section to find a digital guide for each ride.)
Most cyclists value the comfort of our bike trails, but in a time when we need to keep our distance from others, these street routes offer some safe, scenic options.
Distance: 12.4 miles
Elevation gain: 811 feet
Start at Green Lake near the community center (note: parking lots and park facilities are closed; if you can’t cycle to these routes, use street parking). Pedal east on lovely Northeast Ravenna Boulevard, a divided road with a generous bike lane and lush tree canopy. At University Way Northeast, head north to skirt the verdant Ravenna Ravine, but look down into its shady depths when you cross over it at 20th Avenue Northeast.
Bike toward the Burke-Gilman Trail on Northeast 58th Street, but instead of taking the trail, parallel it on modest side street Northeast Blakeley Street and then, after curving north with the trail toward Burke-Gilman Playground Park, on big arterial Sand Point Way Northeast. Pass Magnuson Park and stay on Sand Point until Northeast 125th Street, a long run with a gradual climb. (For beginners, consider cutting west toward your starting point north of Wedgwood.)
You’ll get more climbing on 125th and Roosevelt Avenue Northeast. From the brightly painted, pale blue water tower in Maple Leaf, though, it’s all downhill. Headed south, turn right on Northeast 70th Street to cross over Interstate 5 and return to Green Lake.
Distance: 19.9 miles
Elevation gain: 1,261 feet
The longest of the five loops encompasses many tree-lined central and south Seattle neighborhoods from a start at the east side of Volunteer Park, at East Galer Street on Capitol Hill.
Cycle up the winding East Interlaken Boulevard on the ravine’s edge in Interlaken Park and cut back to Boyer Avenue East, then ride east to pick up the portion of the Lake Washington loop route that parallels the Washington Park Arboretum. This side-street route (which starts on on 26th Avenue East) will lead you across East Madison Street and down to our premier lakeside ride, Lake Washington Boulevard, for a nice long stretch with stunning views across the water. Bike south past Seward Park, picking up Seward Park Avenue South and climbing away from the lake to a right turn at Othello Street.
Then climb some more up to Beacon Avenue South. This divided arterial will take you into the heart of the city: over the hill, past Jefferson Park Golf Course and eventually over Interstate 90 on Jose Rizal Bridge, which arguably offers the best views of downtown in all of Seattle, backed by Elliott Bay. Continue north through Little Saigon, past Seattle University’s playfields and the small shops of Capitol Hill, right back to Volunteer Park.
Distance: 14.4 miles
Elevation gain: 816 feet
More amazing views of Elliott Bay are found on a loop around the perimeter of West Seattle that begins on Harbor Avenue Southwest near Jack Block Park. Smell the saltwater tang as you cycle northwest onto Alki Avenue Southwest, then past Alki Beach, where you can spot the small-scale Statue of Liberty raising her flame above the sand (the scene is, of course, now noticeably quieter and less crowded).
The route runs south along the waterfront properties on Beach Drive Southwest, with Vashon Island visible across the bay. Turn onto Fauntleroy Way Southwest at Lincoln Park, then head east at the ferry terminal, using Southwest Wildwood Place. Southwest Barton Street offers a healthy climb alongside cute homes to the next turn, north onto 16th Avenue Southwest. Then it’s a long, straight run toward South Seattle College.
Nearing the West Seattle Bridge, head west via Southwest Andover Street toward a right turn onto busy Southwest Avalon Way to finish the loop.
Distance: 14.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,210 feet
Here’s a near-figure-eight ride that will take you to two distinctive Seattle center-city hills: Queen Anne and Magnolia. Long climbs on each will loop you to the top, then deliver thrilling downhill coasting.
Begin on the Queen Anne side of the Fremont Bridge, cycling south on Dexter Avenue North, a busy cycling commuter route. Turn right onto Mercer Street, pedaling west under state Route 99 on the green, divided bike lane, then turn north and enjoy a steady climb up Taylor Avenue North, winding your way past Trolley Hill Park then westward onto Wheeler and McGraw streets, where the street trees are so large they meet overhead to shelter you with shade. Turn south and bike the hill’s main shopping street, then whoop as you speed down “the Counterbalance,” officially Queen Anne Avenue North. (Make sure your brakes are good before attempting this.) A right turn at West Roy Street will lead you to West Olympic Place, which takes you along the hill’s west slope (under the watchful eye of folks at Kerry Park). Take 10th Avenue West northward for about 2 miles, then cross to Magnolia at West Dravus Street.
Make a clockwise loop of Magnolia by heading south on 20th Avenue West, which demands another healthy lung workout. Cresting the climb, navigate to Magnolia Boulevard West, which offers incredible views of Elliott Bay. The arterial route leads you north to Discovery Park. Follow the park’s southeastern edge and then coast east down West Government Way to the Fishermen’s Terminal area. Here you need to bike a short segment of the South Ship Canal Trail to get under busy 15th Avenue West. Mask up if necessary. On the Queen Anne side of that street, turn off the trail and use West Nickerson Street to cycle past Seattle Pacific University and finish the loop.
Distance: 13.6 miles
Elevation gain: 910 feet
This loop also starts from Green Lake, but it goes west rather than east to explore Seattle’s northwest neighborhoods.
Cycle along the north side of Green Lake, then head northwest at the business district onto East Green Lake Drive North to a stoplight crossing of state Route 99 at 83rd Street. Steel yourself for a one-block stand-up climb, then relax on the relatively flat neighborhood streets that will take you all the way to Shilshole Bay.
From the corner of Northest 85th Street and 32nd Avenue Northwest, enjoy another thrilling downhill: the winding, shady Golden Gardens Drive Northwest. Turn left at the bottom, cycle south along Shilshole Bay Marina and its forest of sailboat masts. Look for the elevated statue of celebrated Scandinavian explorer Leif Erikson, who casts his steely eyes out to sea.
Where Seaview Avenue Northwest crosses the Burke-Gilman Trail, climb the modest hill on 37th Place Northwest, then head east on quiet neighborhood streets that deliver you to central Ballard. Perhaps detour to see the colorful murals on boarded-up storefronts. Continue toward Phinney Ridge, climbing toward Woodland Park Zoo on curvaceous Northwest 56th Street. Loop south around the zoo and turn downhill at Fremont Avenue North for another steep descent.
Arriving quickly at Fremont’s business center, turn left and skirt it toward Wallingford at North 35th Street. A climb north on Wallingford Avenue North and then Meridian Avenue North (via North 45th Street) will take you back to the start of the loop at Green Lake.