One Foot in Front of the Other

Editor’s Note: We’re starting a weekly Outdoors feature! Twice a month, we’ll bring you itineraries for interesting walks and hikes to do in and around the Greater Seattle area. We’ll intersperse these with a feature called “How to….” where we’ll help you navigate how to start a new outdoors-focused activity or hobby, and a monthly outdoors advice column. Where can you use a Discover Pass versus a Northwest Forest Pass? Useful tips on how to practice “Leave No Trace” principles? What’s the best thing to do if you break an ankle while out in the backcountry? Shoot us your questions either in the form below or via outdoors@seattletimes.com and we’ll find the best experts to answer them and print their responses each month. 

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The coronavirus pandemic has more people thinking like pedestrians, it seems. Whether for exercise, mental health or a regularly scheduled excuse to get out of the house, walks are all the rage in the age of lockdowns.

It helps that more folks in town have the option to walk thanks to Stay Healthy Streets. The city of Seattle has closed more than 20 miles of residential streets to through traffic, leaving the roads (mostly) clear for pedestrians, bikers, skaters and more. With ample time for meandering walks, and with summer starting to slip away, it’s the golden hour for exploring the Emerald City. As always, mask up and keep 6 feet of distance.

Greenwood, Aurora and Licton Springs

Total length: About 4.6 miles

This route is a combination of two of the city’s blocked-off segments, so it can be broken down into smaller walks through northwest Seattle.

Starting at Northwest 73rd Street in Greenwood — just off the main drag of Greenwood Avenue — walkers, joggers and bikers can head northbound on First Avenue Northwest, traversing gently rolling asphalt moguls up to North 100th Street.

Sync up with the smells and sounds of summer: the fire pits burning, the birds chirping. On a warm Sunday afternoon in August, quiet Sandel Park hosted a socially distanced yoga class while a nearby golfer practiced her short game in the grass.

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At 100th Street, the route kicks eastward toward North Seattle College. Don’t ignore the two leftover blocks to your west, though: A gargoyle, carved out of a tree, watches over the neighborhood, demanding shock and awe as a toll for safe passage.

The segment ends at College Way North, but walkers can dip south a few blocks west of there and take Ashworth Avenue North to North 92nd Street, passing by Licton Springs Park, and head west to Fremont Avenue North.

The final leg of this route shoots north into Bitter Lake, connecting to the Interurban Trail at the bottom of Evergreen Washelli Cemetery. Just south of there is Viewland/Hoffman Electrical Substation and its accompanying green space, where there are colorful reminders not to get too close.

Viewland/Hoffman Electrical Substation Greenspace in Bitter Lake awaits those who travel to the northernmost tip of the Aurora/Licton Springs portion of Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)
Viewland/Hoffman Electrical Substation Greenspace in Bitter Lake awaits those who travel to the northernmost tip of the Aurora/Licton Springs portion of Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)

Central District

Total length: About 2.7 miles

This stroll through one of Seattle’s most historic neighborhoods is a treat — and, if desired, one that favors the “short but sweet” variety.

The Central District’s Stay Healthy Streets start on 12th Avenue, a heartbeat from the center of Seattle University’s campus. Walkers, joggers and the like should take East Columbia Street east from there, trudging up the hill (about 90 feet of elevation gain, for my fellow hill-avoiders) to 17th Avenue.

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Before dipping downhill beyond 18th, step a block off the closed street to admire Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 18th and East Marion. The church, built in 1904, is the oldest and largest standing Roman Catholic church in the Seattle area, and has a rich civil rights history. It is currently surrounded by small, wooden placards commemorating local victims of police violence.

Carry on to 22nd Avenue, where oak trees canopy over the street, shading some audacious yard decorations. One yard boasts a menagerie of plants, homemade art, mannequins and more; a plastic nudist there holds a toaster in one hand, with the other raised to the sky.

When 22nd runs northward into East Olive Street, through traffic resumes and walkers must retreat south to Columbia (or, just start at 22nd and Olive).

Columbia runs east to Nora’s Woods, a teeny park built on land purchased by Madrona resident Nora Wood in 1987. Today, small markers identify plant life in the park in English and in several Native American languages.

Nora’s Woods, at the eastern edge of East Columbia Street, is a tiny natural getaway named for late Madrona resident Nora Wood, who purchased the plot in 1987. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)
Nora’s Woods, at the eastern edge of East Columbia Street, is a tiny natural getaway named for late Madrona resident Nora Wood, who purchased the plot in 1987. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)

Backtrack on Columbia to Horace Mann building and the Islamic School of Seattle, both pillared and lovely. They face each other across 25th Avenue South; mosey down 25th past the Garfield Playfield complex, where fields and courts were busy on both of my recent walks. Stick to the streets, savoring the smell of cookouts floating through the summer air.

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Mount Baker to Rainier Beach

Total length: About 5.4 miles

Perhaps this is to be expected on a route that begins with “Mount” and ends with “Valley,” but this trip was the hilliest. There are also a few brief lapses in protected streets, so keep your head up.

Of the three itineraries here, this has the most clearly defined starting point and endpoint: Mount Baker Boulevard to the Rainier Beach branch of Seattle Public Library (or vice versa).

Stemming south from the grassy boulevard is flat 34th Avenue South. At South Horton Street, just two blocks down, the Stay Healthy corridor begins snaking through Mount Baker. On a recent, cool summer evening, I saw four outdoor cats exploring, one greeting neighbors with nuzzles. It’s worth popping into Courtland Place P-Park, too, to admire the sunflowers, tomatoes, pumpkins and more.

Our route zigzags south to Rainier Playfield, leading up hills at 38th Avenue South and South Angeline Street before leveling off around Columbia City’s downtown area. You’ll have to use unprotected South Ferdinand Street to cross busy Rainier Avenue South before linking up with Stay Healthy Streets at 37th Avenue South.

A long stretch on Renton Avenue South leads to 39th Avenue, at Brighton Playfield, and a quiet walk past schools and places of worship: Duoc Su Buddhist Temple, Cham Refugees Community, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and more.

The residential walk continues southeast to Othello Playground and eventually to Rainier Beach Playfield, where the designated path cuts by Dunlap Elementary School. There’s a lot of back-and-forth walking on this route, so don’t feel bad for wondering “… am I in the right place?”

The southernmost tip of this trip through Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets is tucked behind the library in Rainier Beach, right on Rainier Avenue South — where you can stop, catch your breath, then start making your way home.

Courtland Place P-Patch is a worthwhile detour on this southernmost trek through Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets — a Rainier Valley plunge from Franklin High School to Seattle Public Library’s Rainier Beach outpost. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)
Courtland Place P-Patch is a worthwhile detour on this southernmost trek through Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets — a Rainier Valley plunge from Franklin High School to Seattle Public Library’s Rainier Beach outpost. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)