One Foot in Front of the Other
Fall enjoyed its moment in the seasonal spotlight and has ceded ground to winter in the Pacific Northwest, where the rain is here to stay.
The walking season carries on, though.
Whether you’re embracing the concept of friluftsliv or you’re a PNW vet, unbothered by walking wet, there are many worthwhile winter walks around Seattle. Here are a few parks, all north of Lake Union, where you can stretch your legs under decent tree cover — and where getting your feet dirty is part of the fun.
Throw on your coat, gloves and mask, bring your boots or sturdy tennis shoes — not the white ones — plus your partner, walking buddy or little ones, and go get your heels muddy.
Due to COVID concerns, we picked larger parks to encourage social distancing; i.e., Green Lake isn’t on this list.
We’ll return to the concept of rainy walks south of Lake Union next month. In the meantime: What are your favorite parks for walking in the rain, inside Seattle city limits or otherwise? Let us know in the comments.
Union Bay Natural Area to Washington Park Arboretum
Union Bay Natural Area total trail length: About 1.5 miles
At the eastern edge of the University of Washington campus is the Center for Urban Horticulture, which encompasses Union Bay Natural Area, where an unpaved path guides visitors through about 1.5 miles of wetlands resting on Union Bay. It’s a haven for bird-watching — ducks, herons, an eagle if you’re lucky — and it makes for a short, rewarding hike through muddy marshes, where soggy socks are all but guaranteed.
Wahkiakum Lane runs horizontally through the wetlands, from the UW to the Center for Urban Horticulture. Mind the placards denoting protected wildlife areas — once a landfill, the site is an ongoing restorative project for UW Botanic Gardens — and take the Waterfront Trail to get views of Union Bay.
It’s an uncrowded walk around three ponds: Carp, Central and Shoveler’s. The path skirts these ponds, where waterfowl rest, bathe, feed and — if you aren’t quiet — scatter in formation when walkers waltz up to the brush.
One-way distance to Washington Park Arboretum: 1.8 miles
Take Wahkiakum Lane westward after finishing the Waterfront Trail (about 0.7 miles). A footbridge at the western edge of the Natural Area crosses Ravenna Creek, which feeds into Union Bay.
A left after the bridge, onto Canal Road, bends southward along the creek, tracing the UW soccer stadium and ballpark before yielding to paved Walla Walla Road.
Follow Walla Walla south to Husky Stadium. At the gates, walkers can skirt the stadium’s waterfront side, or walk up Snohomish Lane toward Montlake Boulevard.
Both paths lead to Gothic, gorgeous Montlake Bridge. After the bridge, descend stairs to the Lake Washington Ship Canal Waterside Trail. The bridge bisects a short walk on the Montlake Cut that features spray-painted mantras from Seattle-area collegiate crew teams.
This trail leads to the Arboretum Waterfront Trail, a floating route that traverses Marsh Island to Foster Island. That trail is closed for repairs, so follow the path south from the totem pole at East Montlake Park, under Highway 520, and onto East Lake Washington Boulevard. Just ahead is the arboretum.
Washington Park Arboretum total trail length: About 5 miles
Washington Park Arboretum is popular all year long — spread out and enjoy the miles of walking trails through 230 acres of flora.
No two arboretum walks are ever the same. Go where the path is clear, and wind your way through the park by following what catches your eye (or nose).
The three main loops are the Arboretum Loop Trail, Pinetum Trail and Lookout Trail, with paths snaking through and intersecting these routes. Go online to find a seasonal tour map on the UW Botanic Gardens website; I followed the November trail on a recent afternoon for views of hollies, oaks, Japanese maples and more.
At the north end of the park, Foster Island Trailhead leads to the tiny island of the same name. Walk north to Foster Point, which offers panoramic views back across our walk, from Montlake Bridge to Union Bay Natural Area.
Total trail length: About 12.4 miles
Popular Discovery Park makes this list because it’s big enough to share. When at Discovery, I gravitate toward the West Point Lighthouse. But there’s lots to explore within these 534 acres on Puget Sound. Why not try a new route?
My go-to route: Start at the northernmost parking lot, detour to the Daybreak Star Cultural Center for views of Shilshole Bay and the Sound, then link up with the North Beach Trail headed toward the lighthouse, enjoying waves lightly lapping Shilshole Bay. On a soggy November weekend, I ditched that plan and parked at the visitors center. I settled on the main drag, Loop Trail, which runs about 2.8 miles.
There’s plenty of up-and-down hiking at Discovery and the main loop is no exception. The trails are well trafficked but they muddy quickly; there are paved trails throughout the park if traction becomes an issue, but watch out for cyclists.
The Main Loop dips south from the visitors center, runs west parallel to West Emerson Street along the park’s southern edge, then connects to the other loops in the park. The loop lurches northwest toward South Beach Trail (0.5 miles), which leads to Hidden Valley Trail (0.8 miles). That route shadows the eastern edge of the West Point Treatment Plant and connects with the North Beach Trail (1.8 miles) on either side of the treatment plant before running back into Loop Trail.
The Loop Trail is, fittingly, the only true loop — the other trails borrow from the main drag to complete their circuits.
Total trail length: About 6 miles
Carkeek Park bills itself as an urban oasis and meets that hype.
The 220-acre park is built around Pipers Creek, and features about 6 miles of official trails, plus parks, meadows, lots of flowing water, beach access and (in theory) views of the Olympic Mountains, though you’re more likely to catch fog settled on the horizon over Puget Sound.
Carkeek Park Road breaks from Northwest 114th Street and leads to a midsized parking lot down by the waterfront park and playground. To reach the beach, cross above the railroad tracks via the bridge adorned with a handful of locks, a halfhearted nod to the Pont des Arts in Paris.
There are more than a dozen maintained trails at Carkeek, and the playground is a great jumping-off point. You can trace Pipers Creek Trail to the easternmost edge of the park, but you can also get your money’s worth on a shorter trail near the water.
On a wet November afternoon, I trudged up North Bluff Trail, a lush walk through ferns and firs that nets about 200 feet of elevation gain in a quarter-mile and change.
Stopping at a mossy bench when the trail opened up at North Meadow, I read for a second before rain began dotting the pages, convincing me to head home. I did a lap around the meadow, looking for another route downhill, and found myself in someone’s backyard, staring into their living room. I turned around and took the North Meadow Hillclimb back to the playground — wet, tired and satisfied that I got my waterlogged steps in.