It’s not uncommon for your average Seattleite to have an REI membership and a closet full of gear: a snowshoe here, a climbing rope there. It’s no wonder—while most cities have clear lines between where the rural ends and the urban begins, in Seattle, it’s all one big, beautiful blur, from hiking opportunities in residential neighborhoods to waterfronts that beckon paddlers year-round. Whether you prefer a sunset stroll or a daily adrenaline rush, there’s an outdoor adventure for everyone in the Emerald City.
Bike culture in Seattle is strong, and fortunately, there are plenty of trails for every level, starting with the granddaddy of them all: the Burke-Gilman Trail. It runs for nearly 20 miles through neighborhoods like Ballard, Fremont, and the University District before connecting to the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell, giving riders miles of uninterrupted pathway. The Green River Trail (another 20-mile route), starts at the southern end of the city, meanders along the river and through a number of lovely parks, and intersects with the straight, fast-moving Interurban Trail. For a quintessential experience, join 10,000 cyclists on the STP (Seattle to Portland) in July. This 200-mile ride is a local rite of passage, with a collegial atmosphere and numerous support stops.
If you don’t have your own bike, head to one of many cycling shops in town—The Bicycle Repair Shop near the waterfront rents by the hour, day, or week.
Seattle’s showpiece is the stunning Puget Sound, which touches all of the city’s westernmost neighborhoods. Washington State Ferries ply its waters, with vessels sailing to destinations including Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Vashon Island, all perfect for day trips.
To stay in the city, hop aboard with Argosy Cruises. The Locks Cruise is a visitor favorite—sail from downtown to Lake Union (or vice versa) through the Ballard Locks, where the ship is either raised or lowered to transfer from saltwater to freshwater, depending on your direction of travel. At the south end of the lake, The Center for Wooden Boats is a living museum with classic vessels on display and available to rent. If you’d rather someone else do the navigating, the center offers free, hour-long public sails each Sunday.
For smaller watercraft, rent a canoe from the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center and paddle past the lily pads and ducklings of Lake Washington. SUP Yoga Seattle offers classes on nearby Green Lake, while Urban Surf rents soft- and hard-top paddleboards from the north end of Lake Union.
On a clear day, you can spot a host of peaks from the city, including Mount Rainier, which looks particularly striking from Kerry Park in Queen Anne. Get up close and personal with the Lower 48’s most glaciated peak by visiting Mt. Rainier National Park on a day trip. A number of companies offer organized trips from Seattle, including Evergreen Escapes and Tours Northwest, but you can also make the drive yourself, particularly if you want to be on your own timeline for hiking past wildflowers in the summer or snowshoeing in the winter.
There are plenty more elevation-gain hiking opportunities just outside Seattle—Rattlesnake Ledge, Poo Poo Point on Tiger Mountain (where you can also try paragliding), and Mount Pilchuck are just a few of the worthwhile routes nearby. For more options, the Washington Trails Association (wta.org) is a comprehensive resource for finding your perfect hike.
You’ll feel a world away from the city along the Discovery Park Loop Trail, among forests and meadows, bluffs, and a lighthouse, all bordering the neighborhood of Magnolia. Seward Park is another gem in the heart of the city—the Audubon Center here hosts events for adults and kids alike, including a monthly Owl Prowl, which starts with a dissection of owl pellets and ends with a hike in the old-growth forest listening for telltale hooting.
In Belltown’s Myrtle Edwards Park, walk or jog along the paved path with Elliott Bay to one side and Olympic Sculpture Park on the other. Gas Works Park on the south end of the Wallingford neighborhood is arguably the city’s most unique, given its hilly topography, waterfront location, and the now-iconic remains of a former coal plant.
Need to pick up an extra layer or piece of gear for your outdoor exploration? Worry not—the local outdoor outfitters here are almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks. MiiR offers stainless steel water bottles designed to take you from city streets to summit peaks, Outdoor Research gets you ready for a camping expedition, Second Ascent sells gently used climbing gear and other equipment, and Seven Hills Running Shop specializes in trail-running shoes. For the biggest names in outdoor retail, there’s always the flagship REI store (complete with an indoor climbing wall) or Columbia Sportswear to outfit you for any local adventure.
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