Where to Find Free Fitness Fun

Who needs a gym when free (and fun!) fitness activities abound? Grab a friend and get moving with these urban outings
A tree in bloom along the Green Lake path

1. Interurban North Trail
With portions that run parallel to noisy Interstate 5 and several gaps where the trail detours onto city streets and sidewalks, the Interurban North Trail could be called the less celebrated stepsister of the popular Burke-Gilman Trail to the east. But for walkers and bikers looking for fewer crowds and smoother asphalt, Interurban North is just the ticket. The trail officially starts at N 110th Street and Fremont Avenue N in Greenwood, but bike-friendly improvements to Fremont Avenue N as far south as 77th create an intuitive segue. The relatively flat trail (it was originally a rail line from 1910 to 1939) ends unceremoniously 24 miles later at a dead end street at 41st Street and Colby Avenue in Everett, but shorter trips can be planned to terminate at any number of coffee shops along the way. Start at the trailhead at N 110th Street and Fremont Avenue N in Greenwood (neighborhood street parking). traillink.com/trail/interurban-trail-(north).aspx

Insider Tip
Come late summer, blackberries flourish at several points along Interurban North. Bring a backpack and lidded container and gather some sweet treats.

2. Green Lake Path
Arguably the most popular recreational destination in the city, Green Lake draws thousands of visitors each day to its 2.8-mile (inside) or 3.2-mile (outside) loop. Despite its popularity (the path can be crowded on weekends and sunny days), Green Lake offers enough points of interest to make sharing the loop with the masses worthwhile. The lake-encompassing route passes by ball fields, a community center, a boat rental hub (open in the summer months) and two swimming beaches. Peel off the path and onto one of several floating docks for some alone time, or head into the Green Lake neighborhood for coffee or lunch. Green Lake, 7201 E Greenlake Drive N

Insider Tip
Pay close attention to the signs indicating the path’s division. There’s no surer way to out yourself as a newbie than to walk in the bike lane.

3. Howe Street Stairs
Traversing from Capitol Hill to the Eastlake neighborhood, the Howe Street Stairs are a workout that can be tailored to fit nearly any fitness level. The climb clocks in at 388 steps from top to bottom, starting at E Howe Street and descending to Franklin Avenue E, but you can turn around whenever you want. You’ll be part of a diverse crowd, from walkers who log a trip or two before heading for coffee along Eastlake to the heavy hitters who run the corridor multiple times. (An average walker can log about six trips up and back in about an hour.) The stairs descend through an entire neighborhood and cross two streets, so watch for traffic. A shorter, 270-step stair climb—the Blaine Street Stairs—runs parallel to the Howe climb one block south. Google “810 E. Howe Street” for the location of the top of the Howe Street Stairs. The climb descends from the cul-de-sac at E Blaine Street on the west side of 10th Avenue E. Limited parking inside the cul-de-sac; street parking along 10th. Facebook, “Howe Street Stairs.”

Insider Tip
Grab a few pebbles before you start your reps and put them in a little pile at the top of the stairs. Every time you reach the top, move one pebble to a new pile. You won’t have to keep track of the reps in your head, allowing you to fully focus on those burning calves.

4. Mercer Island Loop
For an accessible but challenging ride that can be tailored for most abilities, the Mercer Island Loop is ideal. Clocking in at nearly 13.5 miles, the route on Mercer Way (North, East and West sections) around the island’s perimeter offers rolling hills and a few parks along the way. Car traffic is light, and residents are used to cyclists, so it’s relatively safe. While parking is available on the island, most cyclists start on the Seattle side, adding in a 2.5-mile (out and back) ride along the Interstate 90 floating bridge. Not enough of a challenge? Do the loop twice.

Insider Tip
Coordinate your ride with Seattle Parks’ “Bicycle Sundays” (select Sundays, from May through September) during which Lake Washington Boulevard from Mount Baker Park (a mile south of I-90) to Seward Park is closed to cars.

5. Seward Park Loop
Perfect for all ability levels, the paved Seward Park trail takes runners, walkers and cyclists on a 2.4-mile path that loops around the periphery of the park. It travels through the 300-acre park’s old-growth forest and along Lake Washington’s shoreline. Increase the mileage of your workout by taking some of the short trails that intersect with the main paved trail and lead into the park’s interior. Or just do the loop two or three times. For details, go to Seattle.gov and search “hiking & trails.”

Insider Tip
Watch for wildlife sightings while in the park, which is known to be home to bald eagles. More than 100 bird species have been spotted in the park.

6. Magnolia Loop
If there’s a bike ride that has it all, it’s the Magnolia Loop. Sweeping views of Puget Sound? Check. Gorgeous mansions? Got ’em. A thigh-crushing spur up from the beach (with a grade the equivalent of a 24-story building in just half a mile) that will earn you street cred among Seattle’s toughest weekend warriors? You bet. The approximately 7-mile loop circles Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, traversing relatively quiet city streets with a stretch on Discovery Park’s car-free roadways. Take some time to pedal past Fort Lawton’s Officer’s Row, former military housing listed on the National Register of Historic Places (restored last fall and available for private ownership for the first time since the houses’ original construction in 1900). You’ll need the breather before tackling that previously mentioned spur, Lighthouse Hill. Magnolia; park in the Discovery Park Environmental Learning Center, 3810 Discovery Park Blvd. seattle.gov/parks/find/centers/discovery-park-environmental-learning-center. For a map of the route, search “Magnolia Loop” on Strava, MapMyRide or any other cycling app.

Insider Tip
Before closing the loop, peel off Thorndyke Avenue onto 21st Avenue W and connect with the Elliott Bay Trail (through Myrtle Edwards Park along the water) to the Olympic Sculpture Park. After taking selfies at artist Louise Bourgeois’ “Father and Son” fountain, head back the way you came, or set off for a spin around Seattle Center just a few blocks east.

There’s an App for That 
Seattle Parks and Recreation now offers an app of hiking trails throughout Seattle’s dozens of parks. Visit the website (seattle.gov/parks/find/hiking-and-trails) or search for “Seattle Trails” in your app store.

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