Seattle Culture

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

By Sheila Cain February 16, 2017


This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Seattle magazine.

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).

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.

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