6 Top Biking Trails in the PNW
By Douglas Gantenbein, Tom Griffin, Kristen Russell, Roddy Scheer, Virginia Smyth
July 5, 2016
These trails pave the way for cycling amongst walkers and runners—but not cars
With Haley Durslag, Cassie Gruber and Jake Laycock
1. The Sammamish River Trail
This is the country cousin of Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail. It starts in Bothell where the Burke-Gilman ends and continues for 11 miles to Redmond’s Marymoor Park. It is dead flat for almost its entire length. And while it’s almost as popular as the Burke—filled with walkers and joggers as well as cyclists, especially on fair-weather days—the landscape is significantly different. Along with glimpses of the Sammamish River, enjoy views of open farmland and distant mountains. Oh—and those wineries in Woodinville—they’re just a quick detour off the trail. Cyclists who want more of a workout can continue beyond Marymoor Park to the Marymoor Connector Trail, which connects the Sammamish River Trail to the 11-mile East Lake Sammamish Trail. Virginia Smyth
Best for: Cyclists who aren’t in a hurry
Access point: Blyth Park in Bothell
Difficulty and length: Easy; 22 miles round trip
2. Snohomish County Centennial Trail
Little Free Library along the Centennial Trail; by Eli Brownell/King County Parks
The trail’s website declares this pathway “a recreational treasure,” and that’s not overstating it. This smooth, paved pathway goes through a varied landscape of farmland and forests, crossing rivers and skirting the edges of a number of small towns. Built on abandoned rail beds, the trail looks flat, but it does change elevation—although slowly enough that you’ll barely notice. And while you will have some company on this trail, compared with trails closer to Seattle, it will seem almost abandoned. Stop at the informational signs along the way for a glimpse into the region’s not-very-distant past. Pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the parks along the way, or make an easy detour into one of the towns. Restrooms and water are available at several parks. Keep in mind that—unless you’ve arranged for a car at the trail’s far end—you have to return to your starting point. V.S.
Best for: Recreational cyclists who want a longer ride
Access point: There are many, but the trail’s southern point is in the city of Snohomish
Difficulty and length: Easy to moderate; 60 miles round trip
3. Snoqualmie Valley Trail
The Tokul Creek Trestle once carried rail cars; Eli Brownell/King County Parks
Stretching from McCormick Park in Duvall to Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT) was first developed in 1911 as a spur line for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad and converted to a multi-use “rail trail” in 1986. This path courses through some of the prettiest stretches of second-growth forest in the Cascade foothills. Grab your mountain bike and head out on this crushed-gravel road surface for a relatively flat, smooth ride, which only gains 500 feet in elevation over its run. Save some time for a rest or snack break at Three Forks Natural Area, a 200-acre open expanse at the confluence of the south, middle and north forks of the Snoqualmie River with picture-perfect views of Mount Si. Then forge on to the Tokul Creek Trestle, a curving wooden bridge 100 feet above verdant Tokul Creek. Looking down through the treetops from the century-old trestle may be the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like an owl or a hawk. R.S.
Best for: Recreational bike riders who are looking beyond a paved surface
Suggested access: McCormick Park in Duvall or Nick Loutsis Park in Carnation
Difficulty and length: Easy on a mountain bike, doable on a hybrid bike; 31.5 miles one way
4. Lopez Island
Cyclists enjoy an organized ride on Lopez Island; photograph by Ann Palmer
As the ferry pulls into the dock at Lopez Island, streams of cyclists are the first ones off. The fittest among them are soon obvious—they’re the ones who lead the way on Ferry Road, up the long, long hill to Military Road, where things begin to level off.
But, of course, the effort is worth it. This is Lopez, the most bike-friendly of the San Juan Islands. Intensely rural and topographically flatter than the other islands, it’s idyllic for cyclists.
You can choose any number of routes—it is a small island, and there really is no wrong way. Go south from the ferry dock and make your first stop in tiny Lopez Village, where you can fuel up with coffee or lunch, or purchase provisions for a picnic later in the day. If you haven’t already found a map of the island (usually available on the ferry), stop at the Chamber of Commerce in Lopez Village.
On a Saturday in the summer, don’t miss the farmers’ market, where you’ll see local creativity in action. On one visit, a young islander put a new spin on the lemonade stand, selling the opportunity to “hold a chicken” for $1. Business was brisk.
As you leave the village, continue south on Fisherman Bay Road before heading to Shark Reef Road and the southwest end of the island. Watch for Shark Reef Sanctuary, just a short jaunt from the road, where you’ll be treated to spectacular views and—if you’re lucky—sightings of seals and other wildlife.
Make your way across the southern end of the island toward Mud Bay, before beginning your return to the ferry dock. As you pedal through farmland and past grazing animals, you may notice the friendly waves from locals as they drive by.
As you near the north end of the island, take a short detour to Spencer Spit State Park, with its long sandy beach. Sit on a log, gaze at the “pods” of kayakers who paddle by, and breathe in the salt air. Then, it’s back to your bike for a quick 4-mile cycle to the ferry dock. Lucky you. It’s downhill most of the way. V.S.
Best for: Recreational cyclists looking for an out-of-the-city excursion
Access point: Catch the ferry to Lopez Island at Anacortes
Difficulty and length: Moderate; about 33 miles for a loop around the island
5. The South Lake Washington Loop
Cyclists (and walkers) have their own lane on the I-90 bridge
This satisfying ride loops south from Interstate 90 around the southern end of Lake Washington and ends with a ride over the lake via the I-90 bridge. Along the way, you’ll have some great views of Mount Rainier, pedal by or through some of the area’s best parks and climb a few modest hills.
For an urban/suburban ride, this one is remarkably free of traffic except for a stretch of Rainier Avenue. Much of it is even on dedicated trails. In places, the route is signed, but consider downloading a map on your smartphone before leaving to help with the precise navigation at a few tricky intersections.
For a clockwise loop, start from Aubrey Davis Park on the northwest tip of Mercer Island and follow the I-90 bike trail east across Mercer Island and the East Channel Bridge, descending under I-90 and climbing out the other side. Traverse Mercer Slough Nature Park and enjoy views of herons, ducks and beavers that populate this area. When you reach Lake Washington Boulevard, turn right, pedaling past Newport Shores and continuing for several miles on a trail that climbs and dips modestly. You’ll pedal past the impressive Seahawks headquarters before reaching Renton’s Coulon Park, a good spot for a snack or lunch break.
Exit from the south end of park and turn right onto NE Park Drive, an area quickly evolving from industrial (Boeing) to retail, restaurants and apartments. Due to construction, you may find Park Drive blocked to southbound traffic after about a mile. If that’s the case, detour to Cedar River Trail (here’s where you’ll want that map). Go left (south) on the trail and then to Airport Way S, which skirts the edge of Renton Municipal Airport.
You’ll soon intersect with Rainier Avenue N and the heaviest car traffic of the route. Bike for several miles along Rainier Avenue, past waterfront homes, condos and small businesses, until you arrive at Seward Park Avenue S, where you turn right. This starts the hilliest stretch of the trip. After the last (and steepest) climb, bear right and downhill onto Seward Park Avenue and Seward Park. Take a loop through the park, or turn left onto Lake Washington Boulevard and follow it to the I-90 bridge. Find your way up to the bike lane that will take you across the bridge. On a clear day, you’ll have a spectacular view of Mount Rainier. Pedal across the bridge and you’ll be back at your starting point. Douglas Gantenbein
Best for: Fit riders looking for an urban ride that feels suburban
Access point: There are many, but a good one with ample parking is Aubrey Davis Park on Mercer Island
Difficulty and length: Moderate; a 30-mile loop
6. Beach Ride
Cyclists enjoy the water view on the Discovery Trail on the Long Beach Peninsula; Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau
The Long Beach Peninsula in southwest Washington is a popular destination for building sandcastles, flying kites—and riding bikes. If you find yourself there this summer, don’t miss the Discovery Trail, a paved path that hugs the remote coastline that Lewis and Clark put on the map when they wintered there in 1805–1806. The mostly flat trail traverses boardwalks, beach, dunes and coastal forest, with plenty of spur trails leading down to the nearby beach. Highlights along the way include a basalt monolith commemorating the spot where Lewis and Clark first touched the Pacific Ocean; a bronze sculpture of Clark alongside a 10-foot-long sturgeon, similar to one he encountered back in the day; and a bleached skeleton of an actual 38-foot gray whale that beached itself in the area back in 2000. And the two towns that bookend the trail offer up their own charms, from fresh seafood right off the boat in Ilwaco to the kitschy appeal of the soft-serve vendors in Long Beach. R.S.
Best for: Families on a beach vacation
Access point: Many along the way, or begin at one end or the other: Ilwaco or Long Beach
Difficulty and length: Easy; 17 miles round trip