Seattle’s best outdoor activities

On a clear day in Seattle, looking southbound you can see Mt Rainier – a 14,000ft glaciated towering volcano. Way off to the east are the gateways of the North Cascades, one of the country’s few free national parks, boasting more than 300 glaciers (the most in the continental US).

Westward are the ranges of the Olympics Peninsula, with its old-growth forests and rugged coast. There’s truly no end to Seattle’s outdoors and the many ways to enjoy them.

An adult Black man enjoys a bicycle ride on a brisk and sunny autumn day in the Pacific Northwest. The fall leaves glow in the sunlight. Shot in Seattle, Washington, USA.
Consistently rated one of the best bike cities in the US, Seattle is best navigated on two wheels © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Cycle around Seattle’s parks and trails

Consistently rated one of the best bike cities in the US, Seattle is best navigated on two wheels. Black and green electric bikes fill the city’s corners, with bike-share apps like Lime and Veo providing instant access to two-wheel transportation. All it takes is a quick app download, and off you go.

Cruise to the Burke-Gilman Trail, a 27-mile recreational route that skirts the city’s north side through the University District and wraps around the north point of Lake Washington. Pass by shipyards, houseboats and hundreds of other cyclists along the way.

Golden Gardens Park is at the western end of the Burke-Gilman Trail and is a 95-acre recreation space north of Shilshole Bay Marina. On a warm evening, experience the beach lit up with scattered campfires along its beach.

The most popular stop along the Burke-Gilman Trail is Gas Works Park. A coal gasification plant until the 1950s, the area is now a lovely park for picnics and kite flying, as well as a great people-watching location – it isn’t uncommon to see eclectic activities like aerial yogi, fire spinners, or LARPers (Live Action Role Players) in full battle armor.

As you meander through Gas Works’ rusted ruins, you’ll see the magnificent skyline view of downtown Seattle in the distance.

If you’re looking for a change of pace, go for a ride along the Elliot Bay Trail, located near the popular tourist area on Alaskan Way (look for the Big Ferriss Wheel). Along its path are the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park, great places to take in the sea breeze and lazily watch ships float across the Puget Sound while basking in the sunlight.

Get ready to party on two wheels

Those of drinking age can book a Seattle party bike (or boat) with Cycle Saloon and check out the breweries in the historic Ballard district with 14 other riders.

If you’re ready to ride and party and the dates align, head to the Seattle Bike Disco, a monthly dance party on wheels that takes different routes around the city.

Catch a bike polo match

For an eclectic experience, bike to Judkins Park in the Central District and watch others play bike polo. Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking: polo, but on bikes. The sport has a thriving scene in Seattle, dating back to the early 2000s. Games can get quite intense, and there are usually plenty of people around, either rollerblading next door or skateboarding.

Hit Discovery Park for a hike

The largest natural park in Seattle, Discovery Park overlooks the Puget Sound, with the Cascades and the Olympics on the horizon. The cityscape feels very distant, with beaches, forests, tidelands and trails scattered throughout.

Here you can look across the water at West Point Lighthouse and explore the park along the 2.8-mile Loop Trail or visit the old buildings in the historic district at Fort Lawton. It’s easy to get lost within the park’s 500-plus acres, so feel free to linger in its vast wildness.

A young adult woman enjoys walking outdoors on a beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest, her canine companion joining her for the exercise. Shot in Seattle, Washington.
If you’re looking to escape the city, a seasonal bus takes riders from downtown Seattle directly to the most popular day-hike trailheads © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Get out of town for a trek

If you’re looking to escape the city, Trailhead Direct is a seasonal bus program that takes riders from downtown Seattle to the most popular day-hike trailheads at Mt Si, Mt Teneriffe and Little Si on weekends and designated holidays. Buses leave every 30 minutes from the Capitol Hill Link Station.

Mt Si and Teneriffe are the more difficult hiking trails, with more than eight miles of hiking and more than 3000ft of elevation gain. Little Si’s 5-mile round-trip hike is ideal for beginners.

Experience Seattle from the water

You’ll eventually run into water no matter where you go in Seattle. Sourced straight from the Cascades, the blue veins run deep through the city and its culture – a history easily recognizable from the countless ferries, sailboats, rowers and houseboats coasting along its waters. Seattle’s maritime roots date back thousands of years to the Duwamish Tribe, who lived on the banks of Lake Union.

Visit during a festival celebrating Seattle’s maritime culture

The city’s maritime connection is highlighted through events like the Seafair Festival, the unofficial start to summer in Seattle. The annual 10-week festival showcases a slew of events, like boat racing, salmon restoration, floating concerts and, of course, seafood.

There are many other maritime-related festivals throughout the year, such as the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, a free annual fall event; the Seattle Maritime Festival, celebrating Seattle’s maritime history and the Seattle Boat Show – the biggest boat show on the West Coast.

Young man and woman each paddling a kayak on blue lake, cityscape with sailboats in background
You can rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard and go for a float on Lake Union © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Make a splash with a water sport

Being surrounded by water means it’s only right to go for a splash. Rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak and paddle on Lake Union.

Try Urban Surf, located right across the street from Gas Works Park. For a one-of-a-kind experience, rent a wood-fire hot-tub boat at Lake Union Hot Tub Boats. Gather your crew and drinks of choice for a night spent soaking on the lake. Prices start at US$400.

Lake Union, Seattle, as seen from from Gas Works Park
Seattle’s skylines are best enjoyed on the water © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Rent a sailboat for stunning skyline views

Want to feel the wind in your sails? Head over to the Center for Wooden Boats on South Lake Union or Sail Sand Point at Magnuson Park to rent vessels of all sorts for sailing.

The Center for Wooden Boats is a maritime museum with a mission of preserving Pacific Northwest history. It also offers free rowboat rides every Sunday at 10am at its South Lake Union dock.

Seattle’s skylines are best enjoyed on the water, whether it’s for an early morning row, a noon cruise or floating with the city lights at night.

Hop on the ferry to Bainbridge Island

It’s easy to escape the summer crowds by taking a ferry from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island. Head to the Ferry Terminal by foot, car or bike. Not only do you get an ocean breeze for the 35-minute trip across Elliot Bay, but the incredible views of Seattle across the horizon and the chance to see orcas make the trip worth it.

Bainbridge Island is a laid-back island town covered in forested roads, scenic byways, trail systems and hidden coves. It’s great for outdoor family activities, from various beaches to more than 30 parks and museums to explore.

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art features contemporary art from all over the Puget Sound in rotating year-round exhibits, free for the public. The Kids Discovery Museum is a science and interactive/play museum for children.

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