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No guide to Seattle trails would complete without a ride on the Burke-Gilman Trail. Running across the city from the shore of Puget Sound to the top of Lake Washington (and connecting to the Sammamish River Trail for more riding), it is an icon of Seattle bicycling. Its first section was built in 1978 and, in 2008, was inducted into Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. Thousands of commuters and recreational cyclists ride it every day along with joggers, walkers, stroller pushing families, skaters and more. Its popularity is unsurprising considering its length, quality and the fact that it traverses past several fantastic parks, sightseeing destinations and hip neighborhoods.
This 17-mile tour takes you from Lake Union Park, up along the west side of Lake Union, through the hip Fremont and Ballard neighborhoods, past the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, out to Golden Gardens, back to Gasworks Park and finally back around the east side of Lake Union back to your starting place. With more options for sightseeing, park hangouts, food and drink than you can pack in to a single day, it’s an in-city adventure perfect for locals and visitors alike.
Start your ride in Lake Union Park. (With great people-, boat- and sea-plane watching, the Museum of History and Industry, and Center for Wooden Boats, the park is worth a visit in its own right!) Head north on the Westlake protected bike lane. After a little over a mile, the trail splits. Follow it left onto what looks like a sidewalk and continue across the Fremont Bridge. At the end of the bridge, you’ll merge back into a bike lane on the street and quickly reach the intersection of Fremont Avenue and N. 34th Street. Take a left onto 34th by merging into the big green bike box to your right on 34th and waiting for the light to turn green.
Continue west on 34th for two blocks. If you’re grabbing picnic supplies for Golden Gardens (more on this later), the PCC Grocery is a great option. If you need a caffeine fix, head up to 36th Avenue and grab a drink from Fremont Coffee Company, a cozy coffee shop with great porch seating for nice days. If not, merge left onto the Burke-Gilman Trail and continue riding west. This tree-lined stretch along the ship canal is one of the best on the Burke. It’s brief, but offers great glimpses of boats out on the water.
After a little over a mile on the trail, you’ll reach the intersection of 45th Street and 11th Avenue, the start of the trail’s “Missing Link.” This incomplete 1.5-mile section of trail requires a detour onto the road. At the intersection, continue west onto the obvious protected bike lane. As you ride under the 15th Avenue overpass, you’ll cross a set of train tracks. Use extreme caution and make sure to ride over the tracks as close to perpendicular as possible!
Shortly after that, you’ll reach an intersection with Shilshole Avenue. Take a left, ride Shilshole for a half mile until it hits Market Street, then take a left on Market. After a quarter mile, the street splits into a Y. Head left. After you pass a climbing gym and restaurant, you’ll see a big parking lot to your left. This is where you merge back on to the Burke. It is also the entrance to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, which lift boats from sea level on the Puget Sound up 22 feet to the canal into Lake Union. Bike riding is not permitted in the park, so either lock your bike at the entrance or walk it with you.
It is fascinating to watch boats rising and falling in the locks and on weekends, people line the edges of the locks to take in the scene. The locks also have a fish ladder and an underwater viewing window. In July, the last weeks of August, and last weeks of September, thousands of salmon stream by the windows as they head back to their spawning grounds.
Once you’ve had your fill at the locks (or if you’re just riding past), continue west on the trail. In a little less than a mile, the trail crosses Seaview Avenue and you have an important decision to make. You can continue straight on the trail to reach Golden Gardens (hopefully with picnic supplies in tow). Or, you can pick up Caribbean pork or tofu sandwiches from Un Bien to bring to the beach. Turn left on Seaview and look for the bright pink building on your right. Biking to Golden Gardens and eating one of their huge, juicy sandwiches is a Seattle classic. Be prepared for long lines on nice days!
If you do stop for sandwiches, continue on Seaview until you hit Golden Gardens. Ride straight through the parking area until you see the brick Bathhouse on your left. Pedal over and lock your bikes, then find an empty spot in the sand to enjoy your lunch. With a sandy beach, fire pits, views of the Olympic Mountains across the Sound, volleyball, playgrounds, picnic tables and shelters and more, it’s little wonder why Golden Gardens is such a popular, beloved destination. Unsurprisingly, it can be jam packed on summer weekends!
Once you’ve had your fill of beach time, retrace your route back to the Burke-Gilman Trail and head back the way you came. Once you pass the Locks again, carefully merge onto the street and curve right onto Market Street. At the corner of Market at Shilshole, you once again have a decision to make. If you want to keep riding, turn right on Shilshole to continue through the Missing Link. If you’re looking for a drink or a place to eat, continue straight on Market into the heart of Ballard.
The Ballard neighborhood is booming with restaurants and bars. If you’re hankering for a certain cuisine, Ballard can likely meet your need. There are slices at Ballard Pizza Company, upscale oysters at the Walrus and Carpenter, tasty tacos at El Borracho, charcuterie and cheese at the Noble Fir, ice cream (and arcade games) at Full Tilt and many, many more. If you’re looking for a local beer, try Ballard Beer Company’s extensive list of Seattle breweries or Peddler Brewing, a bicycle-themed and very bicycle-friendly brewery and taproom. For cocktails, head to Hazelwood. For a classic Seattle hipster-dive, try King’s Hardware.
When you’re done with Ballard, make your way back to the Missing Link by riding south on 22nd Avenue, then taking a left onto Shilshole. Once you’re back on the trail, follow it back along the canal through Fremont. Instead of heading into the neighborhood, continue east on the Burke as it curves under the Fremont Bridge. Cross the intersection at Stone Way and continue east on the trail. Half a mile later, you’ll ride past Gas Works Park. The old Seattle Gas Company “gasification” plant has been turned into an iconic park at the north end of Lake Union. Many of the old machines still stand. The grassy hillsides fill with people on nice days flying kites, picnicking and soaking up the sun. If nothing else, it’s worth a stop in for the great view of the Seattle skyline across the lake.
After you leave the park, continue east on the Burke for your final stretch of the trail. After a mile of riding and just after you pass under the I-5 overpass, you’ll see a five-way intersection to your left. Leave the trail and take a right up the hill on NE 40th Street towards the University Bridge. At the top of the hill, turn right onto the bridge. After crossing the bridge, take your immediate right onto Fuhrman Avenue and continue on Fairview Avenue as the road curves to the left at the bottom of the hill. This quiet greenway takes you along the water past houseboats and parklets. Follow the signs as it zigs and zags through an alley around a dead end at Hamlin Street. Continue on Fairview E. until it ends at Fairview Avenue N. and take a right. Half a mile on Fairview takes you to Valley Street. Cross the streetcar tracks, take a right and voilà, you’re back to the start at Lake Union Park!
Popular dog and kid friendly brewery in Fremont with a huge patio
Hip pub with shades of dive bar
Intimate bar with good cocktails
Good pizza by the slice
Just off the Burke Gilman in Fremont
In the University Distrcit a few blocks off the Burke Gilman
Inexpensive hostel next to Pike Place Market
Motel in Uptown/Queen Anne neighborhood
Luxury hotel on the downtown waterfront
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