TRAILBEAR LIKES THIS FREEWAY TRAIL – Part 1: Mercer Slough to the Mercer Lid
“This is the best freeway trail I’ve seen. The scenery is great. There are a lot of interesting things along the way - and you don't see much of the freeway. Less is more.”
Whodathunk it? That a trail named for the freeway it runs alongside could be an interesting ride? The TrailBear didn’t think so.
He surveyed the I-5 Trail in Thurston County, WA in June and was not inclined to repeat that experience. He did not have great expectations for the I-90 Trail, but TrailLink did not have it; it was a commuter route for bikies; it went on the list.
Using odd bits of free time in Bellevue, he set out to explore it and changed his mind. What a surprise! One nice ride. There a lot of different things to see along the way – a swamp, a beach park, bridges, hanging gardens and an entire park covering a section of the freeway, decent landscaping, a floating bridge, a bike tunnel with murals and a second lid park.
It has its ups and downs. There are aerobic grades to chug up that are probably 4-6% and the same grades to come down at 25 mph. Not a dull ride at all. Loud, though. Take the earbuds and pod or player. It's a very decent ride. No the usual miles and miles of woods or fields or whatever. Lots of things along the way.
Where to begin? The first project was the search for a full service trailhead. On the Bellevue side there are two trail ends. One is over at Factoria on the south side of the freeway and the other is over on the west side of the Mercer Slough. In Factoria the trail ends on a corner and you can take to the bike lanes from there. Over on the west side of the slough there are three options, starting with the …
BLUEBERRY FARM, GE: N47.58882 W122.19173
The “Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm” on Bellevue Way SE, to give it full title, is a City of Bellevue Park and a working blueberry farm. There is a farm store, parking, a decent restroom, water, info kiosk and a trail end. It seems that after they built the locks and lowered the lake level by ten feet, peat soils were exposed here that were ideal for blueberries. Berries have been cultivated here for about a century.
Fair warning: Mercer Slough in many areas resembles a swamp. Frankly, it is a swamp – standing water and the plants that love it. TrailBear has experience with and memories of swamps – holding rifle overhead and thinking: “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
Finding your way through the trackless swamps is made easy by the excellent City of Bellevue trail signage. TB gives it 7* on a 5* scale. It is informative, detailed - and everywhere you need a monument, there is one. It tells you that you are on the Lake to Lake Trail, which will connect to the I-90 Trail in due course. Wait till you get to Mercer Island where there is not a single trail sign. Bring the excellent King County Bike Map.
The connector trail from the farm store starts out on gravel and converts to puncheon fast enough to get you above the water. If you are not into that sort of thing, take the bike up the sidewalk at the farm and ride down to the …
PARK AND RIDE, GE: N47.58692 W122.19113
The Park & Ride lot a tenth of a mile down the street offers lots of parking, mostly full on weekdays, and no water or restrooms. The trail from the farm comes up out of the swamp on the south side of the lot to a trail junction. You want to work 0.4 miles south to the …
CANOE LANDING, GE: N47.58237 W122.18700
The canoe landing is in Sweyolocken Park - which is devoted to launching canoes to paddle upon the waters of the Slough. This could be your trailhead. There is parking. There is a portapotty. There is the official start of one leg of the I-90 Trail.
There is also a resident swarm of skeeters which make a good living off the people who come to paddle without several coats of Deep Woods Off. What are they paddling? The Mercer Slough Canoe Trail. You rent a canoe down at Enatai Beach Park and paddle up the main channel, around Bellefield Island and back down. You can bring your own to the launch ramp here.
Get on the trail at the sewer pumping station and head off under the freeway ramps. Watch for standing water over the trail on this stretch. The slough backs right up to the trail so it depends how high the water level in the swamp is. You cross under the freeway, up the other side and along it to …
ENATAI BEACH PARK TRAILHEAD, GE: N47.57903 W122.19719
Now this is one nice beach park and trailhead. It’s at the bottom of 108th Ave. SE and in the shadow of the I-5 East Channel Bridge. One look and TB forgot all about the berry farm, the park n ride and the canoe landing. Cut to the chase and make this your full service trailhead.
Enatai Beach Park offers several parking options: at the park (limited), in a lot beneath the freeway (larger and good in the rain) and along SE Lake Rd. The park has a beach with life guards, a boat dock, a canoe rental facility, restrooms, water and a spacious observation deck with views down the East Channel. Fair warning: on a sunny day in summer, most every space will be filled. Come at dawn.
The trail ducks under the bridge abutment and climbs up the far side to a …
TRAILHEAD INFORMATION KIOSK AND ARCH, GE: N47.58043 W122.19497
Welcome to the Enatai Beach Trailhead kiosk. You can learn about the Bellevue Lake to Lake Greenway & Trail which begins here and heads over to Lake Sammamish. (Well, TB is looking at the current City of Bellevue bike map, obtained from said kiosk, and he can’t find much in the way of Class I trail. Lot of bike lanes seem to make up the Lake to Lake.)
Aside from that pesky detail, it’s a nice kiosk; there is an arch with “Bellevue” upon it and good landscaping. There is the last informative sign post you will see. There is trail leading up to …
THE EAST CHANNEL BRIDGE, GE: N47.57913 W122.20030
Now you can ride with the cars. Of course, you have your own 5’ bike lane with concrete barrier on the outer side of the freeway. Cars to the left, water to the right and a long way down. Good views. There are multimillion $ waterfront homes down there with yachts at the docks. You could get used to that life style.
However, pay attention. Mercer Island is coming up. Here you divert from the freeway. You will ride along side it, but there are barrier walls and landscaping. You can hear it, but only see it when you climb up a grade to a street overpass, then head down the next grade behind the wall again. It’s quite green and lush here. From the bridge it is about 1.8 miles to the …
MERCER ISLAND PARK & RIDE, GE: N47.58845 W122.23160
The Park n Ride at 8000 N. Mercer Way is quite a flossy establishment. There is double decker parking, bike lockers, a large news stand, public art, etc. You could use it as access parking for this section of trail. But, ride on. The best is yet to come. Another 0.4 miles will put you on …
THE HANGING GARDENS OF MERCER, GE: N47.59123 W122.23946
You are between earth and sky, ascending a steep grade (“Sure ain’t no 3% grade,” huffs the TrailBear, now in low gear.) On the left, a massive concrete cliff, now about 40’ high, covered with hanging vines. The verge is planted with firs. On the right, a lower wall covered in vines and homes down below. You are ascending shoulder of the Mercer Lid to The Park on the Lid (officially “The Luther Burbank Lid.”)
Yes, they put a lid over the freeway at this point and built a park atop it. It runs for about a half mile. It would be interesting to speculate why they did this and ran the cost up. TB speculates that Someone had a lot of political pull to get this done. Over in Seattle they put a whole convention center over the I-5 freeway. Seems to be the coming thing. Keep huffing upwards and soon you will arrive at a handy pitstop, the …
FEROGLIA FIELDS RESTROOMS & WATER, GE: N47.59237 W122.24267
Take a pause to puff. At the top of the grade is a restroom with water at the corner of Feroglia Fields (baseball). It seems to be the stopping point for bikies. After you grind up that grade, you’ll probably stop for some water. There is a pair of young kids in full Roadie Suits of Light taking a break in the portico. Cute.
This would be a nice spot to watch the passing trail traffic. There is a baseball diamond over there and a spacious covered picnic shelter with water at the bottom of the field. Behind the trail is a parking area. Some stalls are covered by the road overhead – great on hot or rainy days. This is a good trailhead at the mid point of the ride. West down to the Floating Bridge and the tunnels. East down to Mercer Slough or Factoria.
In this rainy climate, TB is always on the lookout for places to shelter from the weather. The picnic shelter and parking stalls under the bridge area noted. The weather this afternoon is not promising. The morning was sunny, but now there are clouds. On leaving Enatai, TB speculated that it would rain on him – but only when he reached the turnaround point – the maximum distance from the van sheltered below the bridge at Enatai.
Meanwhile, The Park on the Lid awaits exploration. Ride up the trail a bit and you come to the …
VENT STACKS AND PICNIC AREA, GE: N47.59194 W122.24461
Nine great white stacks rise out of the lawn. A picnic area is set amid them. These are vent stacks for the tunnel air handlers in the hall below the picnic area. One stack has a TV antenna. Probably leads to the control station below. Further along are the …
TENNIS COURTS WITH A VIEW, GE: N47.59217 W122.24563
The view is not distracting these tennis players from the game. TB pedals to the far side of the courts where another concrete cliff drops to become a wall lined with basket ball courts and a lawn beyond with tot lot, more parking, a portapotty and a views of the I-90 floating bridge in the distance and more. The trail will cross the bridge, then enter a bike tunnel beneath the ridge and continue on to end near the I-90 x I-5 junction in Seattle.
But that is for another day. The afternoon has become evening and it’s time to head back to the island. As he goes screaming down the hanging gardens grade, TB feels something hit him. Something wet. It’s rain. A little off cue. It should have started at the tennis courts, but never mind.
At the park n ride he finds a tree and breaks out the new Topeak cover for his back bag, the cover for his handlebar bag and the North Face jacket for himself. Thus covered bow to stern, he heads off to Enatai in the growing, predicted rain.
NEXT TIME – STAGING FROM THE LID…
TB has found access parking on the lid at two points:
N47.59213 W122.24335 and N47.59160 W122.24427. There is doubtless more. Next trip, he will stage from the lid and head over to Seattle. Thus far the I-90 Trail has been an interesting ride and not very filled with cars alongside.
Staying dry in his NorthFace jacket.