Trail Running in Seattle
August 7, 2012 by Yitka Winn · 21 Comments
Nestled between the Cascade Mountains to the east, the Olympic Mountains to the west, and more sparkling bodies of water than you can count, Seattle is a city of breathtaking beauty. It’s no surprise that outdoor enthusiasts flock en masse to this Pacific Northwest paradise.
While the sky can be a bit of a perpetual leaky faucet, the good news is that Seattle boasts some of the mildest year-round weather to be had, with temperatures ranging from 45 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the year. Trail systems within or near the city generally remain snow-free and runnable year-round. In the summer, an expansive menu of rugged, mountainous trails nearby becomes available as well to those hungry for more vertical gain, technical terrain, and arresting views.
Seattle’s city planners have had a strong, long-standing passion for green spaces. While the region’s most expansive trail networks lies outside the city, there are still plenty of ways to get your dirt fix without leaving city limits. One of the best ways to explore the city’s trails is to get your hands on a bike map, and seek out the green areas.
This 534-acre wild park is just a few miles from the city center, perched on the bluffs of Magnolia overlooking Puget Sound. Featuring forested singletrack, sandy beaches, bluff trails, tide pools, spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier, and frequent bald eagle sightings, it’s the most outdoors you can soak up without leaving Seattle proper.
The 3-mile Loop Trail is well signed for an easy, beautiful tour of Discovery – but offshoots like the Hidden Valley Trail and North Beach Trail reward those who venture off the beaten path.
Washington Park Arboretum
Along the shores of Lake Washington, the 230-acre Washington Park Arboretum will dazzle you on your run with a fantastic array of trees, plants, colors and smells. With forgiving, soft gravel trails that snake all over the park, the possibilities are endless.
For a truly unique run on one of the city’s best kept secret trails, venture to Foster Island at the north end of the park, and run the boardwalk bridges to Marsh Island. Chances of bald eagle sightings are high here, as well!
Insider Tip: During the summer, you can rent a canoe for $5 at the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activity Center and paddle your way around the Arboretum, too.
With an easy, beautiful 5K loop around the lake – side by side paved and dirt surfaces – this area is often touted as the “runners’ paradise” of Seattle. Nestled north of downtown and surrounded by many of the city’s top specialty running shops, bike shops and gyms, it’s a popular destination for the active-minded.
Greenlake plays host to the annual spring Dizzy Daze ultra. Boasting distances ranging from half-marathon to 100K, the race’s motto teases the running junkies to which it sells out each year: “All the pain and suffering of an ultra, without the annoying change of scenery!”
While the pancake-flat Greenlake gets crowded when the weather’s nice, the adjacent Woodland Park – sandwiched between the lake and the Seattle zoo – features a hidden network of short, albeit hilly and under-utilized, trails.
One tucked away gem of a trail in Woodland Park runs alongside the zoo’s elephant pasture and orangutan house. Free whiffs of nature!
For the most insatiable of trail appetites, venture a dozen miles east on I-90 and you’ll hit what are affectionately known as the Issaquah Alps – a term coined by the late nature author and local conservationist, Harvey Manning. The Alps include the popular Cougar, Squak, Tiger, Taylor and Rattlesnake Mountains, and encompass thousands of acres of old-growth and second-growth forest. Their singletrack trails offer everything from gentle loops to challenging climbs with sweeping views of the surrounding valleys.
Of these mountains, Cougar is the best mapped, well-signed, and easiest to navigate, if you’re not already familiar with these trails. And near as they are to urban areas, the Alps are bear and cougar country – so always try to run or hike with a buddy.
Get Geared Up
- The 96,000 square foot flagship Seattle REI is the outdoor enthusiast’s ultimate playground. Don’t miss the 65-foot climbing wall or Gear Garage of bargain items in the basement.
- Located on bustling Capitol Hill, Fleet Feet Seattle sponsors a swath of local trail runs. They also host in-town fun runs, pub runs, and clinics, as well as visits from ultrarunners like Hal Koerner and Marshall Ulrich.
- The Balanced Athlete, located in nearby Renton, is a treasure trove of trail shoes, gear, knowledge, and local running community flavor. Count on seeing these folks’ smiling faces at aid stations at many local races.
- Downtown Seattle and the nearby downtown Bellevue across Lake Washington are host to two of the nation’s only running stores devoted completely to minimalist running shoes: Born to Run.
- For near-weekly group runs and races both within and outside of city limits, NW Trail Runs hosts everything from weeknight 5K’s to full-on ultras.
- Evergreen Trail Runs hosts a slew of low-key trail races in many local, state and county parks, ranging from 5K to 50 miles. Pizza awaits you at the finish line.
- For “destination” trail races in the greater Pacific Northwest region, check out Rainshadow Running’s smorgasbord of ultras on some of the region’s most rugged, scenic terrain.
Additional Seattle Trail Running Resources
- The Washington Trails Association serves as stewards over many of the state’s trails. Their website is an excellent resource with trail guides and up-to-date, user-submitted trail reports.
- Seattle Running Club hosts Sunday morning group trail runs outside of the city, with a MeetUp page to coordinate other weekday runs and carpools to the trails.
- The King County Parks website has excellent maps of its 130 miles of backcountry trails.
- Trail Run Crazy offers a mostly comprehensive calendar of local ultras.
Call for Input and Questions
We’d love for folks who have trail run in the Seattle metro area to share their favorite local trails and trail running resources. We’d especially love to know the particulars of your favorite routes as well as any great trail systems we did not include.
For those of you new to trail running in Seattle or who may be visiting from out of town, please share any questions you have and we’ll try to find an answer for you.