Urban Trail Running: Top Spots in Seattle

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Seattle is an awesome place to be as a runner, with opportunity for both sweeping ocean vistas and a close proximity to the mountains. Runners have the option of staying at low elevation to get some dirt/mud or pavement training, a plethora of hills to get the legs and lungs burning in the city itself, and of course, the beckon of nearby trails a short drive away that feature expanses of lush green rainforest year-round, and (a little farther away) a run-able network of snow-covered winter wonders. There are some epic trails off the I-90 corridor just east of Seattle, including the Tiger and Cougar Mountain trail systems, that make the “Issaquah Alps” areas a mecca for avid trail runners. (They won’t be described here since they’re outside of Seattle proper, but they’re worth an entirely separate blog post!) Personally, I’m not a huge city person and I love getting outside after work for a little escape, without having to drive too far or pound too much pavement.

So, without further ado, I present to you a researched, tested and approved list of top 5 trail running hot spots in the heart of Seattle, Washington! Whether you’re visiting the area for work or play, or looking for a little bit of variety in your routine, be sure to check these areas out, all (relatively) within the metro area of America’s Emerald City!

  1. Discovery Park, Magnolia Bluff

Discovery Park is a favorite among locals for its ease of access and variety in terrain. There are multiple parking areas and spots to link up to over 12 miles of trails and many options to customize your distance needs. The park is located in the Magnolia neighborhood, just west of the division between bustling downtown and Ballard areas. The park also features 5 miles of paved roads for cyclists, and the historic Fort Lawson. My favorite area is the beach around the West Point Lighthouse, and the high trails around the bluffs – you may want to bring a camera/phone along for this one!

  1. Bridle Trails State Park

My favorite little “secret” in Eastside Seattle, Bride Trails State Park is a pedestrian and horse shared-use recreation spot with 28 miles of trails in the Kirkland area. Runners have the option of several main flat trails, a large/wide open powerline trail area for those days when you need something less technical, and a vast array of hilly and single track options in between. You’d never guess that this recreation area is near the 405 Freeway system – these trails transport one to a quiet place of peace, serenity, and thick green foliage.  You may have to dodge the occasional pile of horse you-know-what, but in all honesty I’ve never seen a single horse on the trails, only the occasional runner or hiker, and even those encounters are very rare on a weekday!

  1. Seward Park

Seward Park is a recreation area on a peninsula located just southeast of Colombia City and across the water from Mercer Island, situated along the western shore of Lake Washington. This park is often windy due to its location on the lake, but is still one of my favorites. A 2.4 mile paved bike path loop surrounds a wooded hilly area of over 5 miles of trails. From the variety of interwoven dirt trails, you get the occasional glimpse of the sparkling water that surrounds the peninsula on all 3 sides, along with less foot traffic and more shelter from the wind. The trails, like all of Seattle, can be muddy, and some are more single-track style with the occasional obstacle or log to hurdle. There are also a few wider main trails that are less steep and easier to gain traction on. The southernmost paved path offers beautiful views of Mount Rainier, and I frequently spot bald eagles and sea otters on the northeastern shore! Either way, whether enjoying the trailed section or the paved loop, you can’t go wrong with a visit to this spot!

  1. Carkeek Park

Just west of the Northgate area, Carkeek Park is nestled in between the Crown Hill and Broadview neighborhoods on the north and south, and the ocean to the west. Beach views of the Kistap Peninsula, Whidbey Island and the Olympic Mountains are gorgeous here on a clear day. I enjoy the terrain options here, where you can tackle very steep hills, find more tame rolling trails with bridges to cross, or cruise around the bluffs and ocean area, for a total of 6 miles of trails. The wetland and waterfront combo is a beautiful variety and you can also cross the bridge over the railroad tracks to continue your workout on the beach! This spot is another one that amazes me for its hidden proximity to the city and its detached serenity amidst two calm and quiet neighborhoods. It’s also my favorite spot to catch a post-run sunset!

  1. Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is located in the Fauntleroy area of West Seattle and also offers a combination of paved and trail options with gorgeous ocean views. It’s an especially great option for those who are concerned about getting lost, as the trails are a little more open, more frequented, and easy to navigate. Many landmarks (playgrounds, picnic areas, ferries, outdoor swimming pool) provide for easy orientation while running. The park offers nearly 5 miles of dirt trails and about 4 miles of paved paths. Switchbacks on the northern end lead down to a trail right on the water that eventually connects you to the gentler trails on the south side of the park which can be made into a nice loop. The bluff trails are also a fun option.

More Tips:

With the lush greenery in Washington, many trails look alike and it’s easy to get lost out there! If you’re unfamiliar with a certain trail area, I highly recommend you screen shot or print out a trail map before heading out. Most of the above parks do have trail maps kiosks where you can snap a photo of the map, but they are not always near the parking area. The above parks have more trail information available online.

Also, remember that some of these spots require payment for parking, typically in the form of the Discover Pass (daily and annual options available). And make sure to bring layers, as even on a warmer day the rain and wind can whip around some of these trails. Lastly, make sure you grab good trail shoes to handle Seattle’s perpetually muddy/slippery trail conditions! Have fun out there!

Stay tuned for Urban Running Part II: Paved Paths in Seattle!