Three spectacular September bike rides in the Seattle area

And as a bonus: you don’t have to be a hardcore cyclist to enjoy them.

A bicyclist in silhouette passes through Red Square at the University of Washington on June 11, 2019. (Paul Christian Gordon for Crosscut)

One of the pleasures of my pre-pandemic life was biking around Seattle nearly every day, traveling to meetings and events. It was exercise, it was a break from the computer screen, it made me feel at home in the city. It offered that adrenaline rush that comes with knowing you might be flattened by a car at any turn. (I’m kidding, of course — that last part was not a perk.)

Since COVID-19 turned my workday into one long Zoom call, I’ve had to manufacture reasons to hop on my bike. That means I get out less, but there is a silver lining: I expanded my range beyond city riding and began to explore some of the many longer (but not too long) rides our region has to offer. September weather is delightful for biking — still warm but not too warm, and not yet pounding rain. Here are three outings that are simple, scenic and doable for even the occasional cyclist.

North Lake Washington Trail Loop

If you find riding on roads nerve-wracking, this one’s for you. Make your way to the Burke Gilman Trail — the University of Washington Link light rail station is a great place to start — and head north, up around Lake Washington. Near Bothell you’ll turn onto the Sammamish River Trail, which curves around and descends all the way to Redmond. If you’re into alcoholic beverages you should plan to linger in the Sammamish Valley, where numerous wineries, breweries and distilleries cluster near the trail.

Turning west at Redmond, the 520 Trail takes you back to Seattle via the State Route 520 bridge. That last leg is the least pleasant, since the trail follows the highway, but still there’s very little riding in traffic. I find the bridge crossing itself to be pretty neat — the path is wide and there are periodic lookout points with benches where you can rest and watch the water birds and the boats. (I was going to say that whenever I see a tugboat, I wish I was driving it, which is true, but Mayor Jenny Durkan got there first.) Altogether, this loop is under 40 miles, or about four hours of relaxed riding with few hills. Plan for some pit stops and you’ve got a day trip.

Overnight at Maury Island Marine Park

I almost don’t want to tell people about this one, lest it become popular. Did you know you can take a water taxi from downtown Seattle to Vashon Island? On weekdays you can, and it’s a blast. Hop on the boat at 4:30, 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. — as soon as you can get down to Pier 50 after work. Once you disembark, a half-hour bike ride lands you in Vashon Village, where you can take a break and grab dinner. From there, less than an hour of riding, enjoyably rural though somewhat hilly, takes you over the manmade isthmus to Maury Island and the marine park, where you can pitch your tent at one of six sites by the water. Last time I did this trip, I brought a hammock and read a book as the sun set, occasionally gazing at Mount Rainier over the water. The other campsites were empty; I had the whole place to myself. A perfect midweek vacation.

The next morning, of course, you have to find your way back to Seattle. By rising at the crack of dawn you may be able to catch the last morning water taxi at 8:15 a.m. and waltz into work on time, if you’re one of those downtown 9 to 5ers. But if you’re not in a hurry, it’s worth wandering around the park or heading over to the picturesque Port Robinson Lighthouse nearby. Then find some coffee and breakfast on your way back through Vashon Village and catch the ferry to West Seattle. I like to ride back along the shore and Alki Beach (where you can catch another water taxi back to Pier 50), but you can also take the RapidRide C from the ferry terminal straight into downtown.

This trip does require a little forethought. You should reserve a campsite in advance, and you’ll need to carry basic camping gear. There’s also a long gravel path from the road down to the park that I find too treacherous to ride safely, making for an awkward downhill walk-with-loaded-bike, and back uphill the next day. Upon reflection, however, I’m grateful for that path — maybe it’s enough to keep the crowds at bay.

Chief Sealth Trail to Kubota Garden

I’ve long been familiar with the Chief Sealth Trail and the Rainier Beach gem that is Kubota Garden, but it was only a few years ago that I put two and two together and realized that the trail ends more or less right at the garden. I usually turn onto the trail from Beacon Avenue; there’s a Metro Route 36 stop right there, and the Link light rail station isn’t too far away. There are a couple detours along the trail where you have to navigate streets, which can be a little confusing at first, but it’s well worth figuring out.

Snaking under power lines — the towers are imposing and even beautiful in their own way — on a clear day, you’ll be treated to crisp views of Mount Rainier; and when the fall foliage starts turning, Kubota Garden is a spectacular place to be.

You don’t have to be a hardcore cyclist to enjoy these three rides. The routes are all relatively straightforward; with a smartphone or a decent map, you probably won’t get lost. Do you have another favorite ride? Let me know what it is. Before we auger into another bleak pandemic winter, I’m determined to hit the road — or the trails — a few more times.

About the Authors & Contributors

Katie Wilson

Katie Wilson

Katie Wilson, a contributing columnist, is the General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union.