Seattle’s Urban RoutesJan Heine
Seattle has some of the best urban riding in the world. The coastline and many lakes make for scenic riding and routes with almost no cross traffic. Add the urban parks designed by the Olmstead Brothers (of New York Central Park fame), and you have a wide range of rides that start and end right in the city. However, finding these hidden gems isn’t always easy.
That’s why we’ve added a few favorites among these urban rides to the Routes on the Rene Herse website, with start and end points that are easy to access from downtown Seattle. Whether you are visiting Seattle with your bike, have just moved here, or are a long-time Seattle cyclist in search of new routes, you’ll find descriptions, photos, and GPS tracks to help with navigation. Here are three urban favorites:
Magnolia Loop – 26 km (16 miles)
This is pleasant leisurely ride with great views of Seattle, the water and the mountains. It’s great at all speeds, but it’s more urban than the others—there are a few stop signs… Start at Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. (You can pick up the loop from other locations, too.) Ride along the waterfront and through the railyard to Magnolia, the quietest and most secluded of Seattle’s neighborhoods.
A climb, gradual at first, but steep at the end, brings you to the bluff at Discovery Park. Ride through the century-old military base that’s now a park. (On weekends, there will be many walkers, and you can skirt the park along its eastern and southern edges for less traffic.) From here, the course winds through Magnolia.
The out-and-back to Perkins Lane is a lovely mini-descent (and climb) in an urban ravine, bringing you to a secluded spot that would be the greatest place to live if the hillside wasn’t sliding toward the water… Climb back up and complete the loop with a long descent. A few blocks off the route is the center of Magnolia with shops and cafes.
Mercer Island Loop – 32 km (20 miles)
A perennial favorite with no stop signs or traffic lights, little traffic and many twists and turns as the road winds through the ravines on the side of this island in the middle of Lake Washington. A few sharp rises and more gentle undulations will test your legs. It’s a favorite training route, and on many days, you’ll find a paceline to work with if you are so inclined. Or just enjoy riding through the forest without leaving the city. Cafes and grocery store at the start/end point in Leschi.
North End of Lake Washington – 69 km (43 miles)
Commonly known as ‘The North End,’ this is one of the best rides in Seattle, with challenging climbs and technical descents, great views, and a café stop. It can be enjoyed at any speed—from leisurely cyclotouring to race pace. Take the light rail to the University of Washington station. (Bikes are welcome on the train.) Warm up with a long spin along Lake Washington on Seattle’s famous Burke-Gilman Trail.
Once you reach the northern end of the lake, turn south and climb the long Juanita Hill. Drop down to Holmes Point on a twisty, challenging descent before rolling along the water and through a park with old-growth trees. If you’re enterprising, turn left in the park and climb back up to the ridge on gravel trails (and a few stairs).
The GPS route follows the paved road, which is a lovely climb, too. A long downhill into Kirkland has some traffic, but drivers are nice (and you’ll be fast). Don’t miss Zoka Coffee for a rest stop in downtown Kirkland.
After a steep climb that takes you around (rather than through) the city of Bellevue, the route continues through Medina and the wonderful Beaux Arts Village that was built 100 years ago among old-growth trees. If you have time, explore this neighborhood on its many ancient foot/bike paths. Then return to Seattle via the I-90 bridge (with bike path), before closing the loop with another great ride along Lake Washington.
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