Cycling Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail


Cycling the Burke-Gilman Trail is a whole hog experience of Seattle, not just a shank. For one, it’s an excellent way to savour sea-bound, lake-dappled Seattle and its luscious parks. But more than just that, cyclists get to pulse with the city’s traffic. As they roll through the city, they whiff the evergreen trees, fish-tainted salty air, or whatever is sizzling in the neighborhood cafe’s skillet. In the thick of things, they rub elbows with other people venturing on the same street corners, benches, parks, and trails.

Though the popularity of cycling has ebbed and flowed over the last century, Seattle’s outdoor aficionados – who tend to be health conscious and environmentally-minded – have always held their bicycles dear. Over the last five years in particular, cycling has blossomed due to the city’s implementation of the 2006 Bicycle Master Plan, a ten-year funded strategy to improve cycling conditions. As a result, bicycle lanes, sharrows (street arrows indicating a shared road), separated bike trails like the Burke-Gilman, and educational programs have popped up citywide.  Plus, ridership has skyrocketed.

‘Never think you’ll be alone out there cycling,’ advises Chuck Ayers, executive director of a powerful advocacy organization called the Cascade Bicycle Club. ‘There are always people out on bikes.  It’s a bike-friendly city.’

On the Burke-Gilman Trail, you’ll see a melange of biker species that comprise Seattle’s teeming cycling community: competitive roadies suctioned head-to-toe in matching lycra, lay-cyclists out for the views, aloof bike messengers pierced in double-take places, downtown commuters bedazzled with blinky lights and reflectors, students getting somewhere fast and cheaply, weekend warrior dads working off the muffin-top, vegan earth-lovers determined to live sustainably, and any mix thereof.

The Burke-Gilman Trail

The glitzy superstar of Seattle bike infrastructure is the Burke-Gilman Trail, commonly referred to as ‘the Burke.’ Its paved 27-miles (43 km) of multi-use recreational trail are part of the King County Regional Trail System, and it’s the darling of Seattle’s commuters, recreationalists, and athletes. Since 1978, when the trail opened, the Burke-Gilman has been the spine of cycling infrastructure, inspiring people to hop on bikes and bolstering nearby businesses and real estate. In 2009, a connector trail through Marymoor Park was completed which means that riders can cruise about 40 miles (64 km) of uninterrupted bike path.

Related article: Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood

Novices love the path because it’s easily accessible, undemanding physically, and totally separated from car traffic. Users follow trail etiquette, and folks are known to tootle along instead of race on their bikes.

The Burke-Gilman Trail follows the relatively flat terrain of an abandoned spur line of the Burlington Northern Railroad. The path starts at 11th Avenue NW and passes the bustling University District, intriguing water’s edge residential architecture, and lovely parks like Gasworks, Matthews Beach, and Magnuson. At its most delightful, it weaves along wooded shoreline of Lake Washington with views of snow-capped mountains crowding the horizon.

Rent a bike, hit the trail, drink some beer

Those wanting to check out the trail can rent bikes (and even accompanying kiddie trailers) at a number of locations in the city. Convenient to the Burke in the University District, Recycled Cycles has a variety of rental choices.

For a superior bike outing on the Burke, beer-bent locals adore the quintessential out and back ride to the Redhook Brewery. This ride fuses important elements of what Seattle loves best: exercise, pristine outdoors, and a frosty mug of local beer at the end. Utilizing both the Burke and the Sammamish River Trail, the route is 17 miles from the University District one way. If piquant local wine tempts more than brew, the neighbouring winery Chateau Ste. Michelle gives tours and tastings.

If the plan is to experience the Pacific Northwest, you might as well go for it full-force. Join in with the cycle-happy rabble. Grab the helmet, a rain jacket just in case, and mount up.

Other resources

Cascade Bicycle Club – A local non-profit bike advocacy group whose site contains tons of information (group rides, maps, etiquette, events, etc) about cycling in Seattle.

City of Seattle – Their transportation site provides information on Seattle’s entire bike infrastructure.  From the site, you can order free bike maps, which are known to be the best maps for cars, pedestrians, and bikers alike.