Finally, the Big Red Weather Switch has been pulled in the Pacific Northwest and summer has returned. As if on cue, on July 5th our 10-day forecast magically switched from incessant clouds and rain to incessant sun. But I'm ok with that.
This ride traces a 60-mile loop around the shoreline of Lake Washington. It follows a mix of trails and city streets, and keeps to mostly residential but still very scenic areas. The route provides plenty of views of the lake along with the surrounding mountains and hills in the distance, and opportunities on both sides to stop and stretch your legs in a number of waterfront parks. Most of the photos I took were from the first half of the ride, which spends more time right near the waterfront compared to the back half. The (longish) trip story below describes the route and summarizes some of what you can see and do along the way, but the Cliff Notes version (with pictures) can pretty much be summarized as a perfect warm-but-not-too-hot summer day along Lake Washington.
Starting on the Eastside about three-quarters of the way down and proceeding clockwise, the route initially follows the Lake Washington Loop Trail along Lake Washington Blvd. This offers some nice views of the lake and mountains, especially as you crest a short hill (Kennydale Hill) near the southern end of the lake. After topping the Kennydale Hill, the next sight up is the Renton Municipal Airport right at the southern end of the lake. This is a good place to watch small planes taking off and landing if you like that sort of thing. After the airport, climbing away from the waterfront and moving north through residential areas, the next scenic point is the run between Seward and Coleman Park (near the I-90 bridge). This three-mile or so stretch is one of the most enjoyable of the route; this is the road that is closed off to motorized traffic on Bicycle Sundays during the summer in Seattle, and it follows right along the waterfront in what feels like one long stretch of parkland. About midway up this leg is the Mt. Baker Rowing and Sailing Center, nestled in a small protected bay and perfect for sailing and kayaking (check out the aerial view in Google Maps and you'll see what I mean) or watching those who are.
After passing Coleman Park, the route climbs back up into the residential neighborhoods and shoots north towards the Montlake Cut (the short stretch of water connecting Union Bay and Portage Bay, which in turn connects Lake Washington to Lake Union and eventually the Puget Sound - ah, Seattle geography!) and the University of Washington. Although my ride kept to the Lake Washington Loop Trail route, an alternate route that's also especially pretty in the spring and fall would be to follow the streets through the Washington Park Arboretum to the east. Beyond the Montlake Bridge the route joins the Burke-Gilman Trail past the University, Sand Point, and Lake Forest Park towards the north end of the lake in Kenmore. The BGT is a rail trail, part of a 30-mile continuous stretch of paved trail (including the Sammamish River Trail) that runs from the Seattle waterfront to Marymoor Park on Lake Sammamish in Redmond. This section of the route is also very pretty in the spring and fall, as the trail stays under the trees while occasionally popping out to highlight the lake.
At the north end, instead of continuing on towards the Sammamish River Trail, this route turns south and heads down along the east side of the lake. Before getting back to the waterfront at Juanita Bay Park, there's a climb to conquer: Finn Hill (although truth be told it’s two, actually, Finn Hill and Juanita Hill with a nice downhill coast between). Juanita Bay Park provides opportunities to stop and follow the boardwalks through the bay wetlands, where you’re sure to see wading birds and possibly and falcon or two or even an eagle overhead. Just make sure you get off your bike and walk it on the boardwalk, in accordance with the posted signs.
Past Juanita Bay the route heads down alongside the lake through Kirkland’s lakefront park and shopping district, then bends west for another short climb to get up the edge of Clyde Hill before heading south again towards Bellevue and Medina. At this point there’s another opportunity to get close to the water if you take a detour north to the end of Yarrow Point, one of three small peninsulas that extend like fingers on a glove into Lake Washington. Heading south through Medina and then southeast along the edge of Meydenbauer Bay (with more nice views of the lake and multiple opportunities to detour to waterfront beaches if you wish) the route climbs away from the heavier traffic of downtown Bellevue and through the tiny township of Beaux Arts Village which is nestled along the edge of the lake. The tree-lined roads here are relatively quiet, passing through rolling hills before dropping back down to the waterfront near Enatai Beach Park near the I-90 overpass. After Enatai it’s a short stretch back along the Lake Washington Loop bike path connect to where I started.
60 miles later: warm, kinda saddle-sore, definitely tired, but very satisfied.