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Goldberg: Find a peaceful, relaxing ride on South King County and Pierce County trails

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Eli Goldberg and Bob Edmiston for this ride report. Their guide was written before the opening of the South Prairie to Buckley connection that wrapped up construction last week. So if you want to be one of the first people to ride that new trail section, here’s a guide for how to get there without a car.

Photo by Bob Edmiston

By Eli Goldberg and Bob Edmiston

It’s the Seattle conundrum: you want to enjoy some natural beauty and exercise on your bike. But you dread the chaotic congestion of the Burke-Gilman trail, with spandex-clad bike racers, dogwalkers and rollerbladers all jockeying for a sliver of space.

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You feel a twinge of envy for Vancouver and Portland, with their extensive networks of traffic-calmed, tree-lined streets ideal for casual leisure biking.

But you don’t have to go far for a peaceful, relaxing seasonal ride.

Did you know that in just 15 minutes by public transit from downtown Seattle you can find a connected network of roughly 55 miles of well-maintained, scenic, and fully paved trails? No car or hill climbing required.

You’ll ride through a half-dozen cute and historic downtowns in King and Pierce counties, and enjoy diverse and scenic terrain, with stunning views of Mt. Rainier. In the summer, you can even fill your panniers with fresh blueberries and strawberries with farmstand and U-Pick stops right on the trail. And you’ll be far from the craziness of the Burke.

We’ve put together the below map and route guide, offering up to 55 miles of relaxed trail riding, with about 1.5 miles of less-comfortable on-street riding.

Segment 1: Tukwila to Pacific (Green River + South Interurban Trail) – 17 miles

Our journey starts with the Green River Trail and Interurban Trail (south). This straight and flat route primarily traverses industrial scenery, following the former Puget Sound Electric Railway.

* Depart on the 150 King County Metro bus via the downtown bus tunnel. It runs every 15 minutes on Saturdays (30 minutes on Sundays). Exit the bus at Interurban Ave S & 52nd Ave S (Tukwila Park & Ride).

* Across the street you’ll find the Green River trail. Take it southbound until you reach the Interurban trailhead.

* If you prefer natural over industrial scenery and don’t mind a lengthier route, you can also continue on the Green River Trail. It connects back to the Interurban Trail after Kent.

Ready for lunch? The Quarters – just a block off the trail in Auburn – serves authentic Southern food in a vintage home. The conscientious, bike-friendly owner even invited us to take our bikes indoors with us. (Cash-only.)

Segment 2: Pacific to Sumner (Sumner Link Trail) – 6 miles

The author at the Sumner Link Trail. Photo by Bob Edmiston

From Pacific, we’ll ride to the start of the new Sumner Link Trail, which opened in 2014. This segment offers views of meadows, farm fields, and the water.

Unfortunately, the Sumner Link Trail lacks an comfortable connection to the Interurban, requiring about a mile’s riding on a 35 mph road. You’ll also need to take the lane on a narrow bridge for about 10 seconds:

If you’re not comfortable with this on-street connection, you can skip it: take the Sound Transit 578 bus directly from Seattle to downtown Sumner and start your journey from there.

* At 3rd Avenue SE, take a left, and follow it until you reach Butte Ave SE. It’s a pleasant residential street, but turns into a low-traffic 35 mph road upon reaching the Pierce County border.

* When you reach 8th Ave SE, make a left, and continue over the bridge. You’ll see the Sumner Link Trail entrance on your right.

Segment 3: Sumner to Puyallup (White River Trail, Puyallup Riverwalk Trail) – 2 miles

This short but scenic segment takes you along the White River to the Foothills trail.

You can also check out downtown Sumner for coffee or a snack. You’ll find quaint shops, but sadly, no bike parking or other amenities to entice trail riders.

* Continue on the Sumner Link Trail until it reaches the intersection of 142nd Ave E and Puyallup St. Follow the Fryar St. bike lane or sidewalk.
* When you reach Bridge St, cross it. Then make a right on Main St. Continue on Main St. until you see the White River Trail entrance on your right.
* You can also turn left onto Main St, and check out downtown Sumner.
* Once you reach the end of the White River Trail — don’t cross the street! Instead, make a right and follow the sidewalk. You’ll see the entrance to the Riverwalk trail immediately before Mama Stortini’s Restaurant & Bar.

Segment 4: Puyallup to South Prairie (Foothills Trail) – 15 miles

This is the most scenic segment, featuring uninterrupted views of Mt. Rainier, and many miles of riding alongside the Carbon River through forest and farmland. Don’t miss the Scholz Farm stand, offering fresh-picked blueberries, strawberries and more right off the trail.

If you’re not familiar with the history of the Foothills Trail, it’s a trail that almost wasn’t built. Proposed in 1984 by a visionary Buckley physician and a cadre of dedicated volunteers, it was born out of contention, much like our own Burke-Gilman. Opponents collected 22,000 signatures to force a referendum to prevent the trail’s construction, citing fears of crime, cost and disruption. It barely squeezed by in a 52-48 vote.

It’s a poignant reminder of how the infrastructure we cherish comes not by fate, but through persistent and dedicated community members.

* Follow the Riverwalk Trail under East Main and the train tracks. You’ll see an unpaved road to your right, which turns into 134th Ave E. Continue on it, and you’ll reach the Foothills Trail entrance on your right.

Segment 5: South Prairie to downtown Puyallup (Foothills Trail) – 18.2 miles

Your ride back to downtown follows the scenic Puyallup river. You’ll find a number of restaurants near the Sound Transit station, including a fantastic ramen noodle shop.

* Take the Foothills Trail back to the Riverwalk Trail. Continue on the Riverwalk Trail to downtown Puyallup.
* When the Riverwalk Trail ends, continue on 2nd Ave NE. Make a slight right onto Main Ave, which turns into E Stewart a block later.
* Make a left on N Meridian. You’ll be at Puyallup Station in a block.
* To return to Seattle, take the hourly 578 Sound Transit bus. It only has two bike racks, so you may want to avoid the last bus of the day. It ends early (8:01 PM) on weekends.

As of summer 2017, this trip ended at South Prairie. But the remaining gaps of the Foothills Trail to Enumclaw are being filled, with the segment from South Prairie to Buckley completed just last week. Another spur is planned directly to Mt. Rainier National Park.

Photo by Eli Goldberg, summer 2017. The trail until very recently ended in South Prairie.
Construction on this connection between South Prairie and Buckley was completed in early December, according to Pierce County Parks.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looks like I’ll have to head down to South Prairie to check out the brand new connection to Buckley, which included rebuilding a damaged bridge. Doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a day…

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15 responses to “Goldberg: Find a peaceful, relaxing ride on South King County and Pierce County trails”

  1. Kirk

    I love riding down south on those trails. The Foothills Trail is my favorite trail in the region. However, there’s no need to take a bus down south from Seattle. The Duwamish Trail and the Green River Trails link up to the Interurban South and are great rides too.

    1. Eli

      The reason we focused on the bus is because the bike ride from Seattle to the Interurban South is not All Ages & Abilities. For example, I believe there’s a portion where you have to ride on the shoulder of Route 99.

      But I admit I’ve never done it – it sounded pretty uncomfortable.

      The part that got us excited about the trails was the idea of having a nearly-fully family-friendly route of this length, and accessible without needing a car.

      1. Kirk

        Yes, this is true, there are a couple of snaky spots, notably on West Marginal Way south where the bike trail north bound inexplicably stops at a dead end. Definitely not all ages. But it is a great ride for confident riders and gets you down to the good stuff without a motor!

      2. Dylan

        You can also take the Light Rail to Tukwila and ride from there

      3. Eli

        Dylan, is there a family-friendly connection from Tukwila light rail to the trail? If so, what is the route?

        I could not find one.

      4. What I’ve done is Light Rail with connection to the F Rapid Ride to the Green River Trial.

      5. Dylan

        That’s true, Eli. That area could be pretty dodgy, I wouldn’t call my suggested route family friendly. Sorry about that, I didn’t think about it properly, just jumped into my head as an alternative

      6. Regarding connections between Tukwila International Boulevard Station and the Green River Trail: there’s a 2009 feasibility study for the Lake to Sound Trail that recommends sending that trail down Southcenter Boulevard between the light-rail station and Green River Trail. It provides a fairly bleak assessment of potential facilities there: an 8′ sidepath bordered by walls and railings under I-5, crossing freeway ramps with fast-moving traffic, bike lanes that get as narrow as 3′ in places between I-5 and the station.

        That’s the best they think they can do without completely rebuilding major roads and bridges. Existing conditions are, of course, worse than that (especially around I-5), and they didn’t like any alternate route any better. It looks like there will never be an AAA route between these places… until we dismantle car culture!

      7. Tom Fucoloro

        Let’s do it! Which hex wrench size do I need to dismantle car culture? Sounds kinda big, so a 6? :-)

      8. @Al: Looks like they are doing some work on this. Not sure what they have planned for Segment F.


  2. Glad to hear construction has completed on the missing link between South Prairie and Buckley. I did a similar route last summer, also including the short Enumclaw potion of the trail (Apparently there is going to be a bridge in 2019 to connect it to Buckley) It would have been a peaceful and relaxing ride – except I got a flat on the 410! Thanks for the helpful map – I think I will take 134th Ave next time for the connection between the Foothills Trail and the Sumner Link Trail – looks lower stress than Pioneer which I took last time!

    Here is my report from June: https://www.facebook.com/nickvdh/posts/10155404231211565

  3. Brett

    Just rode the new paved section of trail from South Prairie through Buckley to the end at White River last weekend. Really is a nice section of trail that climbs out of the valley using the old railroad grade’s double-S curve and some really nice bridges. However when going through Buckley beware of the unforgiving bollards and some rough sections from tree roots.

  4. Skylar

    Thanks for putting this together – one of my fears in going out for a ride is making a miscalculation on the safety/comfort level of the route so it’s always nice to see a trusted source do some of my research for me. I’m looking forward to riding on them now!

  5. R

    The Segment 2 routing across the busy 8th Street bridge could be much calmer. I prefer riding on Valentine Ave South to 16th Ave. where one can join the White River Trail. Valentine has new wide sidewalks on the West side intended for cyclists and is fairly comfortable. 16th Street has occasional low speed truck traffic but far preferable to the alternatives.

    1. Eli

      Great news – thanks for pointing that out!

      I had written this article a number of months ago (and actually no longer live in Seattle), so it wasn’t possible to update.

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