My family and I biked the new North Lake Washington Trail Loop Saturday, and it was amazing. It is an instant classic of a bike ride with wide appeal. I suspect it will supplant the always popular Seattle-to-Woodinville-and-back ride since riders can now complete the loop rather than backtrack on the Sammamish River and Burke-Gilman Trails. The Totem Lake Connector bridge was the final* major piece needed to make this trail loop fully functional, so the bridge opening celebration Saturday also felt like a celebration for this whole loop. (*As you will see in the photos below, the Eastrail crossing at 132nd Ave NE desperately needs a fix, but I still feel comfortable recommending the loop despite this problem spot.)
Of course, Seattle Bike Blog mostly focuses on bicycling for transportation, and these new trail opening connect many more homes and workplaces to a bike route that is faster, easier, safer, or all of the above.
But in this post, I am focusing on the recreational aspect because a major new loop of this significance is extremely rare. The ride it will widely replace (or, rather, build upon) has been a mainstay of trail riding in the area since the Sammamish River Trail and the Burke-Gilman Trail were connected in 1993. It’s a shade over 32 miles long, and Google Maps estimates a little over 600 feet in total climbing. For a bike ride loop of that length in this glacier-carved region, that’s just about as flat as you can get (I can’t think of a flatter trail loop, can you? Let us know in the comments below).
I suspect this loop will be many people’s first ever long bike ride, and they are going to love it. It’s got enough challenge to push people’s limits, but it is also peppered with parks, restaurants, breweries and wineries. So you could ride for 3 hours straight, or you could make a day of it and stop as often as desired. UW Station also serves as a fantastic start and end point, providing excellent regional transit access to this trail loop via both light rail and UW-bound bus routes.
We started our journey in the U District. Though the Burke-Gilman Trail is well-known, it was a really cool feeling to set out on this familiar trail knowing there were places ahead I had never been. I was also very excited to show my five-year-old some new areas and parks she has never seen.
At Log Boom Park, the kid wanted to bike. I am amazed how far kids can bike when there are no cars around to threaten them.
At Wilmot Gateway Park in Woodinville, we met up with a group Katherine Hollis, Executive Director of Eastrail Partners, was leading to the bridge opening celebration.
This part of the ride was secretly my favorite part because I had not yet ridden a couple of these newer stretches of the Eastrail, including the lovely stretch from NE 145th Street to NE 125th Street. This is where much of the trail becomes hard-packed gravel rather than asphalt, though it is still very bikeable on any bike.
After so much gravel riding, the new Totem Lake Connector bridge feels stunning and other worldly. Its long spirals provide a gradual climb up and over a couple fairly busy streets. It also has places to rest, which are a nice touch. Sure, Kirkland probably could have just made some crosswalks instead, but the bridge sure is nice. It also serves as an iconic landmark for the Totem Lake neighborhood, which has been developing quickly, as well as a much more pleasant access point to the lake and its surrounding park.
We made a cameo in Best Side Cycling’s video of the opening (that’s us in the opening shot). My kid was fascinated by Hanoch’s ridiculously long selfie stick, which got some really cool drone-like aerial footage. They give you a sense of just how many people showed up for the celebration.
But the kid was clearly in need of pizza and a splash pad, so we had to leave the party early to continue our ride through Kirkland to Chainline Station in Feriton Spur Park.
After some pizza, some beer, some splashing and some playground time, we continued on. The Cross Kirkland Corridor section of the Eastrail is mostly hardpacked gravel, though there are a few sections of pavement. We then turned onto 108th Ave NE for a steep couple blocks downhill to Northup Way. This section of road near the South Kirkland Park and Ride should be considered another gap in the route. It is only a couple blocks, and there is a painted bike lane in the uphill direction for most of the climb. But it needs better bike lanes that fully connect to the trail. There is a sidewalk for anyone who really does not want to bike in mixed traffic, though traffic usually is not too busy. A direct connection from the Eastrail to Northup Way is in construction, which will be great for a lot of users. But for people connecting to and from the 520 Bridge, this 108th shortcut will remain popular.
At the bottom of the hill, we crossed in the crosswalk and used the wide south sidewalk on Northup Way as a trail connection to the 520 Trail. The hills on 520 through Yarrow, Hunts and Evergreen Points are just a little tougher after more than 20 miles of riding, but there are parks and viewpoints along the way if you need to take a break.
For the final stretch, the kid wanted to bike across the lake, stopping in every alcove along the way. We live in a very beautiful place.
Just cross the Montlake Bridge, and you’re back to UW Station.
Have you ridden this new trail loop? I’d love to hear about your experience or any suggestions you have for new riders heading out on their first 30+ mile trail ride.