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Ringed by the Olympic and Cascade Ranges and set within Puget Sound, Seattle is completely surrounded by outdoor adventure. While many excursions are just a short road trip away, you’d be surprised at how much is on offer within city limits—and right off public-transportation lines. Add to that a bike-friendly bus system and a growing light-rail, and it’s never been easier to get your fix without hopping in a car. From riding singletrack under I-5 in Capitol Hill to running trails in Discovery Park, Seattle’s inner-city options give the nearby ocean and mountains a run for their money.
Rock Climbing at UW Rock
With dozens of climbing gyms in town—Seattle Bouldering Project is arguably one of the country’s best—and the craggy Cascades a four-hour drive away, Seattle has quickly become a climbing mecca. But for those without wheels or who don’t want to throw down for a costly gym membership, possibilities can be limited. Luckily, tucked right next to the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium is the city’s most unique climbing alternative—and it’s free to the public.
Dubbed the UW Rock, this five-wall concrete structure (which could easily be confused with a modern-art display) is one of the first artificial climbing walls constructed in the country. More than a few famous climbers have cranked out a workout on this man-made crag, but it’s a great beginner option as well, thanks to a number of holds and soft landings. For the more experienced, UW Rock is a great place to get in several hours of training any time of the year before your next adventure. The walls shade against the heat in the summer and are kept warm by the sun in colder months.
Getting There: Just off the University of Washington stop on Seattle’s Link light-rail, UW Rock is located at the back-right corner of the parking lot on the south side of Husky Stadium.
Mountain Biking at Colonnade Bike Park
Find your escape on two wheels right underneath one of Seattle’s busiest traffic arteries at I-5 Colonnade, the nation’s first urban mountain-bike park. Established in 2005 by the city and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, the 7.5-acre space includes a beginner trail with log rolls and a ladder bridge as well as a more expert cross-country trail with wooden bridges, tight switchbacks, and steep rock chutes. The Colonnade also has a pump track, dirt jumps, and trial zones for every type of rider.
Though areas of the park have fallen into disrepair in recent years and there is a continuous ebb and flow of homeless populations, it still maintains some solid mountain biking just minutes from downtown.
Getting There: From downtown, riders can catch the 49 bus up to Capitol Hill and get off at Tenth Avenue East and East Newton; from there, turn left and walk a block to East Boston Street. Make a left when you hit Harvard Avenue East, and after a few blocks, you’ll see entrances to the park right beneath the I-5 overpass. And don’t worry, gearheads: all Seattle transit buses have racks for mountain bikes.
Trail Running at Discovery Park
Hit the trails at Discovery Park, Seattle’s very own forest trail system, located right on Puget Sound. In addition to two miles of protected beaches that feature views of the Olympic Mountains, the 530-acre park is home to ten miles of trails that wind up and down the coastal hillsides. Ranging from steep, wooded dirt trails to gravel paths cutting across grassy bluffs, Discovery has a loop for every ability level and breathtaking overlooks to match.
The main Loop Trail is 2.8 miles long and takes you through each of the park’s habitats, with shorter trails that branch off to the perimeter, including one that ends at West Point Lighthouse. While the park is heavily trafficked, crowds are rarely an issue due to the amount of space and layout of its trails.
Getting There: Runners can connect with the 33 bus just a few blocks from Pike Place Market, on Third Avenue and Pike Street, and take it all the way to the mouth of the park and the start of the trail system.
Road Biking the Bainbridge Island Loop
It’s no secret that Seattle has one of the most impressive public-ferry networks in the world, but many may not realize its role as an adventure gateway to the surrounding islands and the rugged Olympic Peninsula. Ferries leave from downtown, Edmonds, or West Seattle, and cyclists looking to log mileage outside the city can connect a series of loops.
The most popular is the 33-mile loop around Bainbridge Island, just a 35-minute boat commute from downtown. The route starts right off the ferry dock. Winding in and out from the coast, cyclists gain over 2,000 feet while taking in sweeping views of Puget Sound, including the occasional pod of orca whales. Cascade Bicycle Club holds its annual Chilly Hilly race on this course every February, and the club has also mapped a series of ferry-based loops for city cyclists.
Getting There: Ferries for Bainbridge Island depart every 50 minutes from Colman Dock or Pier 52. While rides will cost you $8.50 on the way out, the trip back is free.
Kayaking at Lake Washington
Along with Puget Sound, other great options for getting out on the water by boat include Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Union Bay Natural Area. For beginners or families, Lake Union is an ideal entry point, as it leads to both Lake Washington and Elliott Bay and has views of the Space Needle and the cityscape. Northwest Outdoor Center, on the lake’s eastern edge, rents kayaks by the hour.
Meanwhile, the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center (WAC) launches straight out to Union Bay Natural Area, a 74-acre habitat that’s home to more than 200 bird species. From the dock, you can paddle through protected waterways to the Washington Park Arboretum, a collection of ecogeographic and seasonal gardens. The university offers affordable kayak, double-kayak, and canoe rentals from May to the end of September.
Getting There: The WAC is a five-minute walk from the University of Washington’s Link light-rail station and a series of public buses.