Exploring Seattle's Award-Winning Bike Network

An Improvised Trip From Seattle to Olalla

TIL: The Greater Seattle Area has an amazing bike network! When paired with the excellence of Google Maps' bike routing, DIY-ers can create a "supported ride" experience on a whim.

Our #1-Rated Trail Network

I had a free weekend and wanted to get away to one of my dad's mini-cabins, and how better to travel to a cabin in the woods than by bike? I expected to have a couple nice trails, but mostly be back-road or inner-city riding.

Well, check out the density of green or dotted-green around the sound! When I first saw this I figured it was mostly bike lanes and sharrows unless I wanted to opt for the ferry, but the dark green is paved non-motorized paths, and there are a lot!

This might be old news to the people advocating for trails in the greater Seattle area, but it's news to me, and seemed to be news to the bikers I've been talking to afterwards.

This is the gist of the trip from Seattle to Olalla. The details aren't necessarily interesting, but what is interesting is how much of it is non-motor trails:

  • Bike to the Green River Trail from my apartment (7.3mi)
  • Ride the Green River Trail to the Interurban Trail (6.7mi)
  • Ride the Interurban Trail all the way through Auburn (12.8mi)
  • Hop over to Puyallup* (8mi) and take the Puyallup River Trail (1.7mi) and River Rd* (4.6mi) into Tacoma
  • Go through Tacoma proper a bit to the Scott Pierson Trail (3.1mi)
  • Take the Scott Pierson Trail through Tacoma and over The Narrows (7.0mi)
  • Take the Cushman Trail all the way through all the major features of Gig Harbor (first Olympic Village, then follows the highway all the way to the Borgen shopping center in north Gig Harbor; 6.2mi)
  • In my case, finish the ride to my dad's place on back roads with good shoulders (~3mi)

Total Miles: 60.4
Miles on super fun, non-motor trails: 34.4
Miles on bike friendly motorways: 13.4
Miles on meh, ok motorways (basically Sumner): 4.0
Miles I was situationally uncomfortable on*: 9.0

The "supported ride" feel

Since I had no idea what to expect (and to practice my "survivor man") I packed misc food, four water bottles, a lightweight water filtering system, an ultralight stove, two MREs, and printed all my directions. I also brought a 20,000mAh battery pack with me so I could make sure I had plenty of juice if I had to plan a return trip via public transportation.

In reality... that was overkill by a lot. Almost the whole trip takes place blocks from major food chains and public transportation lines. I didn't plan my stops ahead of time, and stopped for food at places I could have thrown a rock at from the trail. I rode right by a couple buses and a train headed north, so if I needed to turn around I could have took a long walk or cheap taxi to a train or bus. This is perfect for a "first ride of the season" or spontaneous travel urge. The only part I would not have wanted to break down on was the River Road section, but that's not bad at all for a worst-case scenario.

A Ride Report

Packing practice
(aka, over-prepared)

It was awesome to bike through the southern parts of the greater Seattle area. Previously my only exposure was I-5 at 60mph; at 15mph, you feel more connected to the supporting areas of your home city. Plus, how cool is it that we have such a great bike network to explore it with?

The Green River Trail was winding with good woods; the Interurban Trail was a smooth, gently rolling track enabling a personally high speed of 20mph; the Scott Pierson Trail was a lot of fun, probably because it was a winding downhill, in the dark, and surrounded by the city lights.

Nighttime riding over the new Narrows Bridge was the highlight of my trip. Speeding across a void of black space, into oncoming lights, opposed by a strong crosswind for great dramatic effect... it could only be more Pacific Northwest with a light rain. If you don't find presence there, you won't find it anywhere!

The rest of the ride was pretty standard for the area (that's a compliment!). Winding woodland, rolling hills, and crazy loud crickets, all framed by intermittent views of the Cascades looming in the distance.

My roadside attractions & pit stops:

  • Beacon Hill Food Forest
  • Choice of: Arby's, Taco Bell, or Jack in the Box, a stone's throw from the start of the main Interurban Trail stretch, which is a great (er, convenient) way to fuel up for this "bike highway" leg of the trip.
  • Tacoma's Freighthouse Square
  • Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Situationally uncomfortable roadways

  • The jump from the Interurban trail to Puyallup is on a posted 30mph shared lane, but is winding (so double-yellow lanes) with no shoulder for about 4 miles. I'd do it again myself since one cyclist is easy enough to pass, but if I had a larger group I'd find a different route through there if possible.
  • The route from Puyallup to Tacoma is via River Road, which looks like a quaint river stretch on the map, but is 100% a freeway. It has a posted speed limit of 50mph, but I doubt anybody was doing 50. Yes, it does have a good sized shoulder, but I still don't like having cars, trucks, buses, etc whiz by. Since the visibility on the highway is great, I'm probably more likely to get doored in a Seattle bike lane, but still. No bueno.

Cool people

  • I kept passing & being passed by a couple biking from lower Queen Anne to Tacoma. "I'm not the only one!" is a good feeling! I finally lost them when I got a screw in my tire on River Road.
  • A guy in the Freighthouse Square started chatting about bikes, and wanted to double-check my route. He gave me a plan to avoided the Hilltop area, which is a must at night. Lots of drug-related shenanigans in that area.
  • A guy named Rick on the return-trip ferry chatted with me about biking during the whole ferry ride, and pointed me to some great resources & tricks. I especially like his idea of leaving a rubber band on your drops to wrap around your brake when you don't want it rolling. Thanks Rick! He also pointed me to Bike Works, where he volunteers on Sundays.