Activities in Seattle

Often referred to as the ‘Emerald City’ thanks to the lush evergreen forests nearby, Seattle’s sobriquet is no tourist-brochure euphemism. Bears and cougars have been sighted in the city’s rugged Discovery Park, fleece-wearing diners fresh from kayaking trips show up in downtown restaurants, and on clear days from numerous vantage points, Mt Rainier, a 14,411ft glacier-encrusted volcano, appears so close it feels as if you could almost touch it. No wonder such a high proportion of Seattleites choose to ignore manic East Coast work ethics and regularly escape into their ‘backyard’ for a dose of the great outdoors.

On your bike

Cycling in Seattle is one of the most instantaneous ways for visitors to fend off museum claustrophobia and get some fresh gulps of Pacific Northwestern air. Fortunately, with the inauguration of Seattle’s bike-sharing scheme, Pronto (prontocycleshare.com) in 2014, getting about on two wheels has become a lot easier. Intended more as city hoppers than zippy racers, Pronto’s new seven-gear bikes available from 54 city-wide docking stations are adept enough to get you out of downtown and enjoy a brief taste of Seattle’s finest greenway, the Burke Gilman trail. Check out our guide to Pronto for more info.

Stretching 21 miles from the shores of Lake Washington to Puget Sound, the Burke-Gilman follows the course of an old disused railway line. Along the way it meanders past moored houseboats, weird urban sculpture and numerous green oases. If you’ve only got time for one stop, hit the brakes in Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union, a windy promontory popular with kite-flyers where a rusting coal plant was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To enjoy the trail in its entirety, you’ll need to swap your short-loan Pronto bike for a more flexible day-rental. Dutch Bike Co in Ballard rents well-appointed, two-wheeled machines from $45 a day. The shop, which also pedals pastries from an adjacent cafe, is strategically located in Ballard at the west end of the Burke-Gilman trail close to Hiram M Chittenden Locks, where lush botanical gardens overlook the point at which Puget Sound’s seawater meets the freshwater of Lake Union. Here you can watch a merry array of working boats as they negotiate the lock system, or disappear underneath to see salmon wriggling up an ingenious fish ladder. Cycle two miles further west and you’ll end up inGolden Gardens Park, well-known for its Bloody Mary sunsets framed by ghostly silhouettes of the Olympic Mountains.

Wild parks

City parks are usually carefully configured urban playgrounds where well-manicured flower beds vie with lawns, ornamental lakes and rock gardens. Offering a more feral alternative, Seattle’s parks bring pockets of uncultivated Cascade Mountain beauty inside city limits. Forget swings and tennis courts, and prepare instead for old growth forest, interchanging ecosystems and – on occasions – wild animals.

Several years ago, a ‘lost’ black bear and a roaming cougar were spotted in the vicinity of Discovery Park, Seattle’s largest green space that abuts the hilly neighborhood of Magnolia. Spread across 534 acres, Discovery Park is one of North America’s most impressive urban regeneration and was created in 1973 on the grounds of an old military installation. Guarding several miles of Puget Sound coastline, the park’s untended landscapes fold from meadows to woodland to ocean bluffs to beaches. Its biodiversity is accentuated by the presence of an astounding 270 species of bird, including owls, humming birds and grebes.

Another notable green space is 300-acre Seward Park, which inhabits a broad nodule of land that protrudes into Lake Washington. As well as supporting nesting bald eagles and a lakeside perimeter trail, Seward shelters a small but precious tract of old-growth forest. Although its 250-year-old hemlocks, cedars and Douglas firs might not be as old as the leafy behemoths on the nearby Olympic peninsula, they’re ancient monuments compared to Seattle’s man-made wonders.