Both a major urban oasis and a launching point for an adventure, Seattle, and the neighboring regions offer endless chances to slip into the great outdoors and experience the range of excursions the area is famous for. With Seattle’s collection of hikes, aerial thrills, water activities, and much more, there are plenty of ways to piece together a spectacular journey that will capture the upside of the U.S.’s extraordinary Pacific Northwest. Consider these options if you’re headed to the Emerald City looking for thrills.
Kayaking Lake Union and/or the Lakes-to-Locks Water Trail.
Nestled in between Queen Anne and Eastlake, with stunning views of downtown, Lake Union is a water lover’s paradise regularly filled with boats of all types, paddleboards, waterplanes, jet skis, and more. It’s also a haven for kayakers of any experience level, offering excursions for both the ambitious and those looking for a leisurely day of sightseeing. With plenty of places to rent gear right at the shore, getting onto the lake is extremely easy, and there are shelters all around the lake for kayakers and paddleboarders to take a breather. While the views are great at every point of the lake, many visitors end up at the 20-acre Gas Works Park at the north end, where you get rare glimpses of the city. For those staying closer to beautiful West Seattle, you can also get terrific cityscape views by hitting the waters outside Alki Beach.
For the more adventurous kayakers, Seattle has the Lakes-to-Locks Trail. Starting in Lake Sammamish in eastern Seattle and traveling through Lake Washington and Lake Union, the trail doesn’t end until it meets the salt water of the Puget Sound in the northwestern part of the city. With about 100 different designated stops along the way, kayakers glide along the beautiful Sammamish River, through Portage Bay off Lake Washington, and right past the highlights of Lake Union all the way to the Ballard Locks at the western end of the trail. Although undoubtedly a workout and only for those committed to a long day of kayaking, the water trail is one of the very best ways to not only see the city but witness first-hand just how vital Seattle’s waterways are to the area.
However you choose to get out onto the water, no aquatic enthusiast should miss the opportunity to see why Seattle is one of the best cities in the U.S. for boating and water activities.
Those looking to take the thrills to the next level also have a perfect day trip awaiting an hour north of Seattle on the Skykomish River. Locally known as just “The Sky,” the river has enough white water to get the adrenaline-pumping, and you can experience it on a single kayak or on a raft as part of a tour.
Hike the gorgeous vistas of Mt. Pilchuck.
There are easier hikes in the area than the one that takes you up Mt. Pilchuck, but there’s a reason why it has turned into one of the most popular spots near Seattle for weekend warriors. Just a little more than five miles roundtrip, the Mt. Pilchuck hike has it all, from views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula to some of the best opportunities to gaze at Mt. Rainier. After a moderately strenuous climb, hikers arrive at a lookout cabin that’s about 5,300 feet above sea level, which provides an immaculate view of the North Cascades and sprawling green regions north of Seattle.
About an hour north of downtown, Mt. Pilchuck is known for being very popular with both locals and visitors, which is why getting an early start to the day is definitely recommended. While the motivated, early-day adventurers enjoy mostly clear pathways and plenty of elbow room at the top, anyone hiking toward the middle of the day (especially on a summer weekend) will have more than enough fellow hikers to keep you company. Even with its status as a significant attraction, Mt. Pilchuck is a hot spot that is indeed worth the hype.
For hikers who might be a little intimidated by Pilchuck, there is no shortage of other options that provide a window to Seattle’s iconic views without a steep climb. The Snoqualmie Pass of Rattlesnake Ledge, a little more than a half-hour east of Seattle, is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser that takes hikers on a gentle climb through thick forests to Rattlesnake Lake, which is an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon having a picnic or swimming (during the summer months). For a coastal hike, Ebey’s Landing takes visitors through the serene coast of Whidbey Island, where you can see a spread of animal life that typically includes seals, sea lions, eagles, and more. Meanwhile, the White River entrance of Mt. Rainier is also the gateway to a terrific hike, although it is on the challenging end with a round trip of more than eight miles as hikers pick through meadows of wildflowers, forests, and mountain passes.
Get a bird’s eye view of Mt. Rainier and Seattle area in a hot-air balloon.
Good luck trying to top the views you’ll soak up from high above the Seattle landscape in a hot-air balloon, as passengers will drift by rich blue lakes and rivers, the great lush greenery, and the snow-capped Mt. Rainier that hovers over the entire region. As long as you’re not deathly afraid of heights, a balloon ride can be a romantic or family-friendly adventure that is particularly great for the early portion of a Seattle trip. As you gain your bearings and get a feel for the region’s geography, travelers can expect to go nearly a mile up in the air, although the top balloon operations also advertise their ability to come down and skim the waters of local landmarks like Lake Tapps or Green River.
The experience can also easily slide into other plans you might have for the day, with balloon rides typically lasting about an hour and usually taking off around sunrise or a couple hours before sunset. Although hot-air balloons operate throughout most of the year, they can be particularly awe-inspiring in late summer or during the early part of the fall just as Seattle’s famous foliage begins to peek out. The glimpses of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding national park are also unparalleled, with some companies offering routes that take passengers right up close to the 14,000-foot beauty that dominates the landscape just south of Seattle.
Weather and planning tips.
Seattle is renowned for being the perfect summer city when it comes to adventurous activities, making the window from mid-June to the early part of September the peak part of the year for visitors. Although you’ll have plenty of fellow travelers at your side during this time, you’ll also experience Seattle’s warm (but not typically hot) summer weather and skip the oft-rainy late-fall and winter.
If you’re heading to Seattle outside of the summer, you’ll still be able to try your hand at most of the major outdoor features in the area. But even though you can still hike Mt. Pilchuck in the dead of winter, you will want to check in with the on-duty ranger to make sure the path is still passable on a given day. While there is still plenty to do in the city and surrounding region when the weather isn’t great, you will want to have a plan B if you end up with the proverbial rainy day Seattle is sometimes known for.