Lake Union Loop
Walk around Lake Union on the Cheshiahud Trail
Hike Length: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
Hike Difficulty: moderate
Map: Seattle street map
The 6 mile loop hike around Lake Union is destined to become an urban classic. The City of Seattle has named the route after Cheshiahud, a chief of the Duwamish Tribe who guided settlers to Lake Union in the late 1800's. The lake remains an major aquatic destination today. Boat lovers, your ship has come in with this hike! All kinds of watercraft are to be seen here, from dinghies to large ocean-going ships. Also, you can take a peek at neighborhoods of Seattle's famous houseboats that ride the swells of Lake Union. The route avoids most busy streets using a combination of boardwalks, alleys, driveways, and minor streets. Numerous "street end parks", green spaces built where streets end at the lake shore, provide places to take a break. The vista of downtown Seattle from Gasworks Park is one of the best in the area.
Gasworks Park on Lake Union (photo by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)
Buses travel on all sides of Lake Union. From downtown Seattle, you can take the newest form of transportation in the area, the Seattle Streetcar. Get off at the Valley Street stop near the Center for Wooden Boats.
A counter-clockwise itinerary is suggested here for no good reason. The route is now fairly well marked with signs. From the streetcar stop on Valley, head right (east). Take the time to visit the Center for Wooden Boats, a fascinating working museum where the art and craft of wooden boat building and repair is kept alive.
From here, the walking route passes a row of highbrow and lowbrow waterside restaurants (notably a Hooters). You can walk on boardwalks next to the water in this area. Beyond the restaurant row, you must walk along busy Fairview, but only briefly. A section of floating boardwalk (the Fairview Walkway) takes you near the water for a bit.
After the boardwalk, Fairview turns north and becomes a quiet minor street. You pass a NOAA facility where large ships are docked, then enter a residential area. A flotilla of Seattle's famous, quirky houseboats occupies much of the shore of the lake here.
At Roanoke, the walking route is forced away from the shore by a condo development. The route weaves through various streets and alleys; fortunately signs direct you through this confusing stretch. Soon the waterfront walking resumes on another intact piece of Fairview Avenue.
The looming structure of the I-5 Ship Canal bridge greets you as you approach the north end of Lake Union. The walking route passes underneath the bridge, then crosses the lake on the University Bridge. At the north end of the bridge, walk down steps to the shoulder of 40th street. Cross the street and walk underneath the University Bridge, where there is an ugly piece of public art called the "Wall of Death" and the paved Burke-Gilman Trail, a popular bike and walking route.
Here, you have a choice of following the Burke-Gilman westward or walking down to the shore of Lake Union by Northlake Way. Walking along Northlake Way is problematic due to poor sidewalks and heavy traffic, but you get to visit another pocket park underneath the Ship Canal Bridge and Ivar's Salmon House's popular Fish Bar--a good place to get a snack.
Houseboats on Lake Union (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
At Latona Street begins a continuous walkway on the right side of Northlake Way, although the path is poorly maintained and a bit scruffy. If you walked the Burke-Gilman path to this point, you can (if you want) descend to the lake at Latona. Both the scruffy walkway and the Burke-Gilman Trail eventually lead to Gas Works Park, the largest park on the loop. The rusty remains of the old gasworks forms a dramatic centerpiece in the park's great expanse of lawn. Be sure to explore a bit here; the view of downtown Seattle is incredible from the waterfront trail and atop the Kite Hill.
Continue walking along Northlake Way west of Gasworks Park, passing a number of working boatyards and nautical businesses on the lake shore. The route along Northlake passes under the steel arch of the Aurora Bridge, where it rejoins the Burke-Gilman Trail by an office park. Here, look for an attractive stairway that leads up to the intersection of Fremont and 34th Street in the heart of the trendy Fremont business district. This is a good place to find a bite to eat if you are hungry.
Otherwise continue along the Burke-Gilman Trail until you reach the Fremont Bridge, and climb the steel stairway to the bridge deck.
Cross the Fremont Bridge to continue the hike. At the south end of the bridge, descend steps to a waterside driveway next to a row of funky homes. Soon the driveway smoothly transitions to a wide walkway that travels along a continuous strip of waterfront businesses and restaurants. Nearby Westlake Avenue is busy but it is well-separated from your path by parking lots and landscaping.
This well-groomed sidewalk, popular with joggers and walkers, takes you all the way to the south end of Lake Union. At Lake Union Park, you can cross Waterway 3 on a pedestrian bridge. Explore the expanse of Lake Union Park, then continue on to the Center for Wooden Boats, where the loop hike ends.
South Lake Union Trolley (photo from wikimedia commons)
From Valley, take the Seattle Streetcar back to downtown Seattle.