The Burke-Gilman Trail is a very long trail that loops around Washington Lake and offers a great way to explore Seattle on your bike. With most of it off-road, it makes for a relaxing ride with plenty of variety, and many opportunities to stop and enjoy the unique vibe of the city of Seattle. It is a former railroad right-of-way, and as such is quite flat, with not too many intersections. When these occur, they are well marked, with plenty of safety features. For example, some of those that don’t have traffic lights have Stop signs that start flashing when cyclists approach. We loved our bike rides on the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Details of the Burke-Gilman Trail
Surfaces: mixed, some paved, some trail
Difficulty level: suitable for adults, mainly off-road, but many traffic intersections that would not be suitable for unaccompanied children. You can cycle this trail with a minimal level of fitness, as it is mainly flat
Type of bike required: any kind
Suitable for: bikes, walking. Classified as multi-use
Congestion: can be quite busy during peak hours and in some locations. Quieter in the more rural areas
Length: 19.8 mi (31.9 km), with some gaps
Location: King County, Washington
Features: Largely safe and off-road. Benches along the way where you can stop and rest. At least one restaurant where you can see your bike from inside or from on the patio – St Helen’s Cafe. Passes by the University of Washington, the Google campus, Gas Works Parks, Lake Union, and many other notable points of interest
Video of the Burke-Gilman Bike Trail
Here is a video of the Burke-Gilman Bike Trail, showing some of the highlights. Notice how incredibly varied the terrain is, and how you go past so many interesting parts of Seattle.
Map of the Burke-Gilman Bike Trail
Some parts of the Burke-Gilman Trail are very quiet and rural; others get very busy and you have to cross over quite a number of roads. At those crossings there is sometimes a Stop sign and a big Trail Crossing sign over the road – at these, I found drivers almost always stop when they see cyclists. In general, we found motorists to be extremely polite to cyclists in Seattle. Other intersections have traffic lights.
Strava Map of the Burke-Gilman Trail
Here is a Strava Map of one ride that Maggie and I did on the Burke-Gilman trail:
There are of course multiple ways you can explore the trail, depending on how much time you have on hand, and what you feel like doing.
History of the Burke-Gilman Trail
The trail originated a long time ago. Ten men, led by judge Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman, founded the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway in 1885. At its peak, the line extended from the north of Seattle’s downtown to Arlington, and to Rattlesnake Prairie above Snoqualmie Falls. Northern Pacific Railway took over the line in 1890, and later abandoned the line in 1971. Then in 1978, 12 miles of it were opened as a public trail, and named after Burke and Gilman. This segment extended from the Gas Works Park to Tracy Owen Station.
Now the trail is twice as long, and still evolving. There is a notorious “missing link,” difficult to fill in because it passes through the industrial Salmon Bay waterfront, and local business people oppose it (now where have I heard that before!).
Fun Things to Do on the Burke-Gilman Trail
Riding along a bike trail is an excellent way to explore a new city. You are going slow enough to discover cool stuff, but fast enough to cover a lot of ground before exhaustion sets in.
On the Burke-Gilman bike trail we discovered the dramatic Gas Works Park, right next to the trail. This is a public park situated on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company. I found the old gas works machines quite breathtakingly awesome.
Just past the gas works park there is a great viewing point where you can enjoy a view of Lake Union, and downtown Seattle on the other side of the lake.
Along the Burke-Gilman Trail, close to Gas Works Park, we discovered the Fremont Brewing company, where we stopped for a couple of local ciders. Always doing our best to support local businesses!
The choices were overwhelming. And Fremont Brewing had clean washrooms – always welcome on a long bike ride. Oh, and their washrooms even had child changing tables, for anyone biking with kids.
Along the Burke-Gilman bike trail, we enjoyed delicious clams and friendly service at Saint Helen’s Café.
This cafe is situated directly on the trail, so it also offers the opportunity of parking your bikes within sight. In the photo below, our bikes are right behind us!
Cycling the Burke-Gilman Trail
The best thing about cycling the Burke-Gilman Trail is that it is clearly signposted all the way. So you do not lose your way, and suddenly find yourself in a parking lot, for example (which has happened to me many, many times). There are all kinds of signs on the Burke-Gilman Trail, including directional signs, and informational signs
One of the signs informs you that the Burke-Gilman Trail has been inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame!
Statue of Sri Chinmoy, Dreamer of World Peace
In Fremont, on the shores of Lake Union, we stopped to admire a bronze statue of Sri Chinmoy, Dreamer of World Peace, who was a life-long ambassador for peace and world harmony. It was sculpted by Kaivalya Torpy.
Sri Chinmoy visited Seattle 13 times; offered twice-weekly Peace Meditations at the UN for 37 years; wrote over 1,600 books of poetry and prose on peace; and composed 22,000 musical works, included a song celebrating Seattle. He promoted sports as a path to peace, especially favoring marathon running and weightlifting. In one exhibition he transcended himself completely by lifted a total of 200,873 pounds.
The plaque next to the statue of Sri Chinmoy exhorts you to “take a moment to hold the peace Torch and offer your goodwill to humanity.”
Although it is not mentioned, from the amount of work Sri Chinmoy got done, I am assuming that he never had any kids! Or even small dogs …
Bottom Line on the Burke-Gilman Trail
The Burke-Gilman Trail is a really great bike trail – safe, mainly flat, mainly off-road, very long, and well signposted. It offers an excellent way to spend a day exploring Seattle. Be sure to enjoy the Fremont Brewery and the Saint Helen’s Cafe along the way!