If there were ever a state sport of Washington, hiking would be it. The state is blessed with hundreds of miles of beautiful trails; Mt. Rainier National Park alone has enough to keep you busy (and awestruck) for months. If hiking is a high priority for you, and if you have more than a few days in town, your best bet is to grab a hiking book or check out the sites www.wta.org and www.cooltrails.com, rent a car, and head out to the Olympics or east to the Cascades. If you have to stay close to the city, don't despair: there are many beautiful walks within town and many gratifying hikes only an hour away.
Within Seattle city limits, the best nature trails can be found in Discovery Park, Lincoln Park, Seward Park, and at the Washington Park Arboretum.
Walking the Burke-Gilman Trail from Fremont to its midway point at Matthews Beach Park (north of the U-District) would take several hours and cover more than 7 miles. You'll get a good glimpse of all sides of Seattle; the trail winds through both urban areas and leafier residential areas, and the first part of the walk takes you right along the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
Bridle Trails State Park. Though most of the travelers on the trails in this Bellevue park are on horseback, the 28 miles of paths are popular with hikers, too. The 482-acre park consists mostly of lowland forest, with Douglas firs, big-leaf maples, mushrooms, and abundant birdlife being just a few of its features. Note that horses are given the right-of-way on all trails; if you encounter riders, stop and stand to the side until the horses pass. Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, Washington, 98033. Daily 8 am–dusk.
Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. This spectacular park in the "Issaquah Alps" has more than 36 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of bridle trails within its 3,000-plus acres. The Indian Trail, believed to date back 8,000 years, was part of a trade route that Native Americans used to reach North Bend and the Cascades. Thick pine forests rise to spectacular mountaintop views; there are waterfalls, deep caves, and the remnants of a former mining town. Local residents include deer, black bears, bobcats, bald eagles, and pileated woodpeckers, among many other woodland creatures. 18201 S.E. Cougar Mountain Dr., Issaquah, Washington, 98027. Daily 8 am–dusk.
Larrabee State Park. This favorite spot has two lakes, a coastline with tidal pools, and 15 miles of hiking trails. The Interurban Trail, which parallels an old railway line, is perfect for leisurely strolls or trail running. Head up Chuckanut Mountain to reach the lakes and to get great views of the San Juan Islands. 245 Chuckanut Dr., Bellingham, Washington, 98229.
Mt. Si. This thigh-buster is where mountaineers train to climb grueling Mt. Rainier. Mt. Si offers a challenging hike with views of a valley (slightly marred by the suburbs) and the Olympic Mountains in the distance. The main trail to Haystack Basin, 8 miles round-trip, climbs some 4,000 vertical feet, but there are several obvious places to rest or turn around if you'd like to keep the hike to 3 or 4 miles. Note that solitude is in short supply here—this is an extremely popular trail thanks to its proximity to Seattle. On the bright side, it's one of the best places to witness the local hikers and trail runners in all their weird and wonderful splendor. North Bend, Washington, 98045. www.mountsi.com.
Snow Lake. Washington State's most popular wilderness trail may be crowded at times, but the scenery and convenience of this hike make it a classic. Though very rocky in stretches—you’ll want to wear sturdy shoes—the 8-mile round-trip sports a relatively modest 1,300-foot elevation gain; the views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are well worth the sweat. The glimmering waters of Snow Lake await hikers at the trail's end; summer visitors will find abundant wildflowers, huckleberries, and wild birds. Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, 98068. www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/snow-lake-1.