Connecting the Trails – A walk through Seattle’s Suburban Neighborhoods

The Long Walk

Connecting the Trails

(A walk from Port Townsend to Carnation through Seattle’s suburban neighborhoods)

Fort Casey, Washington
Admiralty Inlet marks the mouth of the Puget Sound and as such was strategically important in the maritime defense of the region.

When I planned my route through Washington State, there were sections of the walk that raised questions that seemed to have no answer. The logistics of connecting The Olympic Discovery Trail with The Snoqualmie Valley Trail was one of those sections.

The biggest challenge in planning was finding lodging. Whidbey Island has good roads, but infrequent lodging – especially since the South Whidbey State Park closed its camping area due to tree disease.

Similarly, locating lodging at Duvall, the beginning of the Snoqualmie Valley trail proved problematic.

Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, Washington
The Admiralty Head Lighthouse in Fort Casey, Washington

Ultimately I solved my lodging problem in Duvall by rerouting myself through Kirkland.  The Whidbey Island problem was more difficult.  There were hotels in Freeland but I couldn’t find one that would allow dogs to stay which meant Bonnie and I couldn’t stay

As I explored the wind-swept hills of Fort Casey (first-come-first-served hiker and biker spots are available) at the Coupeville ferry port on Whidbey Island, those questions still had no answer. The only thing to do was to begin walking and see what the day might bring.

 

Day 1 – Fort Casey to Freeland

Fort Casey, Washington
Fort Casey was one of three forts strategically placed to defend the entrance to the Puget Sound.

Distance: 16.5 miles

Wildlife Seen: Several very friendly deer, and a pair of nesting bald eagles

Trails: None

Whidbey Island, Washington
My road crossed the Keystone Spit – a 2-mile stretch of land separating Admiralty Inlet and Crocket Lake

The first couple of miles led my dog, Bonnie and I across the swampy grass flats of crocket lake.  The low, forested hills of Coupeville rose just beyond the lake painting a lovely backdrop of forest greens for the golds and blues of the lake and grasslands.

A trail followed the coast near highway 20, but the soft sand proved tough walking. I decided to walk the road instead.

When we reached the end of the lake, the road led through the quiet community of Keystone. Bonnie and I paused to watch a woman, still in her pajamas, feed apples to a couple of deer from her front porch.  We wished good morning to a young couple who stood on the sidewalk chatting with one of their neighbors as they pushed a stroller with a sleeping infant back and forth.  Then we crested the hill and began the long walk along highway 525.

Whidbey Island, Washington
Much of Whidbey Island is forested or farmed.

Highway 525 followed the crest of the range of hills that runs along Whidbey Island.  Evergreen forests lined both sides of the road. From time to time, a small country road provided a glimpse of the blue waters of the Puget Sound.  Here we spotted an eagle’s nest perched high above the road on a cell tower.  A bald eagles circled the nest, eventually landing in it.

The shoulder along 525 was wide, and made safe, if traffic-y walking.   Beyond trees, there wasn’t a lot to see as I walked along. As I neared Freeland, I began looking for a place to stay. The town’s hotels don’t accept pets and there is no camping on this part of the island.  I consulted my map, and decided to walk up by the park. At the bay, Bonnie and I stopped for a snack and to rest our feet in the waters of the bay.

“How wonderful life is when You’re in the world” reflectors hang from a Whidbey Island mailbox – a talisman against accidents

While we were there an older man backed his boat trailer up to the boat ramp.  We chatted for a while about where I was going and then I asked if he knew of a place where I could pitch my tent of the night.

“You know, I’m not from here, but my brother in law probably knows – here he  comes now.”

His brother in law told me that he owned a garage just up the street where they stored their boat.

“It looks like a big, green Noah’s Arc.  Just set up your tent there, no one will bother you.”

I thanked him and walked up the street to camp for the night – grateful for the generosity of a local boat owner.

 

Day 2 – Freeland to Everett

Whidbey Island, Washington

Distance: 17.5 miles

Wildlife: Deer of Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island, Washington
Meadows, forests, and farmland played on repeat even though we were moving slowly

I woke early the next morning to begin the walk to Clinton. That section of walk was unremarkable.  Meadows, forests, and farmland played on repeat even though we were moving slowly.

We stopped for a snack in Clinton before getting on the Ferry to Mukilteo.

The second half of the day was remarkable, surprising, and slightly bizarre.  After admiring the view from the beach in Mukilteo for a while, and then stopping at a dog park we passed, Bonnie and I continued along Mukilteo Boulevard.  Just as we reached the top of the hill, a car honked and pulled over into the side street in front of us.

“Hey! How are you?!” A tall, dark haired man said from the driver’s seat.  “We camped with you the other day up at Fort Casey!”

It took me a moment to remember which campground was fort casey.  When I the whiskey island park to mind, I remembered the beautiful baby girl who came by the hiker-biker sites to meet Bonnie.  I also remembered this family for being one of the few groups camping with tents. In a campground filled with families in RV’s, tent campers were remarkable.

We continued along Mukilteo Boulevard.  The street we were to turn on looked like a major road, but when we reached it  there was a DEAD END sign posted on it.  I re-examined the map, it showed, not a road, not a street, but some kind of foot path leading off of the end of this street.  To make matters worse, the street climbed an impossibly steep hill.

Mukilteo, Washington
The Mukilteo Lighthouse

Sweat poured down my face as I climbed the steep street.  About half-way up I met two women out for a walk. I asked them about the path and they assured me it was there.  What they didn’t tell me was that it was a tiny footpath through the woods with a steep drop into (and climb out of) a gully.

Bonnie and I spent twenty minutes leaping blackberry brambles and ploughing through ferns in the little urban forest before we finally emerged in the middle of Everett’s industrial zone.

Bonnie and I walked another three miles along factory-lined streets before we finally reached the Motel 6 that was to be our stop for the night.

 

Day 3 – Everett to Kirkland

Distance: 19 Miles

Wildlife: None

Trails: North Creek Trail

Some days feel like a hundred very different days all wrapped into a single twenty four hour period.  When you look back on them, you can’t imagine all of those things or those places happening during the same day.  The day I walked from Everett to Kirkland was exactly that kind of day.

It started out well enough – a cool morning walk along the streets of Everett. There were sidewalks and crosswalks and little conveniences stores that looked older than the streets they lined.

North Creek Trail

At McCollum Park I joined the North Creek Trail. The trail was a bit of a surprise for me.  The Seattle area has one of the nations most intricate networks of trails, but system maps are not always easy to find. When I changed my route from Duvall to Kirkland in order to arrange for accommodation, I didn’t initially see any trails that would connect Everett with Kirkland.

Clearly I was wrong. The North Creek Trail will eventually do just that, and even now runs for many miles parallel to the roads I took from Everett Through Bothell and into Kirkland.

North Creek Trail, Washington
The North Creek Trail, Bothell, Washington

The trail was quiet, forested, and paved.  There were several groups of locals out enjoying the day.  When the trail dropped us in the bustling center of Mill Creek, Bonnie and I stopped at the Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a book before continuing on our way.

 

The North Creek Boardwalk
The North Creek Boardwalk

After Mill Creek the trail changed to a plank path through a marsh.  The day turned hot and humid. The boardwalk was exposed offering no protection from the heat. Before long, Bonnie was crawling into any shade she could find to try and escape the heat.  At the end of the trail we took another break in a covered picnic area at a local park.  Even though trail information shows that the trail continues, we couldn’t find the next trail entrance, so we returned to the roads and walked along a miserable highway fringed with car dealerships and mini storage places.  A wise man I know calls these stretches of suburban blight”miracle miles” – the economic miracles that seem to exist in every town.

After what felt like endless miles of high-speed, five-lane highway we at last came to a strip mall. The facility came complete with the all-American staples of grocery stores, beauty parlors and fast food restaurants.  Bonnie and I were both hot and tired.  We stopped in the shade of the strip mall for a rest.  We stayed until the sun moved and stole our shade.  Then we moved on.

Bonnie made it pretty clear that she was done.  We would walk a mile and then she’d lay down in the shade.  Then we walked another mile and she would lay down again. Mile by agonizingly slow mile, we worked our way to downtown Bothell.

From there I made the choice to take the shorter distance through the hilly suburban streets rather than the more pleasant (but much longer) route along Seattle’s Burke-Gillman Trail. We climbed the quiet hills passing tree-shaded homes that walk the line between rural and suburban.  When we came to a quiet  woody park, Google maps directed us to take a tiny-disused trail.

I saw some other dog walkers at the front of the trail.  “Do you know where this path leads?” I asked the dog walkers.

“We have no idea, we’ve never gone up there,” they told me.  This response wasn’t encouraging. My alternative, though, added several miles to an already long walk, so I decided to go on a google maps adventure.

The crumbling road eventually turned dirt footpath. The trail led through the woods to the back gate of an apartment complex. We wound through the complex and emerged on a commercial street a mile and a half from our Kirkland motel.

Exhausted and footsore, we finally reached the hotel at 7pm. I was pretty sure we would need a day to recover from the exertion. I paid for two nights and we rested.

 

Day 4 – Kirkland to Carnation

Snoqualmie Valley, Washington
The Snoqualmie Valley is a fertile farming region just a short drive from Seattle

Distance: 18 Miles

Wildlife Seen: A doe, Several dead snakes, a dead frog and a beautiful black show-horse that trotted away in the most handsome manner (totally pretentious for a west-coast horse).

Trails: Redmond Powerline Trail (AKA Puget Power Trail and PPE)

We left our hotel is Kirkland shortly before 7 am under a low, gray, Pacific Northwest sky.  NE 124th Street (not to be confused with NE 124th Avenue which intersects NE124th Street but goes somewhere completely different) quickly ran out of tax preparers, car dealerships and sidewalks and right into the countryside complete with field workers and soggy fields.

Kirkland, Washington
Just moments from Kirkland, the landscape transforms from big box stores to fertile farmland

Then, as if the bony fingers of city living were stretching out and grasping at the whisps of countryside within her grasp, we found ourselves crossing the eerily new suburbs of Redmond.

Perfectly landscaped houses lined the elegantly curved streets of the new suburb.  Each house had it’s own classic earth-tone coloring.   At the bottom of the hill, the landscape transformed from a suburban dream into a rural utopia.  The road narrowed and small horse farms replaced suburban homes.  Chestnut coats glistened and shone agains the dull green grass of the pastures.

Redmond, Washington
The PSE Powerline Trail stretches just over 8 miles and is open for non motorized use

Another turn brought me to the Redmond Powerline Trail.  Sometimes called the PPE or the Puget Power Trail, This dirt trail trail led me over the hills from the horse farms of to the farm country of the Snoqualmie Valley.

In retrospect, I probably should have walked the extra two miles to get on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail right away.  Instead, I walked the busy, and shoulder-less country highway before turning into the quiet roads by Carnation Farms. The last miles to Carnation’s Tolt Macdonald Park were quiet and idyllic, and the park itself offered a quiet night’s rest just a short distance from the friendly Trail Town of Carnation.

All of the questions I had about connecting the trails (here’s a link to a map of Seattle’s trails) – the Olympic Discovery Trail and the Snoqualmie Valley trail turned out well. Generous and friendly people as well as a route change from Duvall to Kirkland eased questions of accommodation and the unexpected trails made the route more enjoyable.

Next Stop: North Bend, Rattlesnake Lake, and the beginning of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

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