Paddling the Northwest Passage

Seattle offers waterways for experienced kayakers and novices alike.
By Erika Dillman
  |  Gorp.com
Among the San Juan Islands

Try driving almost any direction out of downtown Seattle, and you'll soon realize how the Emerald City got so green. Water. Everywhere. Puget Sound to the west, Lake Washington to the east, Lake Union and the ship canals to the north. While all these waterways can create headaches for Seattle drivers, they offer a paradise for watersports fans, especially kayakers.

September is the perfect month to visit Seattle because the weather is warm and sunny, the summer tourists have gone home, and the city and its waters are uncrowded. One place to explore is Lake Union, a fresh water lake just minutes from downtown that boasts a community of hundreds of houseboats, plus an unbeatable view of the Seattle skyline.

If flora and fauna are more your style, you need only paddle a few miles to see the jumping fish, turtles, and other marine life that flourish in the city's lakes. And if you get waterlogged, the parks dotting Seattle's waterways offer trails for biking and in line skating. There are many different options for a weekend of paddling, but here are a few suggestions to start your planning.

Friday
Start your weekend off with a moonlight kayak tour of the city, run by Seattle's only floating kayak center, the Northwest Outdoor Center (NWOC) on Lake Union. Have an early dinner (don't eat too much or you may feel uncomfortable on the long paddle), and then take a short cab ride or bus ride from downtown to NWOC for an 8 p.m. departure (tour departs at 5:30 p.m. beginning in September). You'll paddle across Lake Union, with its view of the city skyline, then north alongside Gasworks Park as you go under the I-5 bridge. The tour continues through Portage Bay and Montlake Cut, and ends at the Arboretum, where you'll get a back side view of the city after hours. An NWOC-provided flashlight lets you spot turtles, fish, and other nocturnal wildlife along the way. The journey takes three hours.

If you prefer a shorter introduction, take one of Argosy Cruises' hour-long boat jaunts around Elliott Bay for a look at the Seattle Aquarium, the Space Needle, the shipyards, Pioneer Square and a spectacular view of the evening skyline. Afterwards, you can explore Pike Place Market, and dine at the Pink Door. Argosy Cruises' boat tours leave from Pier 55 at several times throughout the day during June through September; last tour of the day begins at 5:15 p.m.

Saturday
If you opt to stay close to Seattle, put in at Lake Union, head west under Fremont Bridge and paddle on down the canal to the Ballard Locks. Weekend traffic at the locks can be very heavy; you may end up waiting for as much as two hours. In the meantime, have a picnic in the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens and watch the sea lions that play at the entrance of the locks. Once through the locks, paddle towards Salmon Bay, then north toward Shilshole Bay and Golden Gardens Park. For a grand finale, enjoy the sunset behind the Olympic Mountains. The whole trip takes six to seven hours.

If you choose to head north, sea-kayak around Fidalgo Island, the launching point for the San Juan islands. If you're lucky, you might see a pod of orcas. Other creatures to look for include river otters, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and deer. There are also launching areas in Washington Park and Bowman Bay.

Sunday
If you're an experienced kayaker, you may want to get up early and paddle west along the canal out to Salmon Bay, then head south toward Elliott Bay and explore Seattle's waterfront. The ships' wakes and the roughish water make this six- to -seven hour trip a real workout. For a calmer ride, paddle to the Arboretum and Lake Washington, where you'll see lily pads, marsh grasses and weeping willows. If your arms need a break, walk, bike, or skate along the edge of Lake Washington or beside Elliott Bay through Myrtle Edwards Park.

Originally printed in Women's Sports & Fitness Magazine, 1994.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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