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Originally published February 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 28, 2008 at 7:03 AM


In praise of the paved paths in the Northwest

On the day I was going out with the Auburn Senior Activity Center hiking group, I awoke at 5 a.m. to the sound of a driving rain hammering...

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On the day I was going out with the Auburn Senior Activity Center hiking group, I awoke at 5 a.m. to the sound of a driving rain hammering my bedroom window. For a moment, I had a fuzzy hope that the group might cancel its six-mile outing, scheduled to start four hours later. Fat chance. This group has never canceled a trip, despite the season or weather. Although some walking/hiking groups adjourn for the winter, the Auburn Senior Activity Center schedules outings all year long.

Sure enough, a dozen congenial hikers showed up that morning on time on the Foothills Trail near Orting, smartly swathed in waterproof breathable outerwear. The rain was tapering off. So, seriously, they've never canceled a hike?

"Well, there was one time when we were hiking up at Paradise," said Lynn Martz, one of the members, "And boy, it was miserable! The rain was blowing horizontally! We finished one hike and then took a vote on whether to do another one. We decided to go get something to drink instead."

Long paved trails such as the Foothills Trail are great for winter and spring walks, since they're not prone to the mud that can muck up dirt and gravel trails during the rainy season. Although some of these longer trails are in urban areas, others run through the countryside and can provide important conservation corridors for wildlife. Two eagles landed in a tree near the Foothills Trail during our hike, and the only bear I've seen while hiking throughout King County crossed the paved Preston-Snoqualmie trail about 60 feet in front of me at dusk on another outing.

Pavement does have one drawback. Prolonged pounding on a hard surface is hard on your body. One member of the Auburn group, who once broke her foot and leg, walked on the dirt shoulder of the Foothills Trail for a while to give her body a rest. That night, I was sore enough myself to wish I'd worn thicker, more padded socks with my hiking shoes.

A boon for the disabled

But for those with more serious ailments, the smooth, hard surface of paved trails offers nothing but freedom. Davey Schmidt, who lives on the Olympic Peninsula near Sequim, was heavily involved in competitive sports until she eventually "destroyed my knees and back." She had spent a lot of time hiking and backpacking, and after she got a motorized mobility scooter, resumed checking out trails again.

"I realized then how important it was — and how hard it is — to get around. I became aware of what a need there was out there for information on accessible trails. Also, a trail can be called 'accessible,' but have a step or two or some other kind of barrier like rocks or grass or a gate on the way to the trail entrance."

Several years ago, using her background as a Web-based instructional designer, Schmidt began gathering information, checking out trails and creating a Web site,, that lists accessible trails throughout Washington. The site recently added trails in Oregon.

"It's amazing how many people e-mail and say they love the site — and it's not just people that have a disability, it's also baby boomers and walkers," said Schmidt.

Helpful information

The Puget Sound region is blessed with many trails that have long paved segments, many of which can be found on Schmidt's Web site and another accessible trails Web site produced by the state,


The following list notes 10 regional trails in the Puget Sound region with long paved portions. (Note that some trails have currently unpaved portions, with plans for paving or extending. Also, while other trails are completely paved, some have grades that do not meet ADA standards.)

Centennial Trail

Location: Snohomish to Lake Stevens to Arlington (with eventual extension to Skagit County).

Length: 17.5 miles.

Description: This trail was constructed on the original railroad right-of-way built by the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad (S.L. & E.) in 1889. Trail development began in 1989 during the state's centennial, hence its name. The S.L. & E. eventually connected Seattle northward with Canada and linked Everett eastward with Stevens Pass. To the south in King County, a section of this same abandoned line became Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail and King County's Sammamish River Trail.

Info: 800-562-4367, 425-388-6600 or

Interurban Trail (North)

Location: Everett to Lynnwood (plans for extension).

Length: 11.8 miles.

Description: This trail generally follows the route once used by the Seattle-Everett Interurban Railway, an electric rail system that ran from downtown Seattle to Everett from 1910 through 1939.

Info: 425-257-8300 or

Sammamish River Trail

Location: Bothell to Redmond.

Length: 10.9 miles.

Description: Starting at its intersection with the Burke-Gilman Trail near Blyth Park in Bothell, this trail runs along the Sammamish River from Bothell to Marymoor Park in Redmond as part of the "Locks to Lakes Corridor." Before the lowering of Lake Washington in 1917 due to the creation of the Ship Canal, the Sammamish River was navigable by small steamships, and it was possible to travel by boat from Issaquah to Seattle.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Preston-Snoqualmie Trail

Location: Preston to Snoqualmie.

Length: 6.5 miles.

Description: This trail within the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway was originally the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad Company (S.L. & E.) right-of-way. It was later purchased by the Northern Pacific and operated as a railroad line until the 1970s. From the Preston trailhead, the trail follows a forested ridge, then switchbacks steeply down to cross the Preston-Fall City Road (since the former railroad trestle no longer exists) and climbs out of the valley to a gentle grade with views of the Lower Snoqualmie River Valley. The trail ends with a long-distance view of the top of Snoqualmie Falls.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Cedar River Trail

Location: Renton to Landsburg.

Length: 17 miles.

Description: This trail follows the Cedar River upstream from where the river empties into Lake Washington through downtown Renton and east along Highway 169 (Maple Valley Highway) to the Landsburg dam at the edge of the City of Seattle's Cedar River Watershed. A Native American trading route once led through this valley over Naches Pass to Eastern Washington, and the trail follows a former rail line. Sockeye, chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout spawn in the Cedar River (great place to view sockeye in the fall).

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Soos Creek

Regional Trail

Location: Kent.

Length: 7.6 miles.

Description: This trail runs along the spine of Kent's East Hill through the wetland habitats of Soos Creek, alongside neighborhoods, forests and meadows. The creek's name comes from the Skopamish Indian name for a village once located where the stream joins the Green River to the south at Auburn. Although the land was once owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad, a rail line did not go through this area.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Green River Trail

Location: Seattle to Kent.

Length: 19.6 miles.

Description: This trail follows the Green River through industrial areas near the Duwamish Waterway past areas culturally important to the Duwamish people, then travels alongside office parks and meadows in the broad Kent Valley. The trail intersects the Interurban Trail in both Tukwila and Kent.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Interurban Trail (South)

Location: Tukwila to Pacific.

Length: 14.7 miles.

Description: This second trail down through the Kent Valley follows the former Interurban Rail Line, which ran between Seattle and Tacoma from 1902 to 1928. The trail begins at an intersection with the Green River Trail in Tukwila, and heads straight south within the Puget Sound Energy power line corridor, passing near Southcenter, Emerald Downs and the SuperMall in Auburn.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Foothills Trail

Location: Puyallup to Orting to South Prairie (several extensions planned).

Length: 15 miles.

Description: This trail is a former Burlington Northern Railway railbed that was abandoned in 1982, and passes alongside farms and streams (including the Carbon River) and through downtown Orting. Like many regional trails, it was assembled from many parcels of land, and its construction was greatly aided by volunteers (in this case, the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition).

Info: 253-841-2570, or

Chehalis Western Trail

Location: Olympia to Rainier.

Length: 22 miles.

Description: This trail occupies the site of the historic Weyerhaeuser-owned Chehalis Western Railroad, which operated from 1926 through the mid-1980s. It passes near wetlands, farms and forests in both urban and rural areas of Thurston County, with access to the Deschutes River and Puget Sound.

Info: 360-786-5595 or

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald writes the weekly Walkabout column for Northwest Weekend and is a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her:

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