Seattle has become such a bike-friendly city for grown-ups, especially recently, but with kids in tow sometimes it is difficult to find safe places for a family ride.
Older kids might be able to navigate more routes that share the road with vehicles. But if your kids are younger, it might be easier to bring a bike or scooter along and start the ride on a designated bike trail.
At 13 years old, my guys are now adept at riding their bikes for long distances. But we started out with a lot of 2- to 3-mile mini-rides (like around Green Lake Park) to get us to this point. And with kids of all ages, we bring water bottles, a first aid kit, bike-repair tools and a snack or two just in case. And we always double-check for helmets (since they’ve been forgotten a few times over the years) before we leave the house.
Journey from Fishermen’s Terminal to Fremont Canal along the Ship Canal Trail
Fishermen’s Terminal is a tucked-away Seattle spot where you can get up to three hours of parking in some spaces and two hours in most others — and this is all the time you need for a small biking adventure with kids. To get to the biking path along the Fremont Canal, you have to cross a couple streets but these have a crosswalk and lights and then the path itself is pretty much car-free. This trail can get a lot of two wheel and pedestrian traffic but it is rarely as busy as biking around Green Lake, and if you follow it long enough you can get to MOHAI and the Center for Wooden Boats or turn around when you want and end the ride with fish and chips from the takeout window at Little Chinook’s or sandwiches and ice cream from the Fishermen’s Green Market & Deli.
You can also use this route to access the Burke-Gilman Trail via the Fremont Bridge, where bikes share the route with cars for a bit. It is doable but might be better for older or more experienced riders. If we are trying a trail out for the first time with small kids, sometimes we just bring scooters instead of bikes along to check out parts that might be tricky so we aren’t juggling big bikes and little bikes while keeping track of kids.
Biking the Burke-Gilman Trail from Matthews Beach
Ages ago when my kids were small we rode from University Village to Matthews Beach, so I checked the parking lot at Matthews Beach recently to see if you could park there and do the same trip in reverse. When I was there I noticed that Pedalheads, a biking program for kids (the camp that taught my kids to ride), also starts from this parking lot so it’s definitely a kid-friendly spot to begin. If you are looking for some safety tips for biking with kids, this article here might help you too. Matthews Beach is a swimmable freshwater beach and there are bathrooms and a playground here and there is easy access to the Burke-Gilman Trail.
(Note: The park is open, but Matthews Beach is temporarily closed to swimmers due to high bacteria levels found during water testing on July 20, 2021.)
Riding from Myrtle Edwards Park to Olympic Sculpture Park along Elliott Bay Trail
The Elliott Bay Trail is a scenic pedestrian and bike route — and it is probably the closest bike path to downtown Seattle that’s suitable for families. Now that our kids are older, we often bike with our kids from our house along this trail, and then on surface streets to Sounders games and other events in the city. But when they were smaller, we used to ride only the car-free parts. (There are a few great access points along the trail.)
Pro tip: Parking on Elliott Avenue across the street from Fuji Bakery
One way to access the Elliott Bay Trail is by parking across the street from oh-so-tempting Fuji Bakery on Elliott Avenue (there is usually two-hour parking available, with some times restricted during the day) which gives you access to the Helix Pedestrian Bridge. You do have to cart your bikes up and over the train tracks via this bridge, but after that the trail along the waterfront is fairly flat and the only traffic is from other bikes and pedestrians. Because the Elliott Bay Trail is a commuter bike path, it is important to follow proper bike etiquette, but during non-commuting daytime hours the trails are relatively empty.
The parking lot at the Expedia Building on 16th Avenue West is one more way to access the path. There are designated spots for the public to enjoy the bike path and the beach park. Parking here allows for an easy picnic at the Expedia beach park, where there are many spots where families can sit on big concrete steps and look out at the water and gorgeous downtown Seattle views.
And one more place to park to get to the Elliott Bay bike path is near the Queen Anne Beerhall. This place has a kids’ menu and a good variety of really tasty food. We often get the giant pretzel to enjoy in the sun in the park when we go for a scoot or ride along the waterfront. To get to the bike path, you cross the West Thomas Street pedestrian and bicycle overpass.
And beyond all of this? We are fortunate to have so many great places to bike in the area. Here is a roundup of more kid-friendly biking places you can explore.
(p.s. There are so many rental electric scooters and bikes for grown-ups available along many of these bike paths. If you don’t want to bring bikes for the whole family, you can just pack the kids’ bikes and plan on renting for the adults on the trail.)
Originally published July 2021
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