A Lighthouse, Some Locks & A Drawbridge

Not to be outdone by Bellevue, I think it is fair to say that the parks and hiking trail opportunities provided within the Seattle city limits are superb. And if I incorporate Seattle’s wider range of transit options and its bewildering array of microbreweries into the mix, I find it to be arguably closer to my ideal fueled by beer city.

My daughter and I wanted to explore Discovery Park, the Ballard locks and fish ladder, and the Burke-Gilman trail from Ballard to Fremont, all by foot. This is essentially an end-to-end hike of approximately 7 miles (3 inside the park, 4 outside) however by adding to and from transit legs at each end it’s easy to turn the linear route into a loop.

For example, we took the Metro Transit #24 bus from downtown Seattle to Magnolia – its terminus is just outside Discovery Park’s south parking lot. We also used Metro Transit #33 from Discovery Park’s north parking lot to Gov’t Way/31st Ave – this provides a much nicer off-road hike down to the locks. And finally we completed our loop with a Metro bus trip from Fremont. It’s easy to put together an itinerary that starts and ends pretty much anywhere your imagination can stick a pin in a map.

To navigate Discovery Park I highly recommend the wayfinding map provided by Friends of Discovery Park. A little history is in order. Discovery Park occupies the site of the former US Army base Fort Lawton, of which a small part remains as a US Army Reserve facility. Seattle originally gave 1100 acres to the federal government in the late 1800s, and the land remained largely undeveloped during it’s use by the military.

After being declared surplus 534 acres of Fort Lawton was restored to the city in 1972. Because of its former military use, the park is criss-crossed by several paved roads which intersect the main Loop Trail at various points. In most instances these intersections are well marked by trail markers, but it is nice to have the map for reference now and again.

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West Point Lighthouse

Starting out from the south parking lot near where the #24 bus drops off, follow the Loop Trail to the left towards south beach and the lighthouse. The South Beach Trail branches left off the Loop Trail before descending through forest. At the West Point Lighthouse follow the North Beach trail along the shore then back up through the forest. Soon after emerging at the top of the bluff the trail picks up a paved section.

This is where the map comes in handy. Look out for some disused restrooms to the left; shortly after this is where you pick up the Loop Trail again – and leave the paved road and to in the direction of North Parking Lot (turn left). As you move along the Loop Trail you will encounter two more paved road crossings where you are directed to turn left (onto the paved road) to go to the north parking lot. Ignore these directions – stay on the Loop Trail until you reach the 3rd paved road then do turn left to reach the north parking lot.

Although it is possible to walk from Discovery Park directly to Ballard locks via 40th Ave W and Commodore Way, I recommend taking the #33 bus to Gov’t Way and 31st Ave, then walking the pedestrian path (via 32nd Ave) that crosses Kiwanis Ravine – a much nicer walk. This emerges directly opposite Commodore Park leading down to the fish ladder and the locks.

Depending on time of year (June through September is best) you might find you want to rest awhile at the fish ladder to watch the migrating salmon. During our walk the Sockeye run was still ongoing and Chinook were there too. We saw more salmon in the viewing gallery than on any previous visit. Of note: all the giant Chinook we saw were hatchery raised  – evidenced by the missing adipose fin. From the fish ladder walk across the locks. On the way out stop by the visitor center – there is an interesting film about the history of Lake Washington Ship Canal and the locks.

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Fremont Bridge

By crossing the ship canal we left the Magnolia neighborhood and have entered Ballard. From the locks head east along Market Street. Ultimately we want to pick up the Burke-Gilman trail but this is the area known locally as the ‘missing link’ so there is no right or wrong way to traverse Ballard. I recommend taking Leary Way all the way to 11th Ave, where you turn south (right) to pick up the Burke-Gilman at 45th St. Continue east on the Burke-Gilman towards Fremont.

In a short distance the trail passes Hales Ales brewery & pub. If you haven’t eaten in a while and are ready for a break stop in and sample some of the best beer in Seattle. My favorite brew: HSB or “Hales Best Bitter”. Food is pretty good as well. From Hales it is about one mile to the center of Fremont at the Drawbridge over the ship canal. The bus stops are located north of the bridge on both sides of Fremont Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets.

So, as the drawbridge closes, thus concludes our walk. Fun wasn’t it. 🙂

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