Outdoor Activities in Seattle: The Adventurer’s Guide
From kayaking Lake Union to biking the islands of the Puget Sound or hiking nearby mountains, Seattle has no shortage of outdoor activities.
Seattle might be eponymous with the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and scenes from Sleepless in Seattle and 10 Things I Hate About You, but between its lakes, mountains, islands, and city streets, the Northwest’s largest city has much more to offer visitors. From new sensory playgrounds to a day of biking on a nearby island, a free Sunday sail to hiking in the city’s largest park, check out our recommendations for creative adventures in the Emerald City.
Free Seattle activities
Artists at Play Playground
Distance from downtown Seattle: 0 miles
One of Seattle’s newest parks, the Artists at Play Playground is touted as a mental, physical, and sensory experience for kids of all ages. Located in the heart of Seattle Center, this park provides a great stop to release some energy when exploring the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, or other Seattle Center sights with your family. The family-friendly playground has everything from a 30-foot climbing wall, to child-inspired musical instruments, sound swings, and a human-powered carousel, and will entertain kids and adults alike. Additional information found here.
Seattle Bouldering Project
Distance from downtown Seattle: 1.7 miles
Depending on when you’re traveling, your visit to Seattle will likely involve a good bit of rain. For wet days when kids aren’t too keen on exploring outside, the Seattle Bouldering Project offers a fun venue to work out some healthy energy and escape the elements. SBP — as it’s known to locals — has a children-specific area where kids can monkey around on large holds with ample padding beneath them. Parent supervision is always required here, unless you choose to schedule an event or birthday party with a large crew, or enroll your little ones in a summer camp. More information found here.
Center for Wooden Boats Sunday Public Sail
Distance from downtown Seattle: 4.5 miles
The Center for Wooden Boats is a free, hands-on maritime museum where visitors can explore the history of Lake Union and its wooden boat culture through workshops, exhibits, and sailing. For more than 25 years, they’ve made it a tradition to invite the public for a free Sunday sail; arrive around 10 a.m. to take your pick of a sprit boat, steamboat, electric boat, schooner, ketch, yawl, or yacht, and enjoy the ride! More information found here.
The Compline Choir
Distance from downtown Seattle: 2.5 miles
Yes, it sometimes does rain in Seattle. But when it does, there is still adventure to be had; every Sunday evening at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill, the Compline Choir will take you back in time and to another world with their performance of a series of calming prayers in a beautiful combination of chant and song. Visitors are known to bring blankets and lay on the church floor, relaxing while soaking up meditative music in the beautiful old cathedral. All are welcome for this centering way to end the weekend and welcome in the new week. More information found here.
Outdoor recreation activities near Seattle
Bike to Bainbridge Island
Distance from downtown Seattle: 35-minute ferry ride
Nestled in the scenic Puget Sound less than an hour from Seattle, Bainbridge Island offers the perfect escape from the city, and is close enough for a day (or half-day) trip. A short ferry ride will transport you to a world of quiet roads, rolling hills, and communities that are certainly enjoying “island time.” Spend your day biking the 35-mile loop around the island, or just take it easy and explore art galleries and restaurants close to town. You can use your own bikes or rent them from shops found within walking distance from both the Seattle and Bainbridge Island ferry terminals. I recommend leaving your car in Seattle. More information found here.
Bicycle Sundays on Lake Washington Blvd.
Distance from downtown Seattle: 3 miles
Lake Washington Boulevard winds through canopies of trees with occasional views of Mount Rainier, passes by small beach neighborhoods that will have you thinking you’re far from the city, and skirts Lake Washington for most of its 8 miles from the Washington Park Arboretum to Seward Park. It’s a regal street that local bikers cherish. To add to that, every other Sunday from May through September, the city of Seattle closes the boulevard to car traffic from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., opening it to bikers, skaters, strollers, joggers, and all other non-motorized vehicles. More information found here.
Kayak Lake Union & Washington
Distance from downtown Seattle: 5 miles
Seattle is a city surrounded by water, and these waterways offer just as much exploration and sightseeing as the land. From paddling through the Arboretum to watching the locks open and close from sea level, gaining a unique view of downtown or drifting past the many houseboat communities in the city, having the chance to see Seattle from the water will provide a unique look at the city’s vibrant life. Take a kayak or even an SUP board from one of the many rental shops in town; I recommend the Agua Verde Paddle Club as it is centrally located between Lake Union and Washington, and you can grab tasty Mexican food at their restaurant before or after your paddle. More information found here.
Hike Discovery Park
Distance from downtown Seattle: 6.7 miles
Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest park, and arguably its most popular and scenic. The 534-acre public space is home to lush PNW forests, 2 miles of protected coastline, tall bluffs with sweeping views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, ocean-blown meadows, 10 miles of trail, and even a lighthouse. Discovery Park’s trails are a labyrinth that can be mix-and-matched for a long hike through the area’s beaches, forests, and bluffs; however, you can also get from your car to beautiful views of the ocean within minutes. Pick up a map at the visitor center before you head out, or check out our resource page below. More information found here.
Hike the Enchantments
Distance from downtown Seattle: 125 miles
Washington is known for its stunning mountain landscapes, but The Enchantments are widely considered the most jaw-dropping of all alpine areas in the state. If you have more than a day to invest, this is a hike you won’t want to miss. The 9-mile hike with almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain will bring you to the “Core Enchantment Zone,” a fairytale land of glacier-carved tarns, pristine meadows, larch trees, cascading brooks, mountain goats, and towering granite peaks. The Enchantments are so popular that a permit is required to camp in the area: apply for one months in advance or visit the ranger station in Leavenworth the day of to try to snag one of the coveted lottery permits they offer up daily. Or, if you can’t get a permit, consider hiking the entire Enchantment loop in a day; the 18-mile hike with 6,500 feet of elevation gain will have you sweating, but it’s well worth it. More information found here.