15 Adventures to Knock off Your Seattle Bucket List

Just another sunset paddle in Puget Sound
Just another sunset paddle in Puget Sound Ingrid Taylar
Made Possible by
Curated by

Seattle is a major city that doubles as an outdoor athlete’s paradise. From the city, you can see everything: the Olympics, the Cascades, Puget Sound, lush islands, a network of lakes, and hills—lots of hills.

It’s hard to know where to begin, so we came up with this cheat sheet of our 15 favorite must-do adventures for any Seattle bucket list. Most of them are well under two hours from downtown, but we threw in a few bonus trips. The rest is up to you.

1. Hike Mount Si.

A quiet day on Mount Si, with Rainier as a backdrop.
A quiet day on Mount Si, with Rainier as a backdrop. laffertyryan

Preferably with a heavy pack—it’s what local mountaineers do to train for big trips, and it makes the 3,150-foot elevation gain (in four steady uphill miles) that much more fiery on the quads. Mount Si  isn’t an undiscovered hike: More than 100,000 people make the pilgrimage every year, but many of them blow right by Snag Flat, a lovely stand of old-growth—and a great place for a water break. You might be tempted to stop at the first talus slope and take in the sight of Mount Rainier, but push on a little farther (look for stone steps to the right) for views of Seattle and the Olympics, too.

2. Trail run the Issaquah Alps.

The trail up to Tiger Mountain
The trail up to Tiger Mountain Andrew E. Larsen

Local conservationist Harvey Manning coined the nickname for this bunch of mountains, less than a half-hour from the city. Seattle’s Alps include Cougar , Squak, Tiger , Rattlesnake , and Taylor, with many thousands of acres of trails that span everything from singletrack and straight up, to graveled and pancake-flat. For the most options, head to Cougar, which has good trailhead maps and signage—plus dozens of possible loops.

3. Mountain bike Duthie Hill.

Volunteers contributed more than 20,000 hours to build this 120-acre, wooded MTB playland , where the rolling terrain stays in good shape all year round (more than you can say for a lot of other soggy Seattle-area spots). Not only that, it’s designed for beginners and experts alike. Pick from flowy and buff cross-country trails, more technical freeride routes (with tables, step-ups, drops, logrides, ladders, and gaps), three pump tracks, and a practice area where you can perfect all of them. You won’t get bored, either: The Flowpark has more features than any other public riding area in the entire state.

4. Road bike around Bainbridge Island.

Cyclists race past a scenic view of the Seattle skyline from Bainbridge Island.
Cyclists race past a scenic view of the Seattle skyline from Bainbridge Island. Gene Bisbee

Nothing says Seattle more than taking your bike on the ferry, whether it’s to the San Juan Islands, Vashon, or Bainbridge , which looks over to the city skyline from across the Sound. The Cascade Bicycle Club (the largest in the country) organizes a ride called the Chilly Hilly around the island every winter, but it’s a great loop any time of year: 33 miles long, 2,700 feet of gain, and just a 35-minute boat ride from the downtown waterfront.

5. Kayak from Lake Washington through the Locks to the Puget Sound.

Paddling through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, on the way to the Sound.
Paddling through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, on the way to the Sound. Travis

Water, water everywhere—here, we have it at almost every turn. Which makes a sea kayak the quintessential way to explore, and this particular route a Seattle hit list. From 22-mile-long Lake Washington, you'll head through the Montlake Cut (watch out for the University of Washington crew team), then pass by dozen of funky floating homes on Portage Bay and Lake Union , following the Ship Canal all the way to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. There, jockey for position among fishing trawlers and sailboats before the gates open to let you into the open, salty water of the Sound.

6. Ski from the top of Silver King.

Crystal Mountain skiing.
Crystal Mountain skiing. Matt Zimmerman

From inbounds at Crystal Mountain Resort , it looks like something out of a TGR film: a fang-like peak with a few scratchy, skiable lines. Reachable by a long, knee-pumping traverse along a north-south ridgecrest—with killer views of Rainier on a sunny day—and a 20-plus-minute hike through what’s called the Southback, the King holds snow when most of Crystal’s named runs and sidecountry have long been tracked out. Just don’t let some of the chutes (Pinball, Brain Damage) psych you out.

7. Run the Seattle Marathon.

Yes, it’s the Sunday right after Thanksgiving—if you’re over your pumpkin-pie-and-candied-yams hangover, chances are it’ll be spitting rain—but Seattle’s 26.2 has grown into the largest distance race in the Northwest. The course isn’t a cakewalk, but count on the stretches across the I-90 Bridge , along Lake Washington Boulevard, and around Seward Park for well-deserved, cruisy miles. When you hit the Space Needle, you know you’re home free.

8. SUP from Alki.

Just another evening Seattle SUP session.
Just another evening Seattle SUP session. Ingrid Taylar

On hot summer days, Alki Beach feels more like Southern California: shirtless beach volleyball players, roller bladers, barbecues, kites, and cars cruising Alki Avenue. Jumping on a paddleboard lets you feel the buzz without dodging herds of jogging strollers (though you might have to dodge container ships instead). From the West Seattle headquarters of Alki Kayak Tours , follow the shoreline around Duwamish Head, where you’ll see the skyline to the right and the entire Olympic range ahead of you. Not sure of your skills? AKT has daily SUP-U classes.

9. Hang out at Mountaineers headquarters.

The Mountaineers is Seattle’s hub for outdoor clinics, films, workshops, and lectures by the world’s hardest-core adventurers. Pick a night of the week and, chances are, there’s an event populated by people in puffy coats and low-top hikers—whether it’s a seminar about completing the Great Himalayan Traverse, a talk about reintroducing bluebirds to the San Juan Islands, or an auction that combines food and wine pairings with indoor climbing.

10. Rock climb Exit 32.

Pulling rock at Little Si's Exit 32
Pulling rock at Little Si's Exit 32 Laurel F

Though Mount Si is the taller peak (and the more crowded hike) off Exit 32 , Little Si is where to pull over for Seattle’s closest, best sport climbing. And while it has Washington’s highest concentration of 5.13s and 5.14s, there are quite a few 5.9 options and a few more mellow than that—try World Wall I, a long overhang, for the most variety. The rock is serpentine, which makes it super slick; bring your sticky shoes. And don’t despair if it’s soggy out: Some routes stay dry even when it’s raining.

11. Swim.

We don’t care where you do it—across Greenlake before the algae blooms, around the entire thumblike peninsula of Seward Park, or somewhere in the frigid waters of Puget Sound (which stay pretty frigid all year round). Bonus points if you finish the 3.2-mile Fat Salmon , which starts under the I-90 bridge, skirts the shores of Lake Washington, and finishes at Madison Park.

12. Backpack the Enchantments.

If you score a permit, this could be all yours.
If you score a permit, this could be all yours. Jeff P

It’s no wonder that permits to spend the night in the jawdropping heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are hard to come by— the Enchantments offer one of the most stunning mountain spots on earth. We’re talking granite bowls, azure lakes, sawbone peaks, stands of larch, and glacial shapes, plus some killer elevation gain (like Aasgard Pass, which climbs 1,900 feet in less than a mile). Enter the lottery in late February, or stalk the Leavenworth Ranger Station for the permits (25 percent of the total) that are handed out day-of.

13. Skate ski from Mazama to Winthrop.

The network of cross-country ski trails in the Methow Valley is the largest in the country—more than 120 miles of well-groomed, well-signed nordork paradise. The ultimate feather in your beanie? Rev up with a coffee and scone at the Mazama Store , then ski the 30K to Winthrop, quiet woods, open farmland, rolling hills, suspension bridges, and all. Finish up with an Epiphany Pale and a platter of sweet potato fries at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery.

14. Backcountry ski Mount Saint Helens on Mother's Day.

Since at least 1987, people have been flocking to Saint Helens to skin up 5,700 feet and ride the corn back down in honor of moms everywhere. (People say that Kathy Phibbs, a beloved Northwest mountaineer who died at just 33, came up with the idea.) Costumes are practically mandatory—and that means dresses for girls and for guys. “Hi Mom!” signs are optional, but highly recommended.

15. Climb Mount Rainier.

Following the well worn trail to the summit ridge of Mt. Rainier
Following the well worn trail to the summit ridge of Mt. Rainier McKay Savage

Locals just call it "The Mountain." Because, while there are countless other peaks around here, Rainier dwarfs them all—literally (it’s 14,410 feet), but also in the way it dominates the sky to the southeast and takes the edge off even the most stressful urban day. It’s the cherry on top, the biggest item in the bucket list, a singular mountaineering experience that just happens to be in our backyard. With companies like RMI Expeditions and [Alpine Ascents International](www.alpineascents.com%20) , enthusiastic (and fit) novices can take a day-long intensive, tag the summit, and be back home in as little as three days.

Last Updated:

Next Up


10 Mile Markers Where You Can Cheer on Georgia Marathon Runners