Sometime in January, I went to REI to pick up a couple new hiking books. The idea being that I’d get into better shape for summer hiking trips by finally doing plenty of the low-lying hikes that I’ve never done in the many years I’ve lived in Seattle, such as driving to Tiger Mountain. Turns out I never made it to those, but instead got hooked on one that mostly features walks around Seattle’s neighborhoods, “Seattle Stairway Walks: An Up-and-Down Guide to City Neighborhoods” by Jake & Cathy Jaramillo.
It has twenty-five walks with great maps and well-written directions. Each walk includes brief notes on the neighborhood, local history, and call-outs on some of the highlights you’ll see along the way as well as a few photos. The photos got me hooked as there were quite a few of things I’d never seen, despite considering myself a fairly competent urban explorer.
Victor and I took our first walk out of this book on January 26, the “Southwest Queen Anne” walk mainly due to the picture of the “Wilcox Wall” which I had no idea existed. To say that I became obsessed was an understatement. I was so thrilled to be seeing new streets and learning new things about the city I knew well enough to become complacent and bored in. The first several weeks, I thought it might be possible to actually do all twenty-five walks in a month. Alas, with all the great enthusiasm came great pain!
Sometime in mid-March, I had to take a trip to my Doctor since I was no longer able to sleep due to the pain in my heel. I figured I bruised it wearing old runners, though it turned out more of a Achilles tendon problem. He gave me an ultimatum: two weeks of icing regimen and if it wasn’t improved, I’d be in a cast all summer immobilized. This wasn’t in my plan, so I found a new doctor who recommended physical therapy. I laid off the stairs and most walking entirely.
So while my big plans to get in shape for summer hiking fell apart and there was no hiking this summer, I did eventual heal and start back up with the stair walks. The last walk was on October 17, “Solstice Park”, which wasn’t really necessary, except to be able to say “I’ve walked them all!” as it is almost an exact duplicate of the longer walk that precedes it in the book.
Now let’s say all my raving about how much fun this book is actually inspires you to get a copy (you should), but you’re thinking you’re not quite crazy enough to want to walk them all. Which ones are the true highlights? Which ones would be great to take out-of-town guests on to show them a different view of our city? Which ones can you skip, or at least go in with little expectation?
Madrona: A perfect mix for a walk. Beautiful homes to look at and in, some tricky route finding to keep it interesting, lots of up and down both on stairs and on streets to feel virtuous, so when you stop at the end to have a glass of wine in stylish Madrona, you’ll feel like you’ve earned it. This is a great walk in one of Seattle’s most “hidden” neighborhoods.
East Queen Anne (or combine with Southwest): From Lake Union to the top of Queen Anne and back to the lake, this walk has the elevation gain, lovely homes, views of the city and an easy stop for coffee in the Queen Anne business district. We did this on a cold day and were happy to get home, but for a longer day out, this would be great to combine to look the even richer and more beautiful homes along the Southwest Queen Anne walk.
The Olmsted Vision: This walk might have the fewest stairs (plenty of elevation however) in the book, but would probably best highlight why so many people love living in Seattle as it wanders through the beautiful parks on Capitol Hill and down through the Arboretum and the classic craftsman neighborhood of Montlake.
Big Stairs! Capitol Hill or West Seattle!: What’s the point of stair walking if you’re not going to go do some of the really LONG staircases? I’m partial to the Capitol Hill stairs as there’s two really long ones, so you can go down one and come up the other. There are lots of fitness folks out using them, so there’s some “inspiring scenery!” (wink), and the walk itself has good views of the city. But a case could just as well be made for the less assuming “Fauntleroy” walk, featuring the Thistle stairs, particularly if you do a bit more exploring of Lincoln Park, one of the more beautiful parks in the city.
Unusual Revelation Walks
Longfellow Creek and Pigeon Point: The walk is around the neighborhoods surrounding the steel plant you see as you cross the West Seattle bridge. A cool park with great sculptures and some nice views.
Deadhorse Canyon: A path up a narrow ravine down in Rainier Beach. Very lovely with some great potential for other urban explorations, for example, adding a stroll through Kubota Gardens or going out for some good cheap eats.
University of Washington: A throughly enjoyable walk around the campus and all of its nooks and crannies. If it’s cold, take a book along and stop in Suzzallo Library’s reading room, a classic neo-gothic study hall.
Kelsey Creek Farm: The day I did this hike it had been raining for days, so there was lots of mud to tromp through as the “stairs” consists of a hillside trail through this Bellevue Park. But I had no idea that Bellevue maintains a working farm for educational purposes. Looking at farm animals! Woo hoo!
Walks to skip, unless you a Stairwalking Fiend.
Maple Leaf and Thorton Park: A depressing walk across this boring neighborhood to a mall. Parts of Maple Leaf are interesting (I go there to visit a cake shop quiet a bit), but not this part. Perhaps in the summer the many small parks along the way would be nice, but on a soggy day in March, they were depressing.
Laurelhurst: If you like to look at Tudors this is your walk, otherwise, it’s purely residential street-winding in a very uniform and boring neighborhood.
Solstice Park: As mentioned before, there’s no real reason this short walk is even in the book, being mostly a duplicate of longer, enjoyable “Fauntleroy” walk.
My pal Nia, who joined me on several of these walks, one day while we were out said to me, “This is your best idea yet, and you have lots of good ideas!” I think that sums up my enthusiam for this book best. Some good exercise, some exploration, and a wonderful chances to spend some time with your friends. It hardly gets better than that! A huge thanks to Nia, Brenda, Pam, Rebecca, Sunshine, Terry, and, of course, Victor who joined me on many of these walk.
You can see my photos and notes on all of these walks, but clicking here: http://www.knoxgardner.com/tag/stairway-walks/. Or you can go to Seattle Stairway Walks and look at the authors’ website, www.seattlestairwaywalks.com. The only way to get the maps though, is to get the book. Do it.
Do you want to go walking with me? I am completely happy to do many of these walk again and I am also starting a new book, “Seattle Townscape Walks”, less stairs and many longer loops, so definitely drop me a note as I have a lot of walking to do and always enjoy company.