Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Paddling Seattle: Lake to Lake

Between Puget Sound, lakes, and waterways, greater Seattle is blessed with many great paddling destinations.  Most kayakers, canoeists, and paddleboarders first take to the water here in the stretch from Lake Union through Portage Bay over to the Lake Washington/Washington Park Arboretum areas. Generally mellow, mostly protected, and scenic in an urban setting sort of way.

On what turns out to be a surprisingly beautiful late November afternoon after a stormy night, some friends and I opt for a mellow lake to lake (Union to Washington) "tour de bridges." It's close, easy, and good to be out on the water with friends.

Our goal, besides exercise and the sheer pleasure of paddling, is to check out construction on the new SR 520 Floating Bridge in Lake Washington. A couple of us worked on the bridge replacement project environmental analysis and design, so it's fun to see the fruits of our and many others' labor.

Since Seattle is surrounded and constricted by water, of course we have lots of  bridges.  First up as we head from Lake Union to Portage Bay is University Bridge, a bascule draw bridge. This bridge was originally built in 1919, just a couple years after the major project to create the Ship Canal connecting Lake Washington to Puget Sound.

University Bridge crossing the Lake Washington Ship Canal
 After passing under the bridge, the much higher Interstate 5 Ship Canal bridge looms overhead. Tucked beneath and beyond these bridges are live-aboard houseboats. Some are tidier and better maintained than others.

Enroute to Lake Washington, we skirt the southern edge of my alma mater University of Washington (Go Dawgs!) through Portage Bay. Choppy, bouncy water is usually the norm for narrow, manmade Montlake Cut, where hundreds of rowers have raced over the last century. Every year different Husky crews leave their mark on the sloped concrete walls lining the Cut beneath the beloved Gothic-style Montlake Bridge, another drawbridge/traffic bottleneck dating to 1925.

As we paddle through the Cut eastward into Lake Washington, it's fun to read all the spray-painted messages. Leaving the Cut, we enter the Arboretum to the right for a short detour. State Route 520 crosses through this wetland area, which today would be protected from a new highway construction under current environmental regulations.

Since we're blocked in by 520 construction staging, it's time to cut back out into Union Bay and around past Foster Island, a former native burial ground and now wildlife viewing trail. This part of the present-day Arboretum is rich in native history and use and a great wildlife watching area. As we approach the island, a flock of distinctive wild buffleheads hustle away in a splash of wings and webbed feet.

Foster Island
SR 520 western highrise ahead, Eastside and Bellevue beyond.
Out here we mingle with muskrats, beavers, and western pond turtles along with all sorts of waterfowl. You'd be surprised how many other creatures are out there living in our urban watersheds and forests. And how many you see while out on a hand-powered watercraft.

Aurora Borealis Sculpture
Wish I had on film: the time the dude in the red kayak pictured above climbed up to the Aurora Borealis sculpture platform, hauled up his kayak, and launched back into the lake in his kayak. Impressive and a little bit crazy.

After a short detour to check out the floating pontoons, we scoot over to and under the new 520 highrise being built. When it's finished, there will be a bicycle and pedestrian path on the north side.

Old bridge left, new bridge right
On our way back west, great views of Husky Stadium echo the excitement of just last night when we watched the Husky football team clobber the Oregon State Beavers there. (My two Beaver friends who were also at the game last night and are paddling with me today weren't so excited.)

Husky Stadium, where many arrive by boat.
And it's a cruise back to our put-in on north Lake Union via the Montlake Cut/Portage Bay. The weather cooperated nicely this afternoon. If you're lucky, that can happen any time of year, although less reliably so in the fall/winter.

Entering the Montlake Cut heading west.

UW research vessel, Lake Washington Ship Canal bridge above.
While we kayak in Puget Sound more often, this interlude in the lakes is a nice respite and always refreshing.  On this nice autumn day, when the Seahawks were in town and playing, we saw very few other boaters and enjoyed relative solitude on our urban waterways.

Have you paddled this area? Would love to hear your comments below.
Happy water trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go

There are many launch sites, but we put in just east of Gasworks Park near Dunato's Boat Yard, where we parked on the street and walk across  to a perfect little beach to launch. (Thanks to John for the tip.) Northwest Outdoor Center (NWOC) on Lake Union rents kayaks and paddleboards year-round. Other options to check out are Aqua Verde Paddle Club on Portage Bay and the University of Washington Canoe Center below Husky Stadium.


Anne said...

Do you think the Kill Husky Pups is a message from Varsity Crew to the freshman? If you haven't read The Boys in the Boat you should, you will have a greater sense of place because you have followed in their foot....er prowsteps.

jill said...

I think the Kill message is directed towards opponents like Cal or the Ducks.

Suezy P said...

Love this post...this adventure is one I have played out a few times. 3 1/2 years ago, on my 60th birthday, I rented Kayaks for 30+ friends, who travelled from all over the country, many who'd never kayaked before, and took them on this very same paddle trip. We had an unusually calm time on the water as well. The Freemont Freedom Festival was going on as were other community events, which kept most people on land. The weather was perfect...not hot, not cold, but just right. What a great place to feel the pulse of the city. A 360 degree view from the heart of Lake Union, with Lake Union air taking off and landing throughout the day, the Space Needle freshly painted, and the whole city sparkling in the sun...there is nothing like it.

Anonymous said...

I paddle the lakes from November to March then give it back to the power boaters for the summer. It's fun to see the houses close up. The wildlife in the city is pretty amazing too. wildlife.

Robert on Vashon