With more than 175 miles of regional trails covering King County, visitors and locals alike are drawn to the area for the open spaces and picturesque backdrops of Mount Rainier and the Cascade foothills.
One specific trail offers an abundance of scenery as it navigates through north King County along the banks of the Sammamish River. As an added bonus, the Sammamish River Trail connects with other walkways across the entire county such as the Eastrail and Burke-Gilman trails.
Starting in the northern shore of Lake Sammamish, the river flows through Redmond, Woodinville, Bothell and Kenmore into Lake Washington.
The tributary Bear Creek joins the river from the east, also containing the waters from Evans Creek and Cottage Lake Creek. Little Bear Creek joins the river in Woodinville, followed by North Creek in Bothell and Swamp Creek in Kenmore. The river enters Lake Washington on the west side of Kenmore.
The river trail is often frequented by runners, walking groups, skaters and cyclists as well as kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and fishermen. Along the way, trail-goers pass through housing developments, business parks, golf courses, parks and quiet wetlands.
A soft-surface side trail for equestrians is also accessible between Northeast 175th Street in Woodinville to Marymoor Park.
The Sammamish River wasn’t always a recreation hotspot. The “Sammamish Slough Race” would attract over 50,000 spectators when speedboat and hydroplane races started in 1928.
Here is a little more history on the Sammamish River…
History of the Squak Slough
For about 20 years in the late 1800s, the Sammamish River (also known as the Squak Slough) served as the primary route of travel to much of the Eastside.
The river trip was completed via barges that were pushed by crews with poles. The tightly meandering route was once 30 miles long and flanked by broad marshes, according to reports from the Seattle Times.
The river is named after the Native Americans who once lived along it. The native Sammamish people called themselves the “Willow People.”
Regular flooding of its banks would lay the groundwork for the fertile farmland and rich soil that currently exists across the Sammamish Valley.
White settlers relied on shallow steamers and barges for transport. However, river transport declined when railroads joined the area.
Commercial navigation finally ended in the early 1900s when construction of the Ballard Locks lowered Lake Washington almost 9 feet and drained much of the river. Steamers could no longer reach Bothell, but the river was still used for moving logs to sawmills.
Shortly after, the meandering river was dredged and straightened to improve river flows. The project had a dramatic impact on the rich wetlands as well as major effects on the salmon and trout population. Annual flooding remained a part of life in the valley for decades, however.
The river is still home to several runs of salmon and trout including chinook, coho, sockeye, kokanee, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout. The King County government is currently working on restoring fish habitat along the river.
Several species of birds and mammals are plentiful along the river including waterfowl such as Canada geese, ducks, and the great blue heron. Bald eagles and beavers are also common sights near the river.
The trail parallel to the river was created in the 1960s when crews completed the second rechanneling of the river.
Here are some of the activities to enjoy along the trail:
Staying Active on the Slough
The Sammamish River Trail is a paved bicycle and walking trail that stretches about 11 miles. It runs from Bothell’s Blyth Park in the north (where it connects to the Burke-Gilman Trail) to Redmond's Marymoor Park in the south (where it links to the Marymoor Connector Trail and East Lake Sammamish Trail).
Running, biking, walking and skating are all common activities on the trail, but water sports are becoming increasingly popular along the slow-moving river.
Steve Holmes, owner of WhatsSup Stand Up Paddle & Surf, offers lessons at two locations along the river: Bothell Landing Park and Log Boom Park in Kenmore. He provides stand up paddle boards, kayaks and canoe rentals as well.
“When I opened up there about 12 years ago, nobody was paddling the river,” he said. “We kind of brought kayaking there. And now it's really popular.”
He said the best time to paddle the river is generally between the months of April and October when the water isn’t flowing. Generally, the river is slow-moving without many currents. Both beginner and experienced kayakers enjoy paddling the river, he added.
Wilmot Gateway Park in Woodinville is another local place to launch into the water. Alternately, paddlers can launch from Marymoor Park in Redmond and travel downriver.
From the northern part of the river, Bothell Landing Park and Log Boom Park offer safe areas to launch as well.
Holmes encourages anyone paddling or floating the river to come prepared with a personal floatation device (PFDs), especially if using inexpensive inflatable boats from Amazon or Walmart.
“Wear life jackets at all times. We try to educate everybody. We do talks in schools and everything about the importance of PFDs,” he said. “And the water's cold. If you're a beginner, you have to be careful. It's always good to paddle with a partner.”
According to Holmes, people often ask about the quality of the water. He argues the water is cleaner on the Sammamish River than on Lake Washington, which closes beaches a lot because of bacteria.
“They check the water all the time,” he said. “They have never closed down the Sammamish River.”
The water looks dark green because there are trees on either side of the river, Holmes said. It’s similar to how the ocean looks blue due to the sky above.
Make a day of it! Join Captain Steve’s Combo Adventure for an extended paddling experience. The 3-hour trip starts with a 2.5-mile paddle from the Bothell Landing location down the Sammamish River to Log Boom Park in Kenmore. From there, you can hop on a bicycle on the Burke-Gilman Trail back to your car in Bothell.