Stepping into Bellevue, Washington’s extensive and intricate network of trails, runners of all paces can indulge for miles (92 to be exact, when measured end to end!), and discover firsthand why this area has earned the nickname of “city in a park.” Running here can often transform mere workouts into something more inspiring: a sensory engagement with the region’s rich natural history and cultural heritage. From watersheds to wetlands, forests to farmlands, and even birding to blueberries, running itineraries here will get you closer both to nature and to realizing your goals.
An interconnected trail system, with waymarking posts throughout, makes for easy access, so you don’t have to travel far to find a trail (or, as is often the case, a trail to find you). Runners have the luxury of choosing a route based on their preference of location, distance, or terrain, with natural beauty being the commonality among these. Whether you’re training for a 5K or 50K, seeking meditative exercise or an arduous challenge, a new resident or simply visiting for the weekend, there’s something here for all running enthusiasts. Let the landscape be your guide.
LAKE HILLS GREENBELT
Looking for a flat, forgiving, but woodsy intro to Bellevue trails? Check out the Lake Hills Greenbelt, an out-and-back corridor of roughly two miles that connects the blueberry farms of Larsen Lake to the north with demonstration gardens and the iconic Farm Fresh Produce stand to the south. Consider extending your run, and doubling your mileage, by continuing on the paved portion that circumnavigates Phantom Lake before returning to the trailhead. The trail’s midway point features a small old-growth forest where, on a recent visit, a parliament of owls were in session.
WILBURTON HILL PARK
Due west a few miles, along the Lake to Lake Trail, is the once-thriving timber town of Wilburton, now home to Wilburton Hill Park, a 120-acre gem that features 3.5 miles of soft, undulating trails that skirt playfields, slope gently towards Kelsey Creek, and culminate westward at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Here, the 0.8-mile loop trail is ideal for a cool down walk, where one can wander amid carefully cultivated Northwest plant species, discover a lost meadow, and traverse a plunging ravine of native understory by way of a suspension bridge.
MERCER SLOUGH NATURE PARK
The Mercer Slough Nature Park lies at the geographic heart of Bellevue, adjacent to the bustle of Interstate 405, but feels far removed from it all, if not downright otherworldly. Lake Washington’s largest remaining wetland can be accessed from several points along its perimeter, but recommended is dropping in from the short eastside connector trails to the Bellefields Loop Trail (0.8 mile), where forest cedes to a lush wetland ecosystem. Mercifully soft trails and articulated boardwalks make this a trance-inducing run, with the option to cross the slough by footbridge (occasional kayakers gliding serenely beneath) and round the 1.1-mile Heritage Loop Trail, home to more blueberry farms (U-pick in season, a great runner’s snack). A paved perimeter trail offers a generous overview and more miles but may leave you nostalgic for the soft footfall of the interior’s dirt and gravel trails.
COAL CREEK NATURAL AREA
The trails of Coal Creek Natural Area, which link Lake Washington at Newcastle Beach to the foothills of Cougar Mountain at Red Town Trailhead, are well-traveled yet offer secluded single- and double-track routes for longer runs. It is hard to imagine the locomotives that once hauled coal through this area as you traverse this lushly canopied route — beckoning with second-growth forest and the soothing sounds of the creek — that travels along an east-west axis for 4.5 miles and rolls with 550 feet of elevation gain. As an out-and-back run beginning at either trailhead, the round trip makes for a robust workout. Well-marked spur trails can be used to extend distance and uphills or to create customized routes, and also as exit points for shorter runs. The welcome sight of North Fork Falls can be found closest to the Red Town Trailhead, not far from the old mine shaft and footing for the locomotive turntable, relics from the area’s mining heyday. Embrace the mud in winter, in springtime nettles will nip at your ankles, but by summer all will be forgiven on account of generous shade.
COUGAR MOUNTAIN REGIONAL WILDLAND PARK
“A great big green and quiet place”; that’s how local legend and mountaineer Harvey Manning described Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, the jewel of King County Parks that rises up from the base of Lake Sammamish to announce the beginning of the Cascade Foothills. With 3,000-plus acres and more than 35 miles of trails amid diverse habitats of mature forest, creeks, marshes, and waterfalls, this is a trail runner’s dream. Access to the 50-plus trails is by way of four main trailheads, with the aforementioned Red Town Trailhead at the park’s northwest side being the most popular. Use this as a point of entry to several routes, with connecting interior trails such as Wildside (1 mile), De Leo Wall (1.1 miles, steep), Shy Bear (1.7 miles), and Deceiver (0.9 mile) being favorites of the western portion. At just under 1,600 feet Wilderness Peak comes closest to resembling a summit (here, as the saying goes, trees are the view), and is best reserved for those who savor the climb. It’s more readily accessed from the Jim Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trailhead on the east side of the park, off State Route 900.
SAMMAMISH RIVER TRAIL
Finally, the more horizontal Sammamish River Trail travels 10 paved scenic miles, connecting the shores of Lake Sammamish at Marymoor Park to Blyth Park in Bothell near, the northernmost point of Lake Washington, where it meets the Seattle-bound Burke-Gilman Trail. Share the path with marathoners-in-training, commuting cyclists, strolling families, and even equestrians on a route that passes Redmond and Woodinville along the way, with exceptional vistas of the river valley itself and Mount Rainier in the distance.
Before heading out for your Bellevue run, power up with a nutrient-packed drink from one of the city’s fresh juice shops.
10630 Main St. Bellevue
Greenline Organic Health
Crossroads Bellevue, 1386 158th Place NE
10246 Main St., Ste. A
Bellevue Square, 545A Bellevue Square
Trà Tea & Juice Bar
10435 NE 4th St.