Here’s a winter ride to get your bones moving on an exploration of the second-longest paved bike trail in King County, and even fill your stomach with a pancake breakfast. Clear a Sunday morning and check it out.
The Cedar River Trail shoots down from Renton alongside the busy, loud Maple Valley Highway (state Route 169). The highway noise is really the only drawback to this flat, straight trail that gets you out into the county’s deep-south suburbs. It will be quietest on Sunday morning, another reason to try it then.
The nicely paved trail is a bit longer than 12 miles, with another five miles of unpaved trail at its south end.
You can also explore the roads around the region, loop back to the start through Newcastle, or climb the hills toward Kent and check out other trails.
Start at the Renton Community Center, just south of I-405 at Exit 4. The center’s parking has time limits, four or six hours, so if you’ll be longer or if it’s busy, find some nearby street parking -- city streets near the public library, or a small road, Nishiwaki Lane, next to the trail right by Lake Washington.
If you start at the community center and want to see the lake first, you need to ride north, under 405, cross busy Houser Way at the pedestrian light, and ride past the skate park and around the library. Cross Park Avenue and head north on North 1st Street, which becomes Burnett Avenue North. Turn left onto North 3rd Street, left again onto Logan Avenue North, and then immediately right onto the trail at the bridge over the river. Use caution at the busy intersection of 3rd and Logan. Those jigs-and-jogs are worth it to discover the short but scenic ride to the southern tip of Lake Washington.
The shallow river runs through downtown Renton below street grade, so it's invisible to traffic. Although the river has been swollen lately -- even to flood stage -- most of the time it's a shallow liquid lane to the big lake. The bike and pedestrian trail along its east edge is a combination of brick and asphalt.
On the north end, as you get close to Lake Washington, you pass by the gates of Boeing's Renton plant, where you'll often see them firing up the engines of nearly finished jets.
The end of the trail at the lake is a bit of a letdown. There are restrooms in a narrow trailside park, and a boat ramp, but no place to really kick back and enjoy the lake. However, from the lake's edge you can see, just beyond a sliver of Boeing land, Gene Coulon Park, a regular stop for cyclists who are looping the lake. There has been talk of someday connecting the trail to the park, which cyclists would applaud.
Heading south from the community center, the trail goes in and out of wooded areas along the road. To increase the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, the speed limit has been reduced to 10 miles per hour, so take it easy. At 2.5 miles you pass by Ron Regis Park, which has restrooms. Toward the south end of the trail, it veers away from the road and runs along the Cedar River, providing a nice stretch of babbling river sounds.
The town of Maple Valley sits at the south terminus of the paved portion. Perhaps it should be renamed Maple Syrup, because a popular stop for cyclists is the regular Sunday pancake breakfast at the Cedar Grange, right across the street from the trail’s end. The next breakfast is scheduled for Feb. 20, and locals tell me the price has gone up 50 cents, to a still-modest $5.50. If you ride down on another day, you can get snacks at a grocery store next to the Grange, or climb the hill into town to find a bakery and more services.
The unpaved trail takes you to Landsburg, winding along the river through woods. There are restrooms and a small parking lot at the south trailhead. Check out the river here to see kayakers practicing in the rapids under the bridge. Good cycling south of Landsburg include the Black Diamond and Green River Valley areas — but that is a topic for another column.
If this out-and-back route of two dozen miles is a bit too tame for you, you can turn north onto Cedar Grove Road, eight miles south of the community center, and loop back on May Valley Road through Newcastle, lengthening the ride to 30 miles with some rolling hills. There are restrooms at Squak Mountain State Park.
Another diversion is to cut off the trail early, while still in Renton, and climb the hilly roads to the Soos Creek Trail. This adds about 12 miles and more hills to the route.
Head for Soos Creek by turning right onto 140th Avenue Southeast, which is just past two miles south of the community center. You’ll see it after the Cedar River Trail goes under the highway to run next to the golf course. A couple of long hills will take you to the Lake Youngs area. An unpaved trail around Lake Youngs is to the east a few blocks, accessed at Southeast 192nd Street.
To intersect with Soos Creek Trail, though, continue forward on 140th, which becomes Southeast 204th Way. There are restrooms on the trail a bit south. This six-mile-long, wooded trail ends at Lake Meridian, which has a park at its south edge.
But if you want to cut over to the Cedar River Trail to head back, turn off Soos Creek before you get to the end. Exit the trail on Southeast 244th Street, turn (left) east and follow the road until it becomes Southeast 240th Street. This takes you into Maple Valley, becoming Southeast Wax Road after going under state Route 18. Where it intersects with state Route 169, turn left and ride north for a dozen blocks on the highway’s shoulder to find the south end of the paved trail.
If this ride sounds interesting, but you don’t know the area, please get a good map and take it with you. King County has a great bike map, too, but it doesn’t show or name all the roads. It’s easy to get turned around, and my directions here necessarily are pretty general.
And if you do ride out there on a Sunday, don’t forget to make the scene with the maple syrup in Maple Valley.
Bill Thorness is the author of Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans. Contact him at email@example.com.