Urban Nature, Bellevue-Style

Photo by Adam Sawyer

If you jump east from Seattle over Lake Washington, you’ll land on the banks of a new area code. It’s not far as the crow flies, but far enough to create some differences. The outdoor recreation options in Bellevue and Kirkland―known as “the Eastside”―are many. There, you’ll relish a delightful blend of city and nature where you don’t have to go far to enjoy some of the Northwest’s best outdoor action.

A guaranteed way to get your feet wet in the second largest natural lake in the state is by making your way to Marina Park in downtown Kirkland, just steps away from restaurants, wine bars and tony hotels. The good folks at Northwest Paddle Surfers rent stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) right on the banks of Lake Washington. If you haven’t tried to SUP before, no worries. If lack of balance or bravado prevent you from making it to the bay, the marina is all the space you need. When you’re done you can return the board and walk 50 yards to the Flatstick Pub for some indoor mini golf and pints.

One of the best ways to enjoy the water and commune with nature right in the middle of the city is by heading south to Enatai Beach Park. Rent a canoe or kayak from Cascade PaddleSports and put into the lake. Across the channel is Mercer Island, and almost directly above you is I-90. Paddle east for a bit, make your way under the highway bridges and enter the Mercer Slough Nature Park. The 320-acre wildlife habitat boasts more than seven miles of trails including the canoe trail you’re currently paddling. In very short orderthe traffic noise and underpasses are exchanged for euphonious bird calls and calm water. The water trail eventually loops and leads back out to the lake.

For drier outdoor pursuits, the Bellevue Botanical Garden sits a short jaunt from the Mercer Slough and is a real stunner. The 53 acres of gardens, natural wetlands and woodlands are so well laid out that it feels like far more. There are several events and alternating displays throughout the year, as well as a gift shop, visitors center and even the Copper Kettle Coffee Bar. Trails lead through a wonderfully varied landscape and numerous distinct gardens. It’s a true jewel that shows off something new every visit. It’s the perfect representation of urban nature on the other side of the lake.

To get outdoors in Bellevue, find out more at visitbellevuewashington.com, and in Kirkland, explorekirkland.com.

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