How to Paddle Lake Union, Seattle
Seattle has been on my SUP wish list for a few years now and last week, I finally checked that box. Everyone tells me it rains daily in Seattle, but it was sunny and moderately warm my entire trip! I realize this probably isn’t reality, but it was perfect paddle weather and I really enjoyed the city.
The Seattle skyline and mountains make for a perfect backdrop for any paddle boarding adventure, but Lake Union is especially unique with seaplanes, house boats, and spectacular skyline views. I was in Seattle for five days in October and although there were still some SUP rental options, I decided to bring my paddle board along for the ride. My hotel was located downtown and renting a car wasn’t feasible on this trip, so I researched launch spots within a 5 mile radius. Lake Union immediately caught my eye and I found a launch spot just a mile from my hotel, thanks to the GoPaddling app. I can’t believe I just discovered this app, but it shows launch points for personal watercraft in various locations.
Lake Union is a really unique paddle experience. It’s not every day you can paddle on the same water as seaplanes taking off and landing all day. After launching, I paddled to the east side of the lake to admire all the houseboats and enjoy views of the Ship Canal Bridge. On the north side of the lake is Gas Works Park and just west of the park is the Aurora Bridge with mountains in the background. If you paddle west under the Aurora Bridge, you’ll see the Fremont bridge and can continue all the way to the Ballard Locks. I didn’t have enough time to do this, but I plan to next time. There is a launch point on the ship canal near West Ewing Park, too.
My first attempt to paddle Lake Union was a little rough. There was a storm cloud passing over and it was really windy and rough. The air and water temperature was only a combined 113 degrees and I didn’t have my drysuit, so I couldn’t take any chances of falling in the water. When I came back the next day, the lake looked like glass - perfect paddling conditions. I launched my paddle board from a dock just west of Lake Union Park on 9th street.
The launch point is right next to the seaplane dock, so be mindful of the seaplane traffic in and out of the dock. Watching the seaplanes was definitely my favorite part of paddling Lake Union, but the incredible skyline views can’t be understated. The views in every direction on Lake Union are truly breathtaking.
If you take a day off from paddling and are up for a nice 10K run around the lake, check out of the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop. I ran this loop my last day in Seattle and enjoyed a different view of Lake Union. The trail on the east side of the lake is a little confusing, but once you cross University Bridge and start heading west, it becomes a little more organized. The Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop doesn’t go through Gas Works Park, so make sure and take a detour to explore this park. You’ll find incredible views from the hill in the park.
Lake Union is a great place to explore with your inflatable paddle board or rent from Northwest Outdoor Center or Thunderbird SUP. There are several launch spots around the lake, but I found the dock at 9th street to be the most accessible. If you find yourself in Seattle, be sure to make time to explore Lake Union on a paddle board - you won’t be disappointed!