Burke-Gilman History

The Burke-Gilman Trail is one of the most heavily used pedestrian and bicycling facilities in Seattle. It runs east from Golden Gardens Park in Ballard and connects to the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell. It is a 27-mile (43 km) multi-use recreational trail and is part of the King County Regional Trail System.

Born as a Railroad

In 1885 Judge Thomas Burke, Daniel Gilman and ten other investors set out to establish a Seattle-based railroad so that the young city might win a place among major transportation centers and reap the economic benefits of trade. Their plan was to start along today's Burke-Gilman Trail route and go north to Sumas and connect with the Canadian Transcontinental line. Their Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad, though it never got past Arlington, Washington, was a major regional line serving Puget Sound logging areas. The line was acquired by Northern Pacific in 1913 and continued in fairly heavy use until 1963. The Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Burlington lines were merged in 1970 to become Burlington Northern Railroad. In 1971 Burlington Northern applied to abandon the line.

A Multiple Use Trail

Citizens quickly recognized the non-motorized transportation and recreational potential in the railroad line and launched a movement to acquire the right-of-way for a public biking and walking trail. Objections from residents living near the proposed trail were overcome and the City of Seattle, the University of Washington and King County cooperated in developing the route. The original 12.1 miles of the trail connecting Seattle's Gas Works Park and King County's Tracy Owen Station in Kenmore were dedicated on August 19, 1978.

The trail was recently extended west through Seattle's Fremont neighborhood to Eighth Avenue NW. The trail also reaches east to Redmond by means of the Samammish River Trail.

A Major Urban Route

The Burke-Gilman Trail is an outstanding success and has been beneficial to the neighborhoods which it passes through. The trail has become a major transportation corridor that serves thousands of commuter and recreational cyclists. It demonstrates that when the proper facilities are provided many people will chose healthy, pollution-free, non-motorized modes of travel.

The trail can at times be busy and even crowded with cyclists, walkers, joggers and skaters. Busy periods require all users be especially watchful, cautious, and respectful of others. Fast cyclists must adjust their speed to suit the conditions or use alternative routes. All trail users must keep to the right.

Safety Code

Go Slow
Keep Right
Respect Others
Horses and motorized vehicles are not allowed on the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Trail Etiquette

Bicyclists - Bicyclists should yield to pedestrians and give an audible warning when passing others on the trail. All riders should ride at a safe speed and avoid pace lines and pack riding. Fast cyclists should use alternative routes; some routes are suggested on the Seattle Bicycling Guide Map. Wear a bicycle helmet.

Pedestrians - Walkers, runners, and skaters should watch for other trail users and listen for audible signals to allow faster users to pass safely. When the trail is congested, form a single line to the right. Dogs should be on a leash (maximum length of 8 feet) and dog walkers are required to remove pet feces from the trail.

For more information about the Seattle Bicycle & Pedestrian Program, call (206) 684-7583.


Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.