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Expert advice and three local hikes to prep your knees, quads and hammies for pain-free trekking
Lace up the boots. Find your heavy-duty socks. It’s time for summer hiking in Seattle. But before you hit the trails—especially if you’re more of an occasional hiker—be aware of the stress that hiking places on your knees.
Knee pain often starts because a person’s quadriceps muscles—those big ones at the front of your thighs—aren’t strong enough. Weak quad muscles can lead to damage under the kneecap, a meniscal injury, and stress and strain on the famous ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament. At the same time, a hiker’s hamstring muscles at the back of the thighs may be tight from too much sitting and not enough stretching. “If the hamstring muscles can be stretched and the quad muscles can be strengthened, this will create stability around the knee,” says Laura Yon-Brooks, a sports medicine professional and yoga teacher at Planet Earth Yoga in Fremont.
Three local hikes, along with adequate stretching and recommended body-position tips, will help prepare your knees for an active hiking season.
Arboretum Waterfront Trail
This flat and often spongy trail begins at the northeast corner of the Museum of History & Industry’s lower parking lot in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. Hikers travel via boardwalks to Marsh Island and Foster Island. On Foster Island, the path turns south and goes under Highway 520 and past a lagoon, ending at the arboretum’s Azalea Way—glorious in springtime but a pleasant place to appreciate nature any time of the year. Round-trip, it’s about a three-mile hike.
Recommended prep: If you are a regular Green Lake walker, this flat-terrain hike is for you. Wear a well-cushioned pair of running or walking shoes, but be warned: You may get your feet wet.
Park in the south parking lot just off West Emerson Street in Magnolia. Follow the Loop Trail to the South Beach Trail. Hikers descend to South Beach, taking a right to end at the West Point lighthouse. Spy Puget Sound from striking vantage points along the cliff, and as you descend through native forests and along a tidal beachfront. This hike is approximately two miles round trip, with lots of side-trip options.
Recommended prep: Wear running or walking shoes with good arch support, or a pair of light hiking boots. Before attempting this stair-rich hike, complete a handful of stair-climb walks, such as on the steps above Golden Gardens Park. “Imagine that you are walking down an icy slope as you hike down steps or any incline,” says Ellen Roth, a physical therapist and owner of Smooth Moves Physical Therapy (between Fremont and Ballard). “If you stay upright, your feet would slide out from underneath you. Lean forward from your hips as you go up or go down.” Also, when ascending or descending, make sure you can see the tip of the foot as your knee bends forward. You should also be able to see your instep inside your knee.
Lake Twenty Two
About an hour and a half from Seattle, this lush, five-mile round trip features gigantic virgin cedar and hemlock trees, waterfalls and Mount Pilchuck’s bold northern flank as it climbs 1,300 feet to an elevation of 2,400 feet. This hike sometimes offers enchanting mists and long-distance views of spring avalanches collapsing into the lake. To get there, take U.S. Route 2 east from Everett. Turn left onto Highway 9 and then right onto Highway 92. After passing through Granite Falls, turn left on the Mountain Loop Highway. Drive about 10.6 miles to the U.S. Forest Service’s Verlot Public Service Center and con