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News / Life / Travel

Seattle’s new urban hiking group brings friendship and adventure

By Sarah-Mae McCullough, The Seattle Times
Published: May 19, 2024, 6:00am

SEATTLE — On a Sunday in April, I joined an urban hike where, it felt, Seattle’s notorious Freeze did not exist. The group of more than 100 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s — many of whom had just met — chatted comfortably as we walked through West Seattle.

On our 5-mile loop from Alki Beach, we passed busy restaurants, a peaceful, old-growth forest and quaint rows of houses. The conversations around me ranged from the basic “get-to-know-you” questions to passion projects and the lingering effects of pandemic isolation.

The group — participating in the new walking club Out and About, organized by Seattle content creator Sara Anfuso — sprawled over several blocks, and at least two drivers rolled down their car windows to ask what was going on.

“A walking group from Instagram,” someone explained.

“Look up @servedbysara!” someone else shouted.

Anfuso formed the group after her Instagram posts on long-distance walking took off in January. A video about what she was bringing to “[walk] 14 miles across Seattle to get boba with friends” was viewed more than 4 million times, helping her reach her current 47,000 followers.

Then, comments requesting in-person walks prompted her to bring the online community into the real world with Out and About, which joins other local walking groups like the Emerald City Wanderers and the Seattle Wellness Society. While there’s lots to be said about urban hiking around Seattle, one of the biggest draws of the group, Anfuso said, is “meeting so many people who aren’t in your sphere.”

“I have met so many amazing people I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise,” said Anfuso, who’s from San Diego but moved to Seattle last year.

In her experience, people walking Seattle’s streets seem less likely to say hi to each other than their counterparts in San Diego, Anfuso said. But the Alki Beach walk felt like a pocket of community where striking up a conversation with someone new was completely normal and anyone could become a friend in a matter of minutes.

As we strolled down Alki Avenue, I posed a question — what extreme sport would you try, if any? — to the small group I was walking with and someone several paces ahead of us whipped around to answer, naturally joining the conversation. Before the post-walk cold plunge into the Sound (the event was co-hosted by the local group Coldwater Collective), I watched someone lend his sandals to a near-stranger who wanted to wade into the water without so much as introducing himself. And as shivering cold-plungers dried up and got dressed on shore, several exchanged contact information or formed group chats to stay in touch.

Most of the people I talked to on the walk said they found the group on Instagram, but they appreciated that Out and About brought social media connections together in person. As one walker told me, people are tired of spending so much time on their phones, perhaps explaining the impressive attendance at the real-life event.

Besides meeting people, there’s more to why Seattleites keep showing up for urban hikes or why distance walking through cities (which, to Anfuso, generally means walking 10 or more miles) has been drawing attention online.

Turning a city walk into an adventure can also be more accessible for people without cars. “There’s such a culture here of only getting out to the mountains,” Anfuso said, and while spending time in nature has plenty of upsides, it can leave out people without good transportation options.

Then there’s the infrastructure that makes urban hiking feasible. Walking paths in Seattle, from the Burke-Gilman Trail to the path along the 520 bridge, make planning out long walking routes through the city easier, Anfuso said. And in the Emerald City, even urban walks will likely include green spaces — we don’t rank among the country’s Top 10 park systems for nothing.

It’s also a way to get to know your city, said Janelle Bentley, another local Instagram content creator who walked the Seattle Olmsted 50, a five-section, 50-kilometer route from Ballard to Rainier Beach, with Anfuso.

“You get to see so many different aspects of the area that you live in,” she said. Bentley always seems to find “a new hidden gem” when she walks, from the “absolutely gorgeous” Frink Park in Leschi, to community spaces like the gallery Black Arts Love in First Hill and restaurants and coffee shops around the city.

“There’s so many places that you can enjoy just by simply walking around,” she said. “You can discover things that way.”

Going walking?

If you’re heading out on your own urban distance walk, Anfuso recommends not wearing headphones to stay aware of your surroundings, planning your route ahead of time to make sure it passes through safe areas and bringing plenty of food. She also likes to bring a backpack for any unexpected purchases (like the time she came across Ben’s Bread Co. and wanted to bring home some sourdough). You can find upcoming Out and About walks on Anfuso’s Instagram page (@servedbysara).

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Here are some more walking groups to explore around town:

  • Find upcoming walks and meetings, plus recommendations for routes, from the walking club Emerald City Wanderers at emeraldcitywanderers.org.
  • Seattle Wellness Society hosts walks for women every weekend. Find updates at instagram.com/seattlewellnesssociety.
  • GirlTrek organizes group walks for Black women and girls and spearheads other advocacy efforts. Connect with Seattle’s GirlTrek community at facebook.com/groups/girltrekwashington.
  • The city of Seattle’s volunteer-run Sound Steps walking program is aimed at increasing physical activity and social connection for people ages 50 and older. You can learn more and get in touch at st.news/sound-steps.
  • On meetup.com, you can find lots of active, local groups such as the Redmond Watershed Walkers, Seattle Stair Walkers and Eastside Walkers.