Seattle Area Hikes - Notable Trails

Mercer Slough Nature Park -- Smack in the middle of ever-growing downtown Bellevue is this 326-acre, mega-wetlands park with six miles of trails for watching ducks and geese, herons and beavers among cattails, rushes and reeds. "The largest wetland park in the western United States." Deep inside its watery reaches along the main trail, one even forgets the surrounding city. The south trailhead is on the south side of the South Bellevue park and ride. From Interstate 90, take the Bellevue Way exit and find the park and ride in two-tenths of a mile. You can rent canoes at Cascade Canoe at Enatai. The canal through the nature park affords views of great blue herons, green herons, bald eagles, Steller’s jays, beavers, muskrats, turtles, wild iris, and water lilies. Blackberries are ready to eat in August!

Carkeek Park -- A longtime favorite of discriminating Seattle-area park lovers, this beauty also follows a valley to the shores of Puget Sound, ending at a neat little beach at the small delta of Pipers Creek. A run of chum salmon is expected. The park's 216 acres encompass at least eight miles of trails. The best are in the wilder woods of the uplands above the valley, particularly on the south side. The forest along the trail up Venema Creek just may include remnants of old-growth fir, some four feet in diameter. Get to Carkeek by heading north on Third Avenue Northwest from Holman Road north of Ballard, then left on Northwest 110th Street to the park entrance.

Schmitz Park -- Is it possible for a virgin forest to exist within the limits of the largest West Coast city north of San Francisco? Visit Schmitz Park in West Seattle for the answer. Even if it didn't offer a relatively wild urban escape, this park is worth visiting just to see what all the uplands above the shores of Puget Sound once looked like: A splendid setting of massive, old-growth Douglas fir and western red cedar, many towering some 200 feet, their roots carpeted by sword ferns and salal. This 50-acre forest is one of two spots inside Seattle that contain old-growth forest, the other being Seward Park. About two miles of trail traverse the park's ancient forest gulch. From West Seattle, follow Admiral Way Southwest toward the Sound. At its intersection with Southwest Stevens Street, take a left and find a parking lot.

St. Edwards State Park -- this Park’s 316 acres represent the last big chunk of intact forest on Lake Washington and include 3,000 feet of shoreline as well as ridges and ravines as rugged as a suburban park can get. We recommend a loop that circumnavigates the park. Follow the North Trail, which twists and turns its way down to the lake through a 75-year-old forest of cedar, fir, hemlock, as well as red alder at peak maturity and even some Pacific yews. Then follow the shore south past monstrous black cottonwoods to the South Ridge Trail, the park's finest. It climbs from the shore steeply up a narrow spine of deep forest before returning to the main park grounds. The total loop is almost three miles. To get there, follow Juanita Drive south from Kenmore about a mile to the entrance at Northeast 145th Street. Head right at the "Y" to parking lots near an old seminary building topped by a quaint bell tower.

O.O. Denny Park -- Better known is the park's beach on Lake Washington, which on summer weekends is elbow-to-elbow bodies slickened by sunscreen. Almost unknown is the beautiful trail -- about one mile -- that climbs the upland across the street, into the valley of Big Finn Creek. It's a mere sliver of sylvan serenity inside suburbia, but surprisingly wild, with fine large trees and one virgin Douglas fir, a plaque claiming it to be 600 years old and 26.3 feet in circumference. Follow Interstate 405 north to the Northeast 116th Street exit (just north of Kirkland) and take a left at the stop light. Follow 116th Street about two miles to the main intersection of Juanita, where it becomes Juanita Drive. From the intersection, go two miles and take a left on Holmes Point Drive. O.O. Denny is about two miles later; the main parking area is on the left and the trail begins directly across the road.

Kirkland Watershed Park -- For decades only locals visited this abandoned waterworks area to look at its two circular, concrete remnants of reservoirs and hike its deep-ravine forests. Even now that its 60 acres constitute an official park, one can still often be alone. The concrete structures are still there, one of them referred to by Harvey Manning in one of his books as a "Martian landing pad," and the ravine is still covered by wonderful woods of fir, hemlock, maple, alder and madrona. Hike all of its two miles of trail to examine the concrete curiosities on the uplands and to cure cabin fever in the ravine's fine forest. Take Exit 17 off I-405, then take a left at the light and another left at the next light, onto Southeast 70th Place. Follow that about two miles to 108th Avenue Northeast and go left. In another couple miles, take a left onto Northeast 45th Street, and find the small main parking lot at its intersection with 110th Avenue Northeast.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Loop -- When old bird watchers finally hang up their binoculars and move on to the next realm, they often wind up here: Nisqually Refuge is a birder's heaven. The 2,818- acre refuge, a former farm that most Northwesterners drive by on Interstate 5 for a lifetime without noticing, was established in 1974 to preserve one of the last, best, undisturbed estuaries on Puget Sound. It's a major mid-trip stopover for migratory mallards, teal, widgeon, Canada geese and a slew of other birds. And other spectacular Northwest species such as the redtail hawk and great blue heron are frequently seen here year-round.

The Refuge is wonderfully simple: A flat, 5.5-mile loop leads all the way around the perimeter on a dike. The trail is flat, wide and easy, but it's tough to stay on it. You're liable to be lured off to the marshy inner refuge on one of many side trails that lead through the marshes to photo blinds and other bird-viewing spots. On the outer edge of the loop, a two-story viewing stand provides excellent views onto the vast, unspoiled saltwater tidal flats where any number of sea-going birds can be viewed.

The southern leg of the square loop skirts the Nisqually River. While this is a nice walk all year long, many bird-watchers flock here in the winter and spring, when the migratory bird highway nears gridlock. In the summer, much of the inner marsh area is obscured by blackberry vines (oodles of fresh berries, to boot) and leaves. In the winter, views throughout the refuge are excellent. Bring binoculars, a camera, a big lens, water (there is none on the trail) and, in the summer, a hat.

The Nisqually Refuge, visited by about 70,000 people a year, is open dawn to dusk, year-round. The Twin Barns Education Center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends. This is a must-visit for Puget-Sound-area nature fans, particularly those with children. If time is short, the refuge also has one-mile and half-mile nature- trail loops.

The perimeter loop is fully accessible to wheelchairs, but can get quite muddy. The trail leading to the Twin Barns is a boardwalk accessed by ramps with a gradient of 6 to 20 percent.

User groups: Hikers and wheelchairs only; no dogs or mountain bikes are allowed. Much of the refuge trail system is a flat grade and accessible to wheelchairs.

Permits: Not required. A $2-per-family access fee collected at a donation station at the main trail entrance. Free parking.

Directions: From Seattle or Portland, drive Interstate 5 to Exit 114 (Nisqually), 56 miles south of Seattle. Turn west under the freeway and drive one-quarter mile north on Brown Farm Road to the Wildlife Refuge parking lot, where the main trailhead is in view.

Maps: For a free brochure and map, contact the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at the address below. To obtain a USGS topographic map, ask for Nisqually. Contact: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 100 Brown Farm Road, Olympia, WA 98506; (360) 753-9467.

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