Can’t decide where to go hiking with the family this weekend? Try these five unique kid-friendly hikes near Seattle.
Padilla Bay Shore Trail
Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Puget Sound
Hike along an embankment with windswept views of Padilla Bay, San Juan Islands, and Cascades.
The Padilla Bay Shore Trail may seem like a simple walk along the water, but it has much more to offer. The wide, mostly flat trail includes lovely views of Padilla Bay, but what makes this hike a treat are the wildlife-watching opportunities and habitat variety—from farmland to sloughs and mudflats. The trail crosses the top of a dike, and the slightly perched view means that you can spy great blue herons, the peaks of the Cascades, and the San Juan Islands in the distance, and enjoy the ever-changing shoreline as it ebbs and flows with the tide.
The exposed trail can get quite windy; plan to bring sun and wind protection, especially on clear days. While the trail is a great year-round destination, it’s particularly scenic on a clear winter day when you can walk along the water with views of distant snowcapped mountains.
Foster and Marsh Islands
Washington Park Arboretum, Puget Sound
This urban hike includes floating walkways and views of Union Bay, the Montlake Bridge, and the Cascades.
This trail through Foster and Marsh Islands can be hiked year-round, but a visit in spring and summer means the flowers are blooming, the birds are plentiful, and there’s less chance of the trails being muddy and mucky from wet weather. While you will hear some traffic noise from the 520 bridge, it will not ruin the nature experience. Bring binoculars for up-close views of birds and waterfowl, and pick up a free trail brochure from the visitors center to help identify plants and sights along the walk.
Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Puget Sound
This family-friendly hike along the Nisqually Delta has plentiful wildlife and water views.
On the southern edge of the Puget Sound sits the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area of freshwater marshes, saltmarshes, grasslands, woodlands, and forest that supports the habitats of more than 300 species of wildlife. Check the tides before you come: Visiting during high tide gives you a walk-on-water feel on the boardwalk trail, while a visit during low tide provides views of the expansive mudflats where birds and waterfowl forage for food.
Stop by the visitors center (9am-4pm Wed.-Sun.) to learn more about the history of the Nisqually Delta and to check out a pair of binoculars before heading out, enabling up-close views of wildlife. Plan to arrive early on sunny weekends, as this is a popular place for photographers, naturalists, and families.
Denny Creek Trail to Melakwa Lake
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, I-90
Less than an hour’s drive east of Seattle, the Denny Creek Trail to Melakwa Lake is a scenic, family-friendly romp with the option to visit waterfalls.
This popular trail is a Seattle family favorite for picnicking and frolicking at the natural waterslide. Plan to arrive early (the small parking lot can fill quickly), and visit in summer when water levels for Denny Creek are safe to cross, or come in early fall for a cool outing among fall foliage. Bring bug spray to ward off the persistent mosquitoes in early summer.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, I-90
A gentle hike through a partially canopied forest along the South Fork Snoqualmie River leads to a gorgeous waterfall.
Franklin Falls is one of the most popular hikes in the Snoqualmie Pass area. This gentle, shady trail along the South Fork Snoqualmie River ends at beautiful, 70-foot Franklin Falls. The short distance, mild elevation gain, and spectacular falls make this a great option for families and beginner hikers. Visit in late spring when the trail has shed its winter coat and the falls are raging, or in early fall when the water flow has quieted and you can get close to the falls without getting doused in a misty shower.
The trail is very popular. Avoid holiday weekends and visit midweek or early in the day on weekends to get a head start on the foot traffic. It’s possible to easily extend your day with a visit to Annette Lake or the Asahel Curtis Nature Trail; both start from the same trailhead, less than a 4-mile drive from the Franklin Falls Trailhead.
Excerpted From the First Edition of Moon 75 Great Hikes Seattle.