Since born in Washington State, I’d be doing more than stretching the truth to say that scenic beauty is why I moved to the state – however, it is what’s kept me here. Born in a tiny town nestled at the base of the Cascade Range, I was raised in an area abundant in natural everything: beauty, surroundings and inspiration. Seattle was a natural progression for me – sitting at the apex of three of the most scenic natural parks in the country (Mt. Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades) this area offers everything I need to sate my desires for culture, food, wine and nature.
Within the city itself are a treasure-trove of parks offering something for everyone. My favorites? Those which bring the rugged surrounding of the Olympics and Cascades (or at least ‘the best of’) to my city:
Discovery Park (http://www.cityofseattle.net/Parks/environment/discovparkindex.htm): Within the 530+ acres of this in-city park just a few miles NW of downtown lies the first of Seattle’s gems. With wide-open, wind-swept fields overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympics and heavily-wooded thickets reminiscent of trails over 3-hours east, this parks hosts hours of hiking opportunity (and even a hidden heron rookery!). As the only ‘wilderness park’ within the city, I’ve been asked if there’s something more ‘woodsy’ by visitors. More ‘woodsy’ than, let’s say bears and cougars? (Both have been sighted in the park in recent years!). Discovery Park offers nearly everything you’ll find in a Cascade trail, but is accessible in 25-minutes by public bus! (Metro #19 or #24 from 4th & University)
Schmitz Park Preserve (http://www.seattle.gov/parks/park_detail.asp?ID=465): Tiny when compared to Discovery Park, Schmitz Park is tucked away in a residential neighborhood overlooking Seattle’s Alki Beach. With miles of hiking trails (and associated stinging nettles), Schmitz boasts the only old forest within the city. (Metro #54 or #56 from 1st & Pine.)
Washington Park Arboretum (http://depts.washington.edu/wpa/index.htm): Wrapping from the Washington Ship Canal south of the University of Washington and cradling acres of estuaries, the Arboretum’s 230 acres are a sharp contrast to the wild, rustic acreage of Schmitz and Discovery parks. The Arboretum is a classic example of how parks can educate: over 10,000 (of a total 20,000+) species are catalogued in collections. Seattle’s ‘metronatural’ tag is prevalent within the meandering acres of meandering grassy-pathways and waterways. Punctuated by stunning Japanese gardens on its southern flanks, this park is easy accessible from nearly every side. (Metro #11 drops riders only a short walk from the Japanese pavilion).
Want to really get out and see the area? Take a day-trip, or overnight, to one of the three national parks in the area. (www.nps.gov) Each brings a unique experience for visitors and locals. Mt. Rainier‘s old-growth forests, cascading waterfalls and glaciers offer views and enjoyment for every type of traveller. Olympic National Park‘s Hoh rainforest – as the only temperate rainforest in the continental United States – brings something unique and exciting. Roving herds of Roosevelt elk, soaring eagles and crashing waves on the Pacific Coast make this a worthwhile (yet extremely long) day trip. North Cascades Park sets itself aside from others not only in its remote location, but also because no roads actually enter the park. If you’re a day-hiker or backpacker, this park should be a part of your northwest experience! Hike the shoreline of Diablo Lake’s deep turquoise waters, or venture into dense forests of year’s old cedar and Douglas fir.
The beauty of parks in Seattle and Washington State? Coupled with the city, it’s difficult to find an experience that compares. Where else can you walk through old-growth forest during the day, enjoy dinner with a James Beard chef, then punctuate your evening with Broadway entertainment or world-class jazz artists?