Here Are Our Favorite Seattle Parks, Beaches, and Hiking Trails

But If You Must Go Outside, Do Not Congregate, and Make Sure to Stay Safely Socially Distanced
March 20, 2020
Rich Smith calls Humpback Mountain the perfect place "for loners who want to traverse a magical fairyland." (Rich Smith)

Update: On second thought, please don't go hiking.

Spring is here, and normally Seattle's 485-plus parks and beaches would be swarmed with people having picnics, LARPing, and prematurely sunbathing. But as local public health officials urge people to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, such activities are strongly discouraged. While we absolutely understand and support these measures (hence our new virtual events calendar!) we also know that it can be tough to stay indoors when it's nice outside. So if you must get outdoors and do some solitary reflection somewhere other than your living quarters, we've rounded up our favorite Seattle parks and hiking trails for you—just remember if you do go out to stay at least six feet away from other people! For more on this subject, read Eli Sanders's warning on public park usage during a pandemic.


Discovery Park
In this wonderful place, which was formerly a military base, you can see houses that were built for army officers as you walk through Fort Lawton, which gives parts of Discovery Park a Little House on the Prairie feel. Located in the neighborhood of Magnolia, a short car or bus ride from downtown, Discovery Park is the biggest of the city's parks. It has 534 acres, and you can make your hike as challenging as you'd like, with a steep trail through the woods that takes you to the beach below. If you get there, you should walk over to the West Point Lighthouse and sit on the rocky sand. (Cheaters can drive right to the beach and park at the lower level parking lot.) Or you can walk the hilly fields that offer stunning views of Puget Sound. If you squint, it almost looks like you're in Ireland somewhere. TRICIA ROMANO

Green Lake Park
Designed by John Olmsted in 1903, Green Lake Park is one of the most visited parks in Seattle. Located about five miles from downtown (take the E-line bus if you are feeling adventurous), Green Lake has a European feel to it. The lake has a generous path that easily accommodates wheels and pedestrians. The main point of this is the leisurely stroll—about 2.8 miles around from beginning to end, which should take about an hour. TRICIA ROMANO

Volunteer Park
Volunteer Park is located on the tonier north side of Capitol Hill. The grounds are lush, and on the west-facing side, there's a famous sculpture, Black Sun by Isamu Noguchi (yes, the Soundgarden song is named after it), and, during sunset, the sun will line right up in the center of it. TRICIA ROMANO

Washington Park Arboretum
Run by the University of Washington, the Arboretum is a beautiful 230-acre park right in the center of the city. Walk down the great open trail, Azalea Way, all the way to the end at Duck Bay. If you curve to your left, it'll take you to another trail with floating walkways and a marshy swampy area, with lily pads covering the water. Or traverse the higher hills and get a completely different, deeper woods experience. The park is free, but if you decide to visit the Japanese Garden (and you should), it costs $6.TRICIA ROMANO


Poo Poo Point
According to the Washington Trails Association, during the early days of logging, hikers named this point on West Tiger Mountain for the sound the trains made ("oooooh, oooooh") as they zigzagged up and down the rails. This was obviously well before we standardized the onomatopoeia for many products of the steam age. Poo Poo Point is the closest and easiest hike (excepting Little Si and Rattlesnake Ridge) for Seattleites, the kind you're in the mood for if you woke up hungover at 11 a.m. but still want to walk through some red cedars. On a clear day, you can watch paragliders launch from the bald spot Weyerhaeuser shaved into the shoulder of the mountain in the 1970s. RICH SMITH

Mount Si
Even in the middle of winter, even when covered in snow, you can almost always get up and down this one without fearing for your life. For this and other reasons, the mountain is popular. The switchbacks make the same argument over and over again, especially on the way down, but if you're in more of a workout mode, you can find comfort in the repetition. Mount Si's summit feels like a playground. You can scramble up the haystack if you're trying to impress somebody. Otherwise, you can post up at the first lookout and behold the Cascades rolling out to the south, or else head over to the west side and strain to see Seattle in the distance. Note: Protect your snacks. The top is lousy with gray jays. These birds look like they just finished helping Cinderella get dressed, but they'll swoop down and snatch a cashew right out of your mouth. RICH SMITH

Melakwa Lake
In Chinook, "Melakwa" means mosquito, but I've hiked this mountain a lot in every kind of weather, and I have yet to be beset by the bug. In general, it is fun for the whole family, and of the mountains on this list, it sports the most natural variation. Tiny people (or incredibly stoned people) with limited attention spans can chill out on the broad, rocky banks of Denny Creek, which you'll stumble across a little over two miles in. Those who prefer to bathe in a pair of shimmering emerald lakes surrounded by jagged peaks can continue walking for a few more miles through a gorgeous valley, past a massive waterfall, up a moderately challenging ridge, and down to the lake region. Though you'll be tempted to hang around the first lake, be sure to walk to the second lake. The Instagram vista you're looking for will hit you on the way back (though if you're walking in late spring, your photo storage might be filled up with pics of the wildflowers sprayed along the trailside). Also! It might just be me, but the moss that grows on the trees in this area appears to be more electrically green than anywhere else in the entire world.RICH SMITH

Humpback Mountain
For loners who want to traverse a magical fairyland, this one's for you. You can find stuff on Humpback Mountain that you won't find at any of the other places on this list. And because the mountain is hard to find and difficult to assail, you'll never have too much company. The thin trail winds its way through a dense forest of tall, skinny trees. You'll need to grab hold of them when the going gets tough, which is almost the whole way. But it's a short way! (Only two miles one-way.) And the soft pine duff underfoot makes the consistently steep incline bearable. Closer to the top, you'll see giant mushrooms springing out of soaked stumps and moss carpeting large swaths of the ground. The path is so un-manicured and secretive that it almost feels illegal to hike here, but it's not! Also not illegal: crystal hunting. In the Hansen Creek area just below the trailhead, rock hounds scoop out the dirt beneath huge trees in search of quartz and purple amethyst. If you stray from the path as I have, it's not uncommon to find piles of clear gems poking out of the earth.RICH SMITH

Granite Mountain
I like this behemoth best in early autumn. The cool air keeps you from overheating on the tough ascent, and the colors of the foliage in the area are unbeatable. The first leg shares a trail with Pratt Lake, and the scenery is pretty typical. Tall trees, giant broken trees, armored trees, little creeks, and the occasional cathedral of ferns. But once you split off onto the Granite Mountain trail proper, stuff starts getting sacred, and you begin to see how the mountain got its name. While crossing the alpine meadow about a mile away from the summit, patches of maroon bushes and splashes of neon-yellow leaves pop out against the white-gray slabs of granite. There are huckleberries all over the place, and the green is a deeper green here. The rock formations make the meadow look like a cemetery for humongous gods, or the ruins of some ancient civilization, or just a really cool-looking junkyard reserved exclusively for kitchen counters. A fire-watch house stands at the mountain's peak, and it offers the best views of any of the mountains on this list. You can see everything up there.RICH SMITH

Bonus: All National Parks are free to visit during the COVID-19 outbreak—the Park Service has waived entrance fees.


Alki Beach Park
Alki Beach is one of two truly beachy beaches in Seattle—it's a bit smaller than Golden Gardens in Ballard, but comes with a totally SoCal boardwalk. Bikers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and walkers course up and down the crowded sidewalk along the beach. You can take a break and eat ice cream, burgers, pizza, or drink margaritas by the water and people-watch. The sandy area is small, but there are a few fire pits that you can lay claim to if you want to barbecue, and a beautiful view of downtown Seattle and beyond. Worth the 25-minute trek to West Seattle.TRICIA ROMANO

Golden Gardens
Golden Gardens is a true beachy beach with the golden sand of its namesake. You'll see boats swirling around on Puget Sound, people playing volleyball and sitting around fire pits. There might be a drum circle or two, for which we apologize in advance. The west-facing location of Golden Gardens makes for stunning sunset views. If you want to get a spot to barbecue, you should show up early and stake a claim.TRICIA ROMANO