5 great trails for a fall/winter family hike, in and near Seattle
Fall is a great time to hike through the Washington Park Arboretum.
University of Washington
In fall and winter, a lot of us don’t get outside often enough. The weather and the darkness keep us cooped up. So it’s extra important to take some time on the weekend to escape our houses and routines, go outside and take in some nature.
Here are some good places to go with your kids, even if the weather is terrible. Rainy days add to the lush mossiness of our winter woods, and enhance streams and waterfalls.
So go hiking!
Trail distances: 2.8 miles for the loop trail, 4.4 miles for the lighthouse loop trail.
It’s only about five miles from the Space Needle, but with more than 500 acres of wild land in a dramatic waterfront setting, it feels like another world.
You can hike for miles at Discovery Park. In addition to beaches and wildlife, keep an eye out for ferries, islands and interesting clouds. (Photo: Fiona Cohen)
There’s abundant room here to stretch your hiking muscles. The south meadow has a great view over the sound and many birds, and there’s a sandy spot where kids like to pause and play. The woods include some massive trees, including gnarled big-leaf maples. These trees have so many other living things growing on them that they have dirt on their branches. In winter, you can see great thickets of licorice ferns sprouting out of them. There are two main beaches, each different in character, separated by a historic lighthouse.
If there’s a member of your party under 8 or over 62, you can collect a beach permit from the Environmental Learning Center (also worth a visit: check out the puppets.) If nobody falls into those age ranges, there’s a shuttle you can catch to the beach, or you can walk there.
Loop trail: 2 miles. Waterfront trail: up to one mile each way.
Starting from the Graham Visitors Center, you can access a variety of trails to explore the gardens, woods and wetlands that make up the Arboretum.
My favorite trail is the waterfront trail, which takes you over bridges and boardwalks and two islands, through cattails and willows and over the lake itself, to wind up at the Montlake Cut. November is a great time to go there because the lake is full of spectacular water birds, arrived from the east and north to spend the winter, feed and breed in the relative warmth of Seattle winters. Rubber boots are a good idea here.
Various trails that can be combined in a 2.5-mile loop, or smaller.
Breathe in the fresh air and listen to birdsong as you mosey along one of this park’s many well maintained, wooded trails. Don’t miss the 3,000-foot stretch of trail along the lakefront. It’s not the longest trail along Lake Washington. (That title goes to the trail around Seward Park), but it is the wildest and most tranquil.
You need a Discover Pass ($10 for a day or $30 for a year) to park in St. Edward State Park. Luckily, you can buy it from a machine in the parking lot or online here.
Round trip: Two miles.
This extremely popular trail gives you a taste of wilderness without subjecting you to a long drive on gravel roads away from the highway. Actually, you don’t get away from the highway at all. The trail, complete with lovely old growth forest and the 135-foot waterfall is under the big viaducts that take Interstate 90 over the mountains.
Don’t go if there’s snow at this elevation (2,000-2,500 feet), but rain only enhances the experience, and a cold snap without snow gives you a chance to see the falls with a glittering collar of icicles. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking. Pass is $5 for the day, available online here, or $30 for the year, available here.
Trails: Bluff trail 1.5 miles one way, a variety of loops possible
On wind-whipped November days, it’s fun to be by the sea. One good place to do that is Fort Ebey State Park, one of several beautiful parks on Whidbey Island, a short hop on a ferry from Mukilteo.
If you go to Fort Ebey, you must check out two things: One is the bluff trail, which has amazing views, plus the remains of a World War II gun battery. The other is the broad beach, which could be a long ramble in itself. If conditions are right, you might see some people surfing there. You need a Discover Pass ($10 for a day or $30 for a year) to park at Fort Ebey. You can buy a pass online here.
Related: Don't miss our perennially popular list of "Short Hikes for Short Legs." And we'll never tell if you take these trails without any little kids!