When it comes to finding nature within the city, it's hard to top Seward Park. This mostly forested park, situated on a peninsula that juts into Lake Washington from southeast Seattle, contains 120 acres of old growth trees – the biggest stand within the city of Seattle. And the path along its shoreline is the longest you can walk along the Lake Washington without waving in someone's window. It's a nice little escape into greenery and birdsong, no freeway driving required.
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Here are six ways kids can explore the many amazing things the park has to offer:
Spot an eagle
Bald eagles nest in the park, and it's a pretty good bet that on any given visit, you can spot one. They like to perch at the top of one of the tallest old evergreens. (A truly Pacific Northwest Christmas tree would have a bald eagle on the top, not a star or an angel.) Or sometimes they pose photogenically on one of the trees nearest the water.
Here's something many people don't know about bald eagles: They don't make the screeching noise you hear them make on TV or in the movies. That's a red-tailed hawk, which is a fierce-sounding bird, unlike the bald eagle. Eagle calls sound more like a squeaky door than the call of the wild.
Explore the old growth
Seward Park has a network of trails that bring you up close to big mossy Douglas Firs and red cedars and the other living things that depend on them. You can find places where a long-fallen tree has become a nurse log for a new generation, examine epiphytes — plants, fungi and lichens that grow on other plants — and see wildlife trees, old dead snags that now make homes for animals. And it's lovely. Even on a busy weekend day, you can get a little quiet and solitude on these paths.
Contemplate a mystery
Something has been killing the sword ferns in the forest on the south side of Seward Park, and scientists are working hard to find out what it is. You can read about it here, and you can see the phenomenon for yourself by walking the trails.
Meet a Madrona
Madronas are delightfully oddball trees. They are evergreen, but their leaves are shaped like those of deciduous trees. They have smooth, reddish brown bark that peels off in paper rolls. They are fun for kids to touch, explore and sometimes climb. You can find them on the south side of the park, near the first picnic shelter.
Spy on lily pad land
On the north side of the area where the peninsula meets the main part of Seattle, right next to the swim area, there's a zone where pond lilies grow along the shore through the summer. This is a good place to find a spot to creep in close to the water and watch quietly. You might see dragonflies or damselflies cruising the pond, or birds foraging among the lily pads. And if there are frogs around, this is a good place to spot one.
Visit the Audubon Center
Nature-lover headquarters for Seward Park is the Audubon Center. It is surrounded by a variety of bird feeders, so you have easy viewing of some of the feathered residents, particularly hummingbirds. And if you venture inside, you'll find knowledgeable, passionate people who are ready to answer the questions you'll have after an exploring session.
Related recent content: Take a family nature walk in the Union Bay Natural Area. Tips for a family beach walk at West Seattle's Lincoln Park.
Fiona Cohen is the author of the "Curious Kids Nature Guide: Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific Northwest." She lives in Seattle.