An outing to one of our area's urban parks is always a treat, and Mercer Slough Nature Park is certainly no exception with its beautiful hiking trails through Bellevue wetlands. My 5-year-old son and I experienced the park by way of water, however, on a recent weekend morning canoe ride.
The three-hour rides, guided by Bellevue park rangers every Saturday and Sunday May through September (except Seafair weekend, first weekend in August), kick off at Enatai Beach Park. Paddlers meander through the slough – a channel through the marshlands – past scores of birds, blueberry fields, an occasional office building and a salmon ladder. The group links up every so often to learn about the animals and plants in the park and how the different ecosystems function.
The first half of our ride went smoothly. My sister joined us for the adventure and we saw some of the best stuff right off the bat. We traversed a bit of Lake Washington before hitting the slough, where we paddled right by a stoic heron. My son enjoyed learning about the swallows nested on the underside of Interstate 90, an interesting juxtaposition of concrete and nature, and traveling under the bridge.
We didn't spot any otters or beavers, but witnessed the remnants of the beavers' snack time. A few of us also caught sight of turtles. Unfortunately, we had to pick up our leisurely pace when we reached the halfway point and it started to rain. For most of the return trip, my son hid under raincoats eating trail mix. The canoe rides happen rain or shine, so plan your gear accordingly. Be sure to also pack water and snacks; three hours is a long time for kids to sit still.
Even though the rides are open to anyone ages 5 and older, my son was the only child in the bunch (the weather may have been a deterrent). We gave him his own paddle so he was involved with the process. Most of the people in our group appeared to have paddling experience, but that shouldn't deter beginners. The talk beforehand briefs riders on safety and technique, and the group sticks together. That said, the ride is four miles and does take some brawn.
Because of the distance, there should be two adults per canoe. One or two children can also ride, as long as the total weight is less than 550 pounds. If necessary, one of the experienced paddlers in the group (there are often naturalists or lifeguards who join in) can ride with families who are short an adult. All of the equipment – canoes, paddles and life jackets – are provided. In fact, Enatai Beach Park is also a kayak and canoe rental facility for those who want to enjoy this remarkable area on their own.
IF YOU GO
Where:Enatai Beach Park, 3519 108th Ave. S.E., Bellevue.
When:Saturdays, 8:45 a.m. to noon, May through September.
Cost:$16 for Bellevue residents, $18 for non-Bellevue residents; pre-registration required.
Note: This parent review first ran in May 2010. The "If You Go" information was updated August 2016.