Fall in the Seattle area: It’s the perfect time to get an up-close look at the region’s world-famous salmon runs.
As leaves change color and temperatures drop, creeks and rivers play host to the magnificent adult fish as they journey back from the ocean to their birthplaces to spawn and die. Across the state, salmon have been making this same trek for eons, but due to factors such as climate change and dams, the once-flourishing runs are threatened.
A family trip out to these waterways is an opportunity for children to witness and learn about the salmon’s historic journey, and also, with the help of guides and signage, to understand just what is at risk for the Pacific Northwest’s beloved salmon.
950 NW Carkeek Park Rd., Seattle; seattle.gov/parks
Carkeek Park is home to Piper’s Creek, a beautiful waterway where chum salmon return to spawn. The creek could see hundreds of these adult salmon, which return after spending a few years at sea. The best time to see them is from mid-November to mid-December. Over the weekends, you might be able to talk with a Carkeek Park Salmon Steward (more on that program here), who can answer your questions at viewing areas. If you want an even more fish-filled outing, you can’t miss the fabulous sculpted salmon slide at the Carkeek playground. Kids (and adults) love jumping into its mouth to slide down – and out through its tail area.
Delridge Way SW and SW Graham Street, West Seattle; seattle.gov/parks
This is a great spot to watch Coho and chum salmon as they travel across the 4 miles of this West Seattle creek. The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance recommends starting out at Dragonfly Garden, then heading south along the trail. For the best views, make sure to come in the early mornings and late afternoons. And don’t forget to peek under the bridges: That’s where the salmon like to hide.
North Creek Trail Park
North Creek Trail, Bothell; bothellwa.gov/1412/Salmon-SEEson
Autumn at this creek is prime salmon season in Bothell. In September there’s Chinook; in October there’s sockeye; and in November there’s Coho. City experts recommend walking along the North Creek paved trail and stopping at such spots as the pedestrian bridge, the North Creek Parkway vehicle bridge and behind the Country Inn & Suites.
Hiram M. Chittenden Ballard Locks, 3015 NW 54th St., Seattle; ballardlocks.org
September is a great time to watch Coho salmon make their way through the locks before traveling another 40 to 50 miles upriver to spawn. They’re known for their silver sides and metallic blue or green backs. See how many you can spot migrating through! The visitor center, walkway across the canal, botanical garden and newly renovated fish ladder viewing room are open to the public.
Salmon Days festival
Downtown Issaquah; salmondays.org
From fish carving and nature photography to crab cakes and a mouthwatering salmon barbecue, the Issaquah Salmon Days festival (Oct. 2 and 3) is a great way to celebrate the return of the salmon. Don’t forget to spend some time at Issaquah Creek, where you may be able to see some Chinook and Coho salmon swimming through. Also, the Issaquah Hatchery has resumed public tours, and here’s a family review of that experience.
This story was first published on Aug. 31, 2021 and updated October 2022.