A wetland on a summer day is nature at its most exuberant. From stately herons to swooping dragonflies, the world around you is full of living things, eating, mating and making the most of the plenty of summer.
The easiest way to explore that world is to take a stroll on a wetland boardwalk. A quick walk takes you places that would otherwise take a big struggle though muck and vegetation. In some places, you can even push a stroller.
When you come to these places, try and slow down from time to time. Encourage your kids to have a quiet moment and use their senses to look at their surroundings. That’s the best way to find interesting animals.
Here are five amazing places around Seattle to start your wetlands exploration.
Looking up the slough from the middle of this park, you can get a view of office towers through the trees, but this natural area feels far away from the bustle of Bellevue. There is a long, snaking section of boardwalk around the bridge over the slough, and shorter sections where side trails encounter boggy bits. Wear masks. In many places the trail is too narrow to pass another party safely without them.
Seen on a late July visit: many kinds of dragonflies, including several mating pairs flying around attached to each other. Bright blue damselflies fly with the male hanging on to the female, who stops to lay eggs in the shallows. Abundant hardhack, a wetland shrub with bright pink fluffy flowers that attract many butterflies.
Accessibility: The boardwalks themselves are even and not overly bumpy, but the trails leading up to them may not be. If you park near the Environmental Education Center, then the trail down to the slough has some steep and root-ridden sections, as well as areas where the soft, springy trail surface, while kind to feet, is not so great for wheels. The parking lots at the Winters Center and the Blueberry Farm are closed for light rail construction. During that time, the new temporary parking lot on Bellevue Way SE is the best bet for those with strollers or wheelchairs.
This park on Kirkland’s waterfront has three different boardwalks. If you have to choose one, it should be the West Boardwalk/Nature Trail. But try not to do just one. For such a small park, navigating is awkward for the novice. Take a picture of the trail map at the entrance. You could also try using Google Maps or, if you have a child who plays Pokemon Go, those maps are great. Wear masks.
Seen on a late July visit: a family of river otters playing at the edge of the lily pads. Eight turtles on a log (they nest in the park). Signs of a battle between humans and beavers: a cottonwood tree encased in chain-link fencing, with fresh beaver gnawings below the edge of the metal.
Accessibility: Gently sloping gravel paths that are stroller and wheelchair friendly.
Most of this park is on an enormous peat bog, a wetland that teems with life. For those who wish to explore, there’s a mile of boardwalk, floating on the surface of the bog. Two other boardwalks branch off leading to lead to destinations that are obscure. If you go down the one labeled “pond” you won’t see a pond, though there could be one past the thick vegetation. Same goes for the side trail posted “view.” But the walks themselves are fun. Because the boardwalk is close to the water’s surface, this is a great place to look out for small creatures in or near the water.
Seen on a late July visit: many garter snakes slithering away at the sound of approaching feet (They are not poisonous. There are no poisonous snakes native to the Seattle area.) A beaver lodge at the north end of the trail. Pools of tea-colored water patrolled by water-striders, insects that glide along the surface of the water. I also saw a short-tailed weasel, not a creature I expected to find two miles from Alderwood Mall.
Accessibility: If you have the muscle and/or suitable wheels to navigate places where the boardwalk tilts or where two panels of it aren’t perfectly aligned, this trail can work for strollers or wheelchairs.
This isn’t a very long boardwalk but it is in a spectacular spot, where the Sammamish River joins Lake Sammamish. You can stroll through the willows and the cattails right out to the lily-pad strewn water. The boardwalk is part of the Marymoor Park birding trail, which you can access from Lot G or Lot D. It costs $1 to park. Wear masks.
Seen on a late July visit: Nest boxes near the boardwalk full of baby purple martins, with their parents swooping by to feed them.
Accessibility: Very accessible. The approaches to the boardwalk are on flat paths, some of which are paved.
This zigzag path gives people the opportunity to walk out on the lake and over to the aptly named Marsh Island. There are plans to improve the trail, with construction starting as early as 2021. Wear masks. Also keep in mind that most parking lots will be closed in Washington Park Arboretum until Phase 3.
Seen on a late July visit: many dragonflies, boats of all sizes, families of Canada geese foraging in formation, with the younger geese surrounded by their elders.
Accessibility: If you bring a stroller, you have to be prepared to carry it over steps, uneven places, mud pits, and possibly flooded areas. Sometimes the trail is altogether for weeks at a time because of high water levels in Lake Washington.
Other places to enjoy nature during the summertime: Take your kids on a summer nature walk in the Union Bay natural area.
Fiona Cohen is the author of The Curious Kids Nature Guide.