Seattle's Child

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gnome trail

Howdy, gnomes! to one of the many villages on the trail. Many single gnomes are hidden between trees and under leaves. Keep your eyes peeled for the sneaky ones. (All photos by Jasmin Thankachen)

Gnomes’ sweet home: A visit to Maple Valley

Pop-up enchanted forest offers a little magic and the chance to add some too

Maple Valley’s Gnome Trail is a perfect outing on a sunny or rainy day. The canopy of trees makes for good sun and rain coverage, and on every trip, you’re destined to meet a new gnome statue! Here’s one family’s review of their outing: 

It is blustery, cold and rainy — a perfect day to try the Gnome Trail in Maple Valley.

My kids and I bundle up, with rain boots on and snacks in hand, ready to explore the Rock Creek Natural Area. We squeal with delight, spotting colorful, adorable gnomes along the way on this easy trail. We highly recommend this park for all the wonder and imagination it brings.

Getting there and parking

Located about 40 minutes from Seattle, near Rock Creek Elementary School, the Gnome Trail is a part of the 50-acre Maple Valley Legacy Site and the Rock Creek Natural Area. The trails — in a dense forest with tall trees, mushrooms, lichen, moss, and wildlife — are unpaved with many dips, curves, roots, and stumps to explore.

There is plenty of free parking, and we found a spot near the trailhead and followed the charming rustic wooden signs posted on the tall trees. Maps, trash cans, and signs stating the park’s rules are at the entrance. As at all parks, visitors should pack up and take out any trash.

gnome trail

One of the first gnomes we found on the trail, leading to a much larger collection down the way.

The Gnome Village and other trails

Starting from the northwest entrance, we find signs directing us to the Gnome Trail and the connecting trails in the park. My kids and I walk up a small hill and squelch through the mucky mud in search of gnomes.

“Call me Detective Simon!” declares my youngest son.

gnome trail

Charming signs at the start of the trail. You’ll find many of these along the way, directing you to different parts of the natural area.

We start on the Legacy Loop trail, which forks, leading us up a hill and onto the Market Trail. “Wait, I see one!” my son yells. We go and explore, finding a colorful yellow-hatted gnome hanging out with a sweet brown bunny statue in the crevice of a tree. “Is this it?” my older son asks. Luckily, we find more along the way.

We spot an “Entrance” sign off of the Market Trail that takes us around a corner and onto the Gnome Trail Loop. The rules of the Gnome Village are written on a board and nailed to a tree (and half the board is broken and on the ground). We read the sign asking us to whisper “hello,” and to be kind and friendly to the gnomes. Otherwise … they might take their leave and disappear.

gnome trail

My boys chant “Howdy, gnomes!” to each group of statues they see. Hundreds of these fantastical creatures are tucked away on every part of the trail. Some in tree stumps. Some under branches. Some attached to trees. They are everywhere!

“Hey! That one’s meditating in the air!” The boys giggle.

Many of the small statues are broken or have fallen over. We try to fix the little homes in the village the best we can.

Toward the end of the trail is a “Gnome Graveyard.” We look at a pile of broken gnome pieces placed in a wooden frame on the ground. My oldest son gets a little sad. “I wonder why this is here?” he questions. We stay silent for a few seconds and exit the trail.

It starts to rain a little harder. Our boots stick in the muddy parts of the trail. We cross onto the Bear Trail, which connects to the Legacy Loop. We walk around and along many of the looping paths and enjoy the intense green forest on a rainy day.

Taking the Legacy Loop trail, traveling deeper into the forest.

gnome trail

Leaving our own gnomes

Through my research, I found out that the Gnome Village had been vandalized not too long ago. Most of the village was replaced by community members. My kids each donated one gnome to the trail, in the spirit of community effort and to help keep this trail open for future hikers.

We were able to purchase a couple from a local store ahead of time and place them in the forest to help mitigate some of the loss that the trail has faced.

gnome trail

One of the gnomes that the boys contributed. The boys made up a story that this little guy would water the moss and find his home in a nearby crevice.

The kids have fun finding a special spot for their little people, creating stories about their homes and what they are doing. “I hope I find it the next time we come back,” says my younger son.

A request for a trip back sounds like a great idea. Who knows what we will find on our next outing on the Gnome Trail?

If you go …

  • The park’s address is 25719 Maple Valley Black Diamond Road SE, Maple Valley, WA 98038.
  • The Gnome Trail is about .5 miles long. The trail is narrow with roots, rocks and many curves.
  • The trail is not stroller-friendly. Carrying small kids in a pack is ideal.
  • The Gnome Trail is great for ages 3 to 8. Older children will enjoy the longer trails.
  • Leashed pets are allowed.
  • Parking is free, and it is possible to park near the trailhead.
  • There are two trailhead entrances. The northeast entrance is the closest to the Gnome Trail.
  • Portable toilets are available for use.
  • Covered picnic benches are available in the middle of the parking lot.

About the Author

Jasmin Thankachen

Jasmin is the Associate Publisher at Seattle's Child and an Eastside mom of two boys. She enjoys parenting with lots of love and laughter. Co-Founder of PopUp StoryWalk, she also loves children's picture books, essay writing, and community stories.