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Northwest Stream Center

The visitor center at Northwest Stream Center offers viewing windows for a great perspective on aquatic life. (Photos by Natasha Dillinger)

Northwest Stream Center: Kids can burn off energy, learn about nature

Parent review: This Everett facility is a new family favorite.

Northwest Stream Center parent review:

Boardwalk hikes are a family favorite in our house. I’m not sure whether it’s the inviting bridge into otherwise inaccessible wetlands or the all-season trail that’s stroller and wheelchair-friendly. All I know is that the allure of a boardwalk persuades my homebody kids to get out of the house like no other hike can. 

On our recent visit, the Northwest Stream Center’s Elevated Nature Trail in Everett upped the ante by adding informative signs and literal windows into the wetland environment. I think we’ve added a new favorite to our boardwalk collection! 

Northwest Stream Center: from parking lot to paradise

After reserving a time slot the day before, we shimmied into rain gear and headed to check-in at the center’s visitor building. Our host, Kelly Singleterry, unlocked the gates and gave us a quick rundown of the center’s history: The Adopt a Stream Foundation and its volunteers have spent roughly 30 years restoring a former gravel parking lot to its riparian (land adjacent to a stream or river) glory. 

Expertly avoiding lengthy explanations to antsy kids, she opened windows to an elevated part of the stream where we could look for cutthroat trout and freshwater mussels that filter the water. Flitting back and forth between windows to look for the trout visitors, my daughter asked at least a dozen questions about river-dwelling fish. Fortunately, a large sign with details on the local salmon and trout had all the answers we needed and plenty of pictures for the not-yet-reading crowd. 

Entering the forest

Crossing a small bridge to the boardwalk felt like entering another world. Constructed from 100% recycled plastic lumber (equivalent to nearly 2 million milk jugs), the walkway zigs and zags along the open areas before cutting into a forest aptly called the “cedar cathedral.” 

My kids were in heaven! We spend a good chunk of our usual walks watching out for other hikers. Thanks to the reservation system’s limited capacity, we didn’t see anyone else during our visit and they could run to their hearts’ content across the smooth surface. Their imaginations ran wild, too. Fallen sticks became fishing poles to catch trout while tiny huckleberries turned into red jewels. 

While they exhausted themselves, I checked out the interpretive signs placed at regular intervals. Each one contained a detailed description of a native plant as well as its use by Native American people. Cedar, for example, has 368 recorded uses with applications in fiber, dye, building, medicine and food. Singleterry later mentioned that a former board member is an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribes and likely helped facilitate adding the generational knowledge to the trail. The Snohomish and Stillaguamish people have stewarded this land for generations, and seeing the multitude of uses for each plant helped emphasize their resourcefulness and creativity.

Walk on the wild side

I’m not a bird-watching expert (unless you ask my 5-year-old), but we did spot several species of birds on our walk — ducks, herons, and woodpeckers all called out from the forest. After dusk, however, the boardwalk turns into a wildlife highway. At the end of our visit, Singleterry showed us captures from night-vision cameras installed along the path. Bears, river otters, coyotes, and bobcats have all chosen to use the boardwalk as they travel the North Creek watershed in search of food. It’s amazing to think that the ongoing restoration work helps maintain a healthy habitat for such diverse species just 15 minutes from downtown Everett. 

While there’s no time limit once you enter the space, our Northwest Stream Center visit lasted about two hours. The trail is listed as half a mile, but our AllTrails app clocked a mile with all the running around we did. We had time to enjoy having the beautiful space to ourselves while skipping out for afternoon naps and lunch. With plenty of tree cover over large stretches of board walk, I’m already looking forward to visiting on hot summer days when we want an easy walk with vaccinated grandparents. 

Northwest Stream Center: visit details

Where: The Northwest Stream Center is located in McCollum Park at 600 128th St. S.E. in Everett. 

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Advance reservations are required. In our experience, only a few days of time slots become available at once, so check back if your choice isn’t available right away.

Cost: Adults, $7; seniors, $6; students, $5; EBT Cardholders, $3; children under 5 and Adopt a Stream Foundation members, free. 

Parking, restrooms: Ample free parking in front of the stream center and throughout McCollum Park. No indoor restrooms are currently available, but a couple of porta-potties are open across from the playground. 

COVID protocols: Masks are required inside the building and anytime you cannot maintain 6 feet of distance. Physical distancing and group size limitations (maximum of five people) are in place.

This story was originally published on March 17, 2021. 

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More botanical gardens to visit with kids


About the Author

Natasha Dillinger

Natasha Dillinger is a Seattle mom who paused a career in accounting and finance to focus on showing her two young children around the Pacific Northwest. Follow their adventures near and far at and on Instagram (@suitcasesinseattle)