Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

tree walks

The O’Neill family takes a self-guided tree walk through Ravenna. (Photo by Joshua Huston)

Seattle tree walks are a great way to explore with kids

Learn about animals and even history as you stroll these fun, leafy routes.

From winter hibernation to spring blossoms and fall foliage, trees in Seattle are fascinating to watch. They bring shade and fresh air and they beautify city parks and busy streets.

The city’s Trees for Seattle program helps educate and engage the community in tree stewardship and appreciation by offering a series of self-guided “tree walks” all over the city. Many are family-friendly, including a stroll in Ravenna that’s all about trees and birds. Other tree walks offered by the program include a scavenger hunt for trees at Woodland Park Zoo and a pairing of trees with art at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Other walks highlight the history of unique trees and some integrate play areas along the way.

Trees for Seattle offers easy-to-follow directions with maps on both their app and website. We used the app to enjoy the colorful and stroller-friendly Ravenna Tree Walk with Birds. Here’s where we went and what we found along the way:

Seattle tree walks: firs, feathers and fun

Within a few flat blocks in this North Seattle neighborhood it became clear how the variety of spectacular trees growing here support abundant bird life. The trees provide everything from refuge and nesting to food for the finely feathered.

The Giant Sequoia (stop 1 on the app tour) is indeed giant at 50 feet and is a favorite of chickadees, sparrows and finches. It’s also one of seven trees on the tour that produces what amounts to a buffet for birds: that is, seed-filled cones. 

More wildlife to be found

Continuing on the tour, we came to the Strawberry Tree (located at stop 4). During the fall it bears bright red and orange fruits that the app tells us taste like figs. Later on the walk we passed by a Black Locust (stop 7), Pacific Madrone (stop 18) and Mountain Ash (stop 21), each of which offers berry-like fruits at different times of the year for jays, robins and cedar waxwings.

We strolled past a Northern Red Oak (stop 14), a favorite of the red-breasted nuthatch, and a row of Shumard Oaks (stop 15). These oaks provide not only meaty acorns but a perfect place for birds to roost. In addition, many of these trees attract a bounty of insects such as wood-boring beetle larvae and tree-dwelling caterpillars. Insects are, in turn, a primary food for birds.

Throughout the tour, we discovered numerous other interesting tree varieties. We stopped at a Mimosa “Silk Tree” (stop 3) and a Northern Catalpa (stop 11) whose vibrant summer flowers entice hummingbirds, the only bird in the world that can fly backwards. We also learned about a Weeping Birch (stop 9), a Paper Birch (stop 10), a Pacific Madrone (stop 18) and a Paperbark Maple (stop 22) with their mesmerizing peeling barks.

Legends in these leaves

Trees mean different things to different cultures. When we arrived at the Western Red Cedar (stop 5), the app offered a fascinating Salish story about this mighty evergreen. Known as the “tree of life” due to its many uses to Indigenous people. The legend proffered by the app states that the Great Spirit would turn a generous man into a Western Red Cedar to honor him for all he had done. Another Indigenous legend, while not stated in the app, is well-known about the Douglas Fir (stop 13). This one tells the tale of the fir’s fire-resistant trunk offering refuge to mice escaping a forest fire. By looking closely, you can spot tiny “mouse tails” peeking out of the tree’s cones.

Our walk ended at a Katsura Tree (stop 23), marked by beautiful heart-shaped leaves. While birds only use this tree for perching, it does attract pollinators and can smell like cotton candy in the fall.

The walk also ends near Ravenna Park playground – the perfect end for kids who didn’t get all their wiggles out along this amazing walk.

Heritage trees

Throughout Seattle, the city recognizes certain trees for their unique qualities, including size, age and cultural or historical significance. Several Trees for Seattle walks include such “heritage trees.” Check out the Heritage Tree Tour on the Trees for Seattle app. Curious to see if there’s a heritage tree near you? Explore the city’s Seattle Tree Inventory map.


More Seattle-area walking:

Seven spring hikes that are easy and kid-friendly

5 Seattle stair walks that are fun (and worth the work) with kids


About the Author

Laura Murray