Best Parks in Seattle

Seattle's Many Parks Offer Perks like Exercise, Education and Endless Beauty

From national parks that protect entire ecosystems to neighborhood and city parks that offer urban recreation and entertainment opportunities at every turn, Seattle's green spaces are as diverse as the region. Take remote Olympic National Park, for example, where you can hike along a beach part of the day, later ending up in the mountains (after passing through a temperate rainforest en route.) As for urban access recreation, one park offers a field devoted to remote-controlled aircraft, while another allows visitors to join in a game of lawn bowling.

Of course, in the eco-conscious Pacific Northwest, many parks serve as preserves and oases for native plants and wildlife. That list includes Olympic, mentioned above, as well as Mt. Rainier National Park, both of which are home to multiple indigenous and protected species. In the city, Woodland Park is known for its world-class zoo, but it also serves as a hugely popular gathering spot, with expansive picnic areas and open fields, in addition to a formal rose garden and a sports complex (complete with a skate park). Reclamation is another theme, with one city park built atop a former natural gas energy plant and yet another on the site of a historic military fort. Seattle’s gold rush history proves the theme at Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park, where interpretive tours include panning demonstrations.


Founded in the late 1970s by a retired Tacoma pediatrician and his wife, who donated the 715 acres for the park, this regional gem is home to more than 200 species of indigenous wildlife. In residence are snowy owls, river otters, bald eagles, lynxes, gray wolves, cougars, grizzly and black bears, and bobcats. On a good day, all of these creatures and more can be spotted during the 50-minute tram ride that meanders through the park. For the more adventurous, five miles of trails that wind through this pristine wilderness. The Cheney Discovery Center provides interpretive nature education for kids, and the Fir Bough Cafe is the perfect place to fuel up for more exploring and learning.

Recommended for Parks because: The Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Washington, is a regional gem, home to more than 200 species of indigenous wildlife.

John's expert tip: Unlike at traditional barnyard petting zoos, here children can get up close and cuddly with deer fawns and other baby wild critters.

Read more about Northwest Trek Wildlife Park →

Woodland Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park, known for its exceptional zoo, has a lot of other things going for it. Located on approximately 90 acres, the multipurpose park and recreation space is just southwest of Green Lake and north of the Fremont district. Separated into two parts by Aurora Avenue, the part on the west of Aurora is largely occupied by the Woodland Park Zoo, but it also has picnic space, a formal rose garden, open space, and a play area for children. East of Aurora is an ideal spot for picnicking, and areas can be reserved. This area features barbecues, woods, grassy hills, and trails. Woodland Park also offers walking paths, several playfields, tennis courts, lawn bowling, horseshoe pits, a skatepark, and a large, wooded off-leash dog area.

Recommended for Parks because: Woodland Park, known for its exceptional zoo, also draws visitors to its 90 acres for recreational activities and summertime concerts.

John's expert tip: If you've never tried it, lawn bowling offers a unique new experience, and Woodland Park is home to a beautifully manicured set of lawn bowling greens at which to check out the relaxing and fun sport.

Read more about Woodland Park Zoo →

This 640-acre park has just about everything: a 45-foot climbing wall, a cycling velodrome and trails for hiking, biking and walking. There's also a local history museum and facilities for picnics, baseball, soccer, tennis, softball, even cricket. Children are quite fond of the large playground. A forty-acre, leash-free dog zone provides plenty of room for pets to roam, while a huge open field is dedicated as a remote-control airplane venue. This is the site of numerous community events throughout the year, including a hugely popular summer concert series. King County's most popular park, more than 3 million people visit Marymoor annually.

Recommended for Parks because: King County's most popular park, more than 3 million people visit Marymoor annually to explore its 640 acres of recreational activities, amenities and festive events.

John's expert tip: Dasani Blue Bikes is a free bike borrowing program sponsored by the water manufacturer. It allows park visitors to grab a powder-blue beach cruiser for a ride around the park or along either the Sammamish River Trail or East Lake Sammamish Trail. Registration is required, and can be done by downloading the form on the park website.

Read more about Marymoor Park →

Outside the city
Olympic National Park
Photo courtesy of Lana_aka_BADGRL

Olympic National Park provides Seattle visitors with a huge range of recreation options in a compact area. About an hour to an hour-and-a-half southwest of Seattle on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the nature preserve centers around the Olympic Mountains and its system of rivers and valleys to the Pacific Ocean. Hiking, backpacking, kayaking, or just touring by car, it's easy to check out the varying microclimates and zones within the park, which is encircled by U.S. Highway 101. So whether it's crunching along a dirt and gravel trail up a mountainside, padding over fragrant pine needles along a path deep in the temperate rainforest, or finding solid wet sand to save energy exploring along rugged Pacific Ocean beaches, this natural wonderland offers it all.

Recommended for Parks because: Olympic National Park, an hour-and-a-half southwest of Seattle, showcases some of the region's most stunning natural beauty.

John's expert tip: While it is related to other marmots and groundhogs of North America, the Olympic marmot is unique, an endemic species found only in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. The cute critters are hard to spot. For the best shot at seeing one, plan a hike into the park's high country on a nice day, and you might spy a marmot sunning near its burrow.

Read more about Olympic National Park →

This slumbering volcano is the second-tallest mountain in the continental United States after California's Mt. Whitney. Because of its northern locale and more extreme weather, though, Washington State's prime peak is used by many mountaineering groups to train for ascents of the world's most challenging climbs. In warmer months, flocks of climbers are cued up to challenge the summit's less strenuous routes, and throughout the year a variety of activities are available to extreme athletes and vacationing families alike. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails wind through dense past placid lakes and frothing waterfalls. The scenic Wonderland Trail encircles the entire park, catering to long-range backpackers. There are plenty of short, spectacular day trips, as well, whether hiking in summer of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Lodging is available on the mountain at the historic inn at Paradise, where the visitor center offers meals and interpretive natural history.

Recommended for Parks because: Mount Rainier National Park offers unfathomable natural beauty and a prime destination for adventurers of all levels.

John's expert tip: One of the tallest peaks in the United States, Mt. Rainier is a training destination for international climbing parties, but during mild seasons on basic routes the trek is accessible to climbers of most skill levels.

Read more about Mount Rainier National Park →

Olympic Sculpture Park
Photo courtesy of SAM-Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park: Stroll through the grounds and admire the fascinating large-scale works on display at this nine-acre green space. Extensive landscaping enhances the park's beauty, and a walkway, extending from the beach to Belltown, provides views of the Puget Sound and of downtown landmarks. Among the pieces on view along the way view is "Eye Benches I, II, III" by Louise Bourgeois, a series of functional carved-granite benches that take the form of giant eyeballs. Also here is a work from the height of famed sculptor Alexander Calder's career, "The Eagle" from 1971, a huge abstract steel sculpture in bright orange. Free public tours of the park are offered, and times and topics vary by season.

Recommended for Parks because: The Olympic Sculpture Park brings beautiful modern art to a scenic, alfresco setting with views of the mountains and water.

John's expert tip: Although it's mostly an outdoor experience, the sculpture park features the PACCAR Pavilion, within which the Seattle Art Museum operates the SAM Shop at Olympic Sculpture Park. The shop offers a delightful and distinctive collection of artist multiples and art objects that serve as tasteful souvenirs of your visit here.

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Magnuson Park is an urban, 350-acre park on Sand Point at Pontiac Bay, Lake Washington. This park, the second largest in Seattle, includes pieces of Seattle's military past (it's situated on a former Navy airfield). Today visitors enjoy boating, walking, kite flying and, last but not least, swimming. The beach here includes a tiny pebble shoreline, the perfect gateway to refreshing waters that average 67 degrees during summer months (from June until Labor Day). Grassy flats west of the beach provide perfect lounging territory, and guests can also find a children's wading pool, picnic shelters and tables (perfect for a BYO feast) nearby.

Recommended for Parks because: Magnuson Park is an urban, 350-acre park on Lake Washington's edge (go for a swim!). This picturesque spot carries rich historic significance.

John's expert tip: This natural treasure is a great place for bird watching!

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Green Lake Park
Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting

This local park accommodates a host of joggers, in-line skaters and sunbathers that exercise and bask along the greenbelt that circles Green Lake, the park's picturesque centerpiece. A favorite of locals, the park's plentiful green space and open water in the midst of an urban landscape creates a true oasis. The park also serves as a natural preserve for hundreds of species of trees and plants, as well as for numerous birds and waterfowl. Seattleites also make good use of the expansive athletic fields or visit the park for boating, picnics, and swimming. Make sure to visit Green Lake Small Craft Center, which is located at the southwest corner of the park and offers rowing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing classes.

Recommended for Parks because: Green Lake Park bustles with walkers, joggers, bikers and skaters who enjoy the 2.8-mile path situated just north of the city.

John's expert tip: The 2.8-mile path around the lake provides a perfect recreational spot for runners, bikers, skaters, and walkers, but hardcore athletes often test their abilities on the unpaved 3.2-mile, outer-loop track.

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Gas Works Park

On the north end of Lake Union, you'll find what may be the most unique park in the area. The 21-acre industrial area, formerly the site of a gas plant, was transformed in the 1975 into a recreational complex (a worldwide first). You'll find that there's plenty to do in the park, including kayaking, sailing, picnicking and bicycling. From atop the park's 60-foot hill (recently renovated in the winter of 2014/2015), visitors enjoy one of Seattle's best views. The park is a favorite place to view the city's Fourth of July fireworks display, and other festive gatherings happen throughout the year.

Recommended for Parks because: Gas Works Park, a 21-acre industrial area, formerly the site of a gas plant, is now one of the city's most loved gems.

John's expert tip: The extensive urban Burke-Gilman Trail runs past Gas Works parking lot and follows the Burlington-Northern Railroad 12.5 miles north to Kirkland Log Boom Park.

Read more about Gas Works Park →

Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, this expansive urban park--the largest in Seattle--offers two miles of beach trails and nine miles of winding footpaths. Ostensibly a bluff-top reserve, Discovery Park protects a remarkable urban wilderness and is a great place for nature-watching. The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, which features art and cultural exhibits, is also located at the park, as is a marine reserve. An 1881 lighthouse, the oldest in the area, can also be found here. Offering breathtaking views of both the Cascade and the Olympic mountain ranges, the park's remote site includes two miles of protected tidal beaches as well as open meadow lands, dramatic sea cliffs, forest groves, active sand dunes, thickets and streams.

Recommended for Parks because: Discovery Park, an expansive urban oasis, offers two miles of beach trails and nine miles of winding footpaths (with stunning water views).

John's expert tip: The park occupies the grounds of the former Fort Lawton military base, and interesting interpretive history exists here about the park's past and information on its pioneering role in the national military base re-use program that began in the early 1980s. The park's Fort Lawton Historic District includes "Officers' Row," military buildings surviving from the park's days as a fort.

Read more about Discovery Park →


Meet Corinne Whiting

Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's...  More About Corinne