People walk to beach along Discovery Park. Photo by Sarah Radmer

People walk to beach along Discovery Park. Photo by Sarah Radmer

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You don’t need a car or a state Discover Pass to go for a great fall hike in Seattle. The City of Seattle has 60 parks with trails in them, totally 120 miles of hiking in the city. 

Seattle Parks and Recreation trails coordinator Chukundi Salisbury said hiking was the No. 1 most-popular activity on a recent survey of activities in Seattle parks. The survey was done in preparation of the Parks Legacy Plan. 

The Parks Legacy Plan, which could lead to a levy, would provide an increased number of trails staff and the trucks and supplies the department would need. Until then, having two people for 120 miles of trails is “woefully inadequate,” he said. 

“Our strongest trails are in our destination parks that are popular for other reasons as well,” Salisbury said. 

Salisbury said if the department had the money for maintenance, parks with trails would cost the city more. But because its staff is so small — two people in total — it relies on volunteers. Despite the extra help, many trails are falling into disrepair, he said.

Accessibility

While there are bigger, destination-based hikes outside of Seattle (Mount Si and Mount Rainier come to mind), not everyone can afford to go, Salisbury said.

Many people beyond just hikers use Seattle’s parks trails. There are also birdwatchers, dog walkers, the Audubon Society, local child-care centers and schoolchildren or people in the neighborhood. Many people use the networks of trails to get from one part of the neighborhood to the other, Salisbury said. 

There’s also the benefit of quick accessibility, Salisbury said. Many people want to be able to go for a quick, 15-minute walk without having to drive outside city limits. 

It’s often the trails in parks that have other attractions that are the most popular, Salisbury said. He estimated that Carkeek, Schmitz, Interlaken and Discovery were the most popular parks with trails. 

Mountaineers might say these in-city trails aren’t real hiking, Salisbury said.

“Some might say, ‘Pacific Crest Trail — now that’s a real hike,’” he said referring to the more than 2,000-mile mountain trail. “But like I said, it’s really your definition of hiking. For people who don’t have the resources or experience, they consider a loop trail to be a great hike.” 

Washington Trails Association communications and outreach director Susan Elderkin said Seattle is so livable because it is a green city with so many parks. 

“Trails in city parks offer a different experience than trails outside of the city,” she said in an e-mail. “If you have only a couple of hours to go hiking on a Saturday afternoon or after work, city parks are excellent choices.”

The demographics and uses for trails vary from park to park, Salisbury said. He’s currently working on a trails-count program to record the days and times people are using the trails and what they’re using them for. Even though he works in the parks and sees people using the trails, he doesn’t have official numbers. 

Hiking is for everyone, Elderkin said.

[It’s] healthy, it is inexpensive, there is a range of difficulty to choose from and it is something that you can do your whole life,” she said. 

Salisbury said the department is trying to restore the native forest in Seattle. 

“[It’s good to] get people out into the forest so they can utilize and feel the resources right in their neighborhood,” he said. “If you don’t get people out in the forest, it’s very difficult for them to advocate. We’re continuing to try to be the Emerald City.” 

Tops for hikes

We checked out the Seattle Parks and Recreation website and Yelp to come up with our Top 10 best hikes in North Seattle and Queen Anne.

•Green Lake Park (North Seattle) — Green Lake has pools, playgrounds and areas for just about every sport you would want to play by the lake. While the paths can’t really be called a trail, they’re so popular that we had to include them in our list. 

The 259-acre, freshwater lake is surrounded by a 2.8-mile path for runners and bikers. There is a 3.2-mile unpaved trail farther out from the lake. 

•Discovery Park (Magnolia) — Discovery Park, located on the tip of the Magnolia neighborhood, boasts more than 11.8 miles of trails. The city’s largest park at 534 acres, it is on an old military fort site, with the United Indians of All Tribes Daybreak Star Cultural Center on one side and the West Point Lighthouse at the tip of the park. 

The landscapes include bluffs, forest, meadows, streams and a long beach. 

•Golden Gardens (Ballard) — You’ve probably been to the beach at Golden Gardens at some point, maybe to barbecue or play a little pickup beach volleyball. But you may not know that recent restoration projects have given this park a loop trail comprised of eight small trails, all under a mile. 

As a bonus, the park also has an off-leash area for dogs, a rarity in Seattle’s parks. 

•Carkeek Park (Northwest Seattle) — This park boasts 220 acres of landscapes, ranging from forests and meadows to wetlands and the beach. Even though the Carkeek Park Environmental Learning Center has closed for budget reasons, volunteers and neighbors have maintained the park. 

A series of trails meander through the area totaling more than 6 miles. 

•Magnuson Park (Northeast Seattle) — Seattle’s second-biggest park at 350 acres, Magnuson Park stretches a mile along Lake Washington’s shores. It’s a former Navy airfield, with spots to boat, swim and fly kites. 

The trail area is fairly limited, just under a half-mile total. 

•Ravenna Park (Northeast Seattle) —  Located in a wooded ravine, Ravenna Park has a play area, wading pool and various exercise courts and trails. The park, just north of the University District, connects two picnic areas. 

It has 4.5 miles of trails that connect it with Cowen Park, which is also on this list. 

•Matthews Beach Park (Northeast Seattle) — Named for pioneer John Matthews, who homesteaded on the land, Matthews Beach Park hosts Seattle’s largest freshwater beach, at 22 acres, on the shore of Pontiac Bay in Lake Washington. Stop by while you’re riding on the Burke-Gilman Trail.

•Cowen Park (University District) — Just north of the University District, Cowen Park sits on a street corner with grassy fields and a play area. Venture deeper into the park to find lush ferns growing on the hillside, with natural streams trickling next to the trail. 

It has 4.5 miles of trails that connect it with its slightly higher-ranked neighbor Ravenna Park. 

•Kinnear Park (Queen Anne) — This two-tiered park has views of both Puget Sound and the city. The upper park offers views of joggers running along the shoreline, but Seattle Parks and Recreation recommends taking the trail to the lower portion of the park if you’re looking for a quieter park experience. 

The trails clock in at less than a mile and weave through the upper and lower parts of the park. 

•Licton Springs Park (North Seattle) — Once the site of a healing center for Native Americans, Licton Springs became a popular destination for thermal baths in the 1960s; the springs still stream into a creek that flows through the park. 

Even though the trails snake throughout the park, they’re short, totaling just 0.054 miles. 

For more information on Seattle Parks and Recreation’s trails, visit seattle.gov/parks.

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