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Escape to Nature Close to Home

Where to find solace in natural areas, even when the snow keeps you from the wilderness.

by Christina Hickman

As city dwellers, we often find ourselves spending too much time surrounded by concrete, breathing in car exhaust and sharing sidewalks and buses with hundreds of other people. This is when the vast landscapes of Washington beckon most; in their lush forests, you can breathe deep and disconnect. For most of us, though, a long drive to escape the city just doesn’t fit the schedule—or the lifestyle, if you, like many urbanites, rely on public transit.

To help you find some nature, even when you can’t escape the city, here’s a compilation of urban treasures around the state—places in or near cities to escape the rush of daily life.


sunset hill park

Mileage: 0.25 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: minimal

Sunset Hill Park. Photo by AKorn..jpeg
View from Sunset Hill Park. Photo by AKorn. 

If you like Carkeek Park and Golden Gardens, why not try Sunset Hill Park? Sunset Hill also boasts Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound views. From this highup perch in a residential area, you get a bird’s-eye view of the marina below and the sense of beauty and peace needed in a city escape.

> Plan your visit to Sunset Hill Park using WTA's Hiking Guide


Mileage: 1.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Interlaken Park. Photo by trip reporter WA-Az.jpeg
Photo by trip reporter WA-Az.

Even though it’s 50 acres, Interlaken Park is easy to miss because it’s in the middle of a residential Capitol Hill neighborhood. The wooded paths are lined with ferns and old growth, with a creek running through. The ravine-like hillside seemingly surrounds you on all sides. While it’s an ideal escape on its own, Interlaken is also conveniently located between two other city gems, the Washington Park Arboretum and Volunteer Park. If you have time, hike from one to the other.

> Plan your visit to Interlaken Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

North Sound

lord hill regional park

Mileage: 10.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Lord Hill Regional Park. Photo by Muledeer.jpeg
Photo by trip reporter Muledeer.

Escaping Everett? Leaving Lynnwood? Try Lord Hill Regional Park in Snohomish. You can wander on its miles of second-growth, wooded trails all day—the combinations of routes seem endless. From the park’s higher points, catch vistas of the Snohomish River Valley and the Cascades in the distance. The park abuts the Snohomish River, and your trail may lead you to several ponds or wetlands. This park is also popular with bikers and equestrians.

> Plan your visit to Lord Hill Regional Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Whatcom Creek Trail

Mileage: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 50 feet

Waterfalls, sandstone formations, and old train trestles can all be found within Whatcom Falls Park. Photo by summitseeker.

If you are in Bellingham, check out Whatcom Creek Trail. Get an up-close-and-personal look at the flowing water and follow it from Whatcom Falls Park all the way down to Maritime Heritage Park. Trails on both sides of the creek provide plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs, soak in the sea air and catch a different view of the city. Be sure to visit the fish ladders—in season you should be able to see salmon— and watch for owls and other wildlife.

> Plan your visit to Whatcom Creek Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

East of Lake Washington

Saint edward state parK

Mileage: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Saint Edward Park. Photo by Rayan.jpeg
Photo by trip reporter Rayan.

Follow trails through the forest and down to 3,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on Lake Washington at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore. The park’s long history is evident from the beautiful former Catholic seminary building, which is on the National Historic Register. Though the park is often busy in summertime, the huge open spaces offer an escape from the streets and sidewalks of the outside world.

> Plan your visit to Saint Edward State Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

downtown park

Mileage: 0.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

Downtown Park in Bellevue is one of the most popular in the city's park system. Photo by Manju Shekhar.

Right in Bellevue, Downtown Park offers city dwellers a 21-acre, relaxing retreat. The park features a tree-lined circular design and a 0.5-mile paved path and canal running along the perimeter. The pièce de résistance is the 240-foot-wide waterfall cascading into a reflecting pool. Relax on the grassy field in the center and take in the views of Mount Rainier and the city skyline. 

> Plan your visit to Downtown Park using WTA's Hiking Guide


priest point park

Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 feet

Photo by peterjb.

History and natural beauty combine to make Priest Point Park a must-see in Olympia. The city’s first waterfront park contains a system of nature trails leading you to a mile of saltwater shoreline along Budd Inlet and Ellis Cove. The park is an extremely popular birding destination and there are views of downtown, the Capitol, the Olympic Mountains and blue herons and other wildlife.

> Plan your visit to Priest Point Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Billy frank jr. nisqually national wildlife refuge

Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

The expansive boardwalk at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge rewards visitors with unbeatable views. Photo by Jon Lee.

Where the Nisqually River and Puget Sound meet, you will find the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest. The trails feature boardwalks and observation decks jutting out into Puget Sound, truly allowing you to feel surrounded by nature. Note: Some sections of trail close from October to January.

> Plan your visit to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge using WTA's Hiking Guide

Vancouver Area

Lacmas Park - Round Lake to Lower Falls

Mileage: 3.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 190 feet

Lacamas Park. Photo by NatalieH.jpeg
The peaceful forest of Lacamas Park. Photo by trip reporter NatalieH.

Just east of Vancouver, you will find the peaceful Lacamas Lake as an option for a city getaway. The park has over six miles of trails to explore, with both wide-hard surfaced paths and more primitive dirt tracks. This loop hike combines both types to give you the optimum experience while exploring a lake, creek, and two waterfalls. But, if you want to squeeze in more trail time, you can also add in a trip along the Lacamas Creek trail.

> Plan your visit to Lacamas Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Whipple Creek Park

Mileage: 3.1 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 110 feet

Whipple Creek Park. Photo by Ryan Ojerio.jpeg
Photo by trip reporter Ryan Ojerio.

If you are searching for seclusion and tranquility, Whipple Creek Park near Ridgefield might be just what you need. Over 300 acres of Douglas-firs and a lush, green understory of ferns and fungi are a perfect escape. Check out the WTA trail description for a 3-mile hike or create your own trek on more than 4 miles of trails. 

> Plan your visit to Whipple Creek Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

salmon-morgan creek natural area

Mileage: 1.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

It's hard to believe this moss-drenched trail sits so close to a neighborhood. Photo by H.H. Bandersnatch.

Salmon-Morgan Creek Natural Area transports those who visit to a magical forest, unexpected in a residential neighborhood. Groves of green and mossy trees fill this second-growth forest, with some trees more than 4 feet in diameter. You can stroll on the 1.5 miles of soft-terrain trails. The area is home to an abundance of wildlife. Both Salmon and Morgan creeks run nearby—and you can spot salmon in Salmon Creek if your timing is right! Pack a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables or creekside. 

> Plan your visit to Salmon-Morgan Creek Natural Area using WTA's Hiking Guide

Tri Cities & Yakima

Cowiche Canyon CONSERVANCY

Mileage: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 100 feet

Cowiche Canyon produces an array of beautiful colors all year long. Photo (c) David Hagen.

In Yakima, check out the ever-popular Randall Park and the Yakima Greenway, lined with small parks, lakes and recreational facilities. If you are looking for something a little different, head 9 miles west of the city for a day on the trails of the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, which offers meadows, streams and expansive views. Here, you’ll find more than 30 miles of a variety of trail options, ranging from gentle and easy to strenuous and steep. The Cowiche Canyon Winery Trail even leads to—yup, you guessed it—wineries where you can sample local wine.

> Plan your visit to Cowiche Canyon Conservancy using WTA's Hiking Guide

Chamna Natural Preserve

Mileage: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

The river path at the Chamna Natural Preserve is a great choice for a tranquil walk. Photo by pandamonta.

It’s hard to believe Chamna Natural Preserve is right off of Highway 240 on the southern end of Richland. Here, you’ll find more than  276 acres of shrub land and 11 miles of a multiuse trail system. The reserve is perfect for all seasons, from hot summers to snowy winters.

> Plan your visit to Chamna Natural Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide

Riverfront Trail

Mileage: 7.0 miles, one-way
Elevation Gain: minimal

Riverfront Trail. Photo by Mike.jpeg
A pocket of calm water along the Riverfront Trail. Photo by trip reporter Mike.

This flat, riverside trail can be hiked from the Columbia Point Marina Park at the south end all the way to the USS Triton Submarine Memorial Park in the north for a total of 7 miles, or, be broken down into more manageable chunks, starting and ending wherever you please. It makes for a delightful walk all year long, but to avoid the simmering summertime heat, we think it's best enjoyed on a cool spring day.

> Plan your visit to Riverfront Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide


Finch Arboretum

Mileage: 1.25 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

The Finch Arboretum is home to over 2,000 labeled trees, shrubs and flower. Photo by James Hawley.

The Finch Arboretum, spanning 65 acres and housing more than 2,000 trees and shrubs, is like an outdoor science classroom. Stroll on the paths and read signs denoting the species and genera of the plants. There is something blossoming in every season, and fall colors provide a grand display. As a bonus, the arboretum runs alongside Garden Springs Creek. 

> Plan your visit to Finch Arboretum using WTA's Hiking Guide

Little Spokane River Natural Area - Knothead Loop

Mileage: 7.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1000 feet

Knothead Loop. Photo by Daniel Y.jpeg
Winding river views at Little Spokane River Natural Area. Photo by trip reporter Daniel Y.

If you're willing to drive a bit outside of Spokane proper, you can find yourself in the peaceful Little Spokane River Natural Area. You'll get a good workout on this seven mile loop, a great way to get a lot of miles and elevation close to home all year round. In spring, it's a wildflower haven. Summertime can be hot, so bring plenty of water — the river here is part of a natural area, so no swimming! If you visit in winter, note that it can get icy; be sure to bring traction devices.

> Plan your visit to Little Spokane River Natural Area using WTA's Hiking Guide