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Seward Park

Home > Seattle > Dog Friendly | Escape the City | Fun for Children | Walks
by Anne-Marie Leon (subscribe)
I'm a freelance artist/writer living in Seattle USA and have been temporarily visiting my home city of Melbourne. If you like my article please click "like" at the end. Follow me if you want to read more of my work.
Published October 26th 2013
Seattle's Crown Jewel
forest, trails, seward park, seattle
Seattles Crown Jewel

One third of Seattle's magnificent Seward Park is old growth, never logged, forest. Accounts suggest that the abundance of poison oak on the peninsula may have saved it from being logged.

Poison Ivy
Seward Park (Seattle) -

The park is 300 acres in total & is laced with walking trails ranging from broad handicapped accessible pathways to meandering single track deer trails. (Although the last of the deer were removed in 1953). Considered the gem of Seattle's "emerald necklace", Seward provides a glimpse of how the Lake Washington shoreline appeared before the area was settled.

Map Seward Park
Seward park is laced with luxuriant trails.
Seward Park Trail Map - City of Seattle

It is the brainchild of the prestigious Olmsted Brothers, of Brookline, Massachusetts, famed for Manhattan's Central Park design. Seward Park was a key element in the plan proposed for Seattle's park system in 1903. Taking up all of Bailey peninsula, it is now connected to the mainland by a wide isthmus. Until recent times though, this isthmus was narrow, marshy, & flooded seasonally, converting the peninsula to an island. The island joined Seattle geographically when the completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal lowered the lake level in 1917.

John Charles Olmsted urged the city to move quickly and buy the peninsula and other key parcels in order to create an "emerald necklace" of parks and playgrounds, linked by winding, landscaped boulevards. The "primary aim," he said, should be "to secure and preserve for the use of the people as much as possible of these advantages of water and mountain views and of woodlands, well distributed and conveniently located" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2003).

In 1911, the city of Seattle purchased Seward Park for a sum of $322,000. The Park was named for William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, who was responsible for the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. The opening of Alaska ushered in a period of prosperity for the city of Seattle, which benefited greatly from hopeful prospectors using it as the main transportation and supply hub before departure to the Yukon.

Olmsted referred to it as "The Magnificent Forest", but Seward Park was the official name. It was the pride of Rainier Valley. Although development was slow, initially, by 2013 myriads of options exist for the visitor. The park evolved from a fishing/boating center and picnic destination to a nature sanctuary with many options for families whose children may attend craft camps in the refashioned bath house; built in 1940. Chickadee News is an online publication launched by The Audubon Society with listings for birding activities with children at Seward Park.

With some trees older than 250 years but many less than 200, the Seward Park forest is considered an immature forest. (early forested in the Seattle area were fully mature and up to 2,000 years old) Even so, there is no forest in Seattle quite like Seward Park. Along the trails are towering softwoods, mostly Douglas Firs, other species include Western Hemlock and Alaskan Cedar. The diversified forest structure results in multi-layered canopies with a variety of flora & fauna. Over 100 species of birds have been identified. Star attractions are bald eagles which nest in two aeries, used and reused for years.

Bald Eagle
This US icon has inhabited the park for decades

The forest, meadows, and shoreline, support many other species of native animals and reptiles, including mountain beavers, deer mice, river otters and red-eared turtles. In addition, a small group of exotic parakeets, misplaced pets, has inhabited the park for 15 years.

A paved trail follows the circumference of this peninsular park and is happily shared by bikers, joggers, and walkers along the shores of Lake Washington and passes by several inviting beaches. A person with an unhurried agenda might be tempted to sit a while and skip stones. Rumor has it that the record is nine skips.

Enticing Beach
Perfect for skipping stones.
Seward Park (Seattle) -

The beach on the north side of the park offers unimpeded views of the Hydroplane race course. The south beach looks at Renton.

Hikers departing the pavement and venturing into the forested centre will encounter winding trails amongst the old growth; many picnic areas; an amphitheater, and even play fields. Spine Trail cuts through the middle of the forest & although only mile long it's a verdant green gem within a gem. Even an artist would find it hard to name all the multi hues of green; Olive green, moss green, Kelly green, sea green, hunter green, asparagus green, forest green, emerald green, chartreuse and so on.

The signs at trail junctions reflect the original inhabitants of the area. It's excusable to imagine that the signs are installed upside down because they are in Lushootseed dialect as well as English. These Salish peoples lived in the area around Seward Park for at least 4,000 years and probably much longer before the first whites arrived in the 1850s. They called themselves the xachua'bsh (hah-chu-AHBSH), or "Lake People." Their neighbors, the txwduwa'bsh (dkhw-duw-AHBSH), or "inside people," lived along nearby rivers. Their name became Anglicized as "Duwamish" and was eventually applied to all the original inhabitants of the Seattle area.
signs, native language, trail, seward
Trail signs are in native dialect as well as English

The park's signature structure is an eight-ton Taiko Gata stone lantern, at the main entrance. The lantern, a replica of a stone lantern at Momoyama Palace in Kyoto, was installed in 1930 and was a gift from the city of Yokohama, Japan, in thanks for Seattle's assistance after the 1923 earthquake that devastated Yokohama and Tokyo. The city of Seattle then sent 1,000 rose bushes to Yokohama as a reciprocal gesture.

historic lantern
A gift from Yokahama

In the summertime, there is an ice cream truck parked by the restrooms. I have not had a report, but if it's ice cream, can it be anything less than delicious?
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Why? Because it is a true escape from the humdrum of city life.
When: Anytime but especially delightful in fall or spring
Where: Seward Park: Seattle
Cost: Seattle, WA 98118, United States
Your Comment
Would love to have a walk here - what beautiful photos too!
by Lucy (score: 3|1157) 3512 days ago
A wonderful commentary on one of my favorite Seattle parks.
by John (score: 0|4) 3499 days ago
Well done Anne-Marie. Another true gem in our own backyard.
by trave (score: 0|2) 3507 days ago
Seward Park is amazing and I miss living by it. It's the perfect escape within the city. All of Lake Washington Blvd is, really.
by rrvco (score: 0|2) 2360 days ago
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