When I first moved to Seattle, I was determined to find leafy green havens that I could retreat to regularly with my dog, Naya. One of the best parts about living in The Emerald City is having several (over 485) parks and green spaces within city limits. If you look up the best parks in Seattle, you will stumble upon a few of the parks listed below along with several other top-rated (and less leafy) parks. This article isn’t aimed to highlight the parks with the best beaches or best views of the skyline, but instead to pay homage to the densest, lushest, or mossiest sections of forest that I could find during my few years here. If you have any to add, let me know in the comments section below this article!
*Please note, this article does not include parks in West Seattle.
#1: Discovery Park
Discovery Park is on all the popular local parks lists as it is Seattle’s largest park with 534 acres of diverse terrain and activity options. Some people come here just for the lighthouse or the beach trails or to have a picnic overlooking the Puget Sound. For my fellow forest lovers, there is a Loop Trail just short of 3 miles consisting of stretches of dense forest broken up by a large meadow with sea cliffs and a few roads.
There are several different entrances to the park, and trail options throughout, which is perhaps why this is the one park in Seattle that I have gotten turned around in the most. Any forested area that I can potentially get lost in, especially within city limits must be at the top of my list. Also, it’s hard to tell, but if I had to guess, I would say this was my dog’s favorite human park. It was the first place in Seattle that we experienced a densely forested trail run. She kicked into full sled dog mode and pulled me along with visible enthusiasm. I vividly recall sprinting buoyantly together through the forest, and it felt like freedom. Even though this park is in Magnolia, across the city from where I resided in Capitol Hill, we ran here at least a few times every month.
Tip: Wear trail running sneakers. On one of our first few runs, I learned the necessity of trail sneakers as I was using regular running sneakers, and it began raining heavily. The skies grew darker, the forest greener, the smells of wet earth surrounded us, and I was ecstatic because I love running in the rain. The difference is that rain-running on the pavement (what I was used to) is much less slick than the dirt trail we kept barreling down like we owned the forest. One sharp turn and I was down, in the mud, with a shattered iPhone. I ordered trail running sneakers that night, and from then on, we were unstoppable in the forces of Seattle weather.
#2: Seward Park
Acres: approximately 300
Seward Park is around 300 acres including 120 acres of old-growth forest. It covers a peninsula that extends out into Lake Washington, making it an attractive boat and swimming area. Walking around the lake is also popular, but I prefer the forest trails within the park. There is a 2.4-mile paved trail for walking and biking and options for more dense and beautiful forest trails off this main trail. The forest trails can be a little confusing, so review a trail map or do what I do and be open to wandering down a couple of different paths. There are also several picnic areas and an amphitheater within the park.
Tip: Stay alert for the poison oak signs. I have only noticed these on the path near the lake, but there may be other warnings within the forest that I have overlooked.
#3: Carkeek Park
Carkeek Park has a few different entrances and options for lush forest trails. Regardless of the entrance choice, I have found most of the trails here are relatively quiet. There are views of the Puget Sound and beach access, but I prefer sticking to the trails as there is often a sewage smell. Also, the playground and each a parking area near the beach tend to be much more populated.
Tip: Keep in mind that you are still technically in the city, so be aware of your surroundings. Perhaps this is the part where I should encourage running in pairs, but I generally ran alone, so take that advice however you would like.
#4: Interlaken Park
This beautiful little piece of forest became a staple favorite for me, in part because of its proximity to my apartment in Capitol Hill, but also because it offers an instant change of air quality upon entering. Although it is relatively small and hilly, it’s an excellent forest gateway to combine with a visit to Volunteer Park or Washington Park Arboretum. This park offers a loop trail, or you can explore several little dirt trails within the park (I recommend doing both, but the inside trails are my favorite).
Tip: One of my favorite routes starts at the forest entrance on 19th Ave E and going down a flight of stairs with two trail options. I like to go down the widely spaced stairwell to the right and take that trail just until another uphill stair system appears on the left. You could avoid the stairs and continue straight on the path, but you will leave the trail system more abruptly than if you take the stairs and begin to hang left. Eventually, you will end up on a two-lane road that’s often used by runners and bikers, so cars tend to be mindful of their speed, but still, practice caution.
#5: Ravenna Park
Ravenna Park made the top 5 leafy list due to its surprising forest sanctuary vibe in an urban area. Ravenna combines with Cowen Park (8 acres) to offer an extended green space and a forested trail run near a busy city area, but Cowen itself is more of a picnic, field, and playground type of area. There are a few different entrance options, one of which is through Cowen Park and under the bridge to the trail.
Tip: There are some sure-fire signs of the city here within the trail, like excessive trash under bridges, and there are usually a few tents (aka homes) as Seattle has a significant homeless population. However, there are more undisturbed areas than not, and it’s worth checking out for those forest feels.
Bonus Noteworthy Leafy Parks
While you may not be able to run under a canopy of tree leaves or wander through an old-growth forest at these parks, they made the noteworthy status by offering aesthetic appeal through their trees and surrounding vegetation.
Washington Park Arboretum
The Washington Park Arboretum is filled with diverse plant life, towering trees, and open areas to lie in the sun. There are several trails and access points, so consider having a trail map with you or roam freely. I like to avoid the broad path along the park’s perimeter and zigzag through the trails within the park.
Tip: After exploring the arboretum, cross over to the Washington Park side to wander around the trails or lounge by the lake.
Kubota Garden is a small little piece of beauty located in South Seattle. It is open daily and free to enter and wander.
Tip: Professional photographers are required by the city to have a permit to take pictures here. You can find more information on their website. Since I’m an amateur though, I feel OK posting this iPhone photo.