Nature in Seattle

Travel Tips

Nature in Seattle

The Waterfall Park
The Waterfall Park

Walk into the Waterfall Park in the heart of old Seattle, right around the corner from Pioneer Square, and it's almost like taking a quick vacation from your vacation.

Seattle has no shortage of beautiful settings to sit and soak up the scenery, but the Waterfall Park at 2nd and Main has to be one of my favorites. Maybe it's all the negative ions flying around from the 22-foot waterfall. Or maybe it's just the fact that the white noise masks the drone of the street traffic outside. Whatever it is, this undercelebrated spot always has the same effect on me...relaxation and calm.

While you're here, you can plop down at one of the cafe-style tables and eat a picnic lunch, enjoy a cup of coffee, or just catch up on your travel journal for the day.

And if by some odd quirk of fate you happen to be a business history buff (hey, could happen), it also has the distinction of being the site of the original United Parcel Service office (though at the time UPS was called American Messenger Service).

The water has been splashing down the wall of huge rough-hewn rocks here since 1977, when it was built by the Annie E. Casey foundation, a philanthropic foundation started by one of the founders of UPS, Jim Casey.

Washington Park Arboretum
Washington Park Arboretum

Feeling the need for a little peace and tranquility in your Seattle vacation? If so, you're in luck, because Seattle has peace and tranquility coming out its...

...well, let's just say that Seattle has a bucketload of places for you to get your zen groove on. Take the Washington Park Arboretum, for example. 230 acres of land in the middle of the city, jam packed with a botanist's dream of more than 5,000 kinds of trees and plants.

If you're the type that gets excited when you read, "Noteworthy are North America's largest collection of Sorbus and Maple, the second largest collection of species Hollies and significant collections of oaks, conifers and camellias," then you're going to love this place!

If not, you're going to love this place too, just maybe not for quite the same reasons.

You can drive through the Arboretum, but don't short change yourself. Park in one of the many parking areas along the road and start exploring the walking paths that criss-cross through the woods. It's hard to believe you're in the middle of the city.

The north end of the Arboretum butts up on a small inlet from Lake Washington, and in the summer you will often see people moseying across the water in canoes rented from the University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center. And ducks, of course. Lots of ducks.

You can find directions and a trail map on the Arboretum web site.

Seeing salmon at the Ballard Locks fish ladder
Seeing salmon at the Ballard Locks fish ladder

No doubt you've heard of the famous fish mongers at Pike Place Market who'll send salmon flying through the air with the greatest of ease. But if you want to see them up close and personal before they end up on ice, I recommend heading off to the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks.

The Ballard Locks connect the waters of the Puget Sound with the Lake Washington Ship Canal (and ultimately Lake Union and Lake Washington). The 21-step fish ladder was created to allow a variety of salmon to swim upstream to spawn.

A subterranean room is lined on one side with large windows looking into a section of the fish ladder. When the salmon are running, it's like looking into a big (if a bit murky) aquarium with fish swimming against fast moving water. At other times of year the fish ladder is empty except for the occasional smolts (baby salmon) getting buffeted about by the current.

A push-button oration will give you a lesson in salmonology (OK, so that's not really a word), and you can check out a display following the growth process from salmon egg to smolt.

Here's what you'll find in the fish ladder, and when you'll find it:

Sockeye: June/July
Chinook & Coho: September/October
Steelhead: Late fall & winter

If you just can't get enough of the Pacific Northwest's favorite fish, here are some other places where you can more salmon in action (though these are all above water viewing). And if you happen to be in this neck of the woods in early October, you can head over to Issaquah (about 20 miles east) for the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival.

Seattle's Great Blue Herons
Seattle's Great Blue Herons

One of the great things about a vacation in Seattle is the ability to mix a nature experience into the urban vibrations of the city. One of my favorite characters in the Seattle nature scene the Great Blue Heron (the Official City Bird of Seattle, no less).

I never get tired of seeing the Great Blue Herons that Seattle has in abundance. When I see them, I inevitably point and say, "Look, a heron!" For some reason, the beauty and excitement of these birds just never gets old. I always marvel at their grace, their patience, and their lightning speed when it's time to take action.

If you want to see herons, there are a number of places you could go. My favorite (primarily because it's close to home) is the Ballard Locks. There is a colony nearby in the neighborhood of Magnolia, and you will typically see one or more standing at the water's or balancing on a wire stretching over the water below the dam.

The Seattle Audubon Society web site has a great resource if you want to know more about herons in Seattle. There you'll find miscellaneous facts (for example, "The Great Blue Heron can swallow a fish many times wider than its narrow neck"), information on where to find them, and links to research and information about the Great Blue Heron.