Seattle’s sunny summer days may be in the rearview, but that doesn’t mean hiking season is over. In fact fall is the perfect time to take your little web footers hiking—not only will you find all of autumn’s brilliant colors on display, but the cooler temps mean happier campers too. So lace up those boots, and hit the trail with one of our favorite kid-friendly fall hikes in Seattle.
When it comes to urban hikes, Seattle has plenty. But we’re big fans of this hidden gem on the north end of the city that boasts about 4 miles of trails and connects two city playgrounds. The Ravenna Park trail system gives families the chance to explore the Ravenna ravine, traveling over foot bridges and finding lots of little streams along the way. In the fall, you’ll find muddy paths and lots of fallen leaves too, so be sure to wear your boots (muddy buddy if it’s recently rained—those puddles are appealing). Hit one of the two main trails (North or South) with your little hikers when you go.
Trail trip: Put a playground stop on your play day list, once you’ve wandered through the ravine. The Ravenna playground and Cowen Park bookend the trails and have all the playground features your kids crave, with even more room to roam. If it’s sunny, pack a picnic and stay for a while.
5520 Ravenna Ave. N.E.
With more than 11 miles of trails, Discovery Park offers a bit of everything for families who are looking for a great hike close to home. The 534-acre park (the largest in Seattle) sits atop the city’s Magnolia neighborhood overlooking Puget Sound and offering views of both the Cascades and the Olympics. Whether it’s gathering freshly fallen Maple leaves as big as their head, searching for "monsters” in the swampy wetlands or building drift wood hideouts on the beach, little explorers will find plenty to pique their interest.
Trail Tip: For those with toddlers in tow, try the half-mile Wolf Tree Nature Trail accessible via the north parking lot. Then, when you’re ready for more of a challenge, hit the Discovery Park Loop Trail. Hike the 2.8 miles around to check out the best of what the park has to offer. Past the sandy part of the trail, take a half-mile detour down the South Beach Trail to the beach near the lighthouse. If you crew still needs to burn off some more energy, check out this great playground. It's located behind the Discovery Park Environmental Learning Center.
3801 Discovery Park Blvd.
Franklin Falls is a family favorite for a reason. And its usually crowded trails are a bit less so once the leaves start to fall. The two-mile round-trip trek won’t tire out even the littlest legs, and other than grabbing your hiking essentials, it’s one you can try even without a major plan in place. The trail is well maintained with very little elevation gain—perfect for tots—and the 70-foot waterfall at the end will elicit all the “oohs” and “ahhs” from the kids. Remember your Northwest Forest Pass to hike here.
Trail tip: There’s a viewpoint right before the falls that makes a great photo spot or stopping point if making your way down the narrow path to the falls isn’t in the cards for your little trekkers. It’s still a great view! And remember to watch kids carefully on slippery rocks and fallen logs near the falls.
Denny Creek Trail
North Bend, WA
Evans Creek Preserve
Make your way to the Eastside to enjoy the trails at Evans Creek Preserve. This hike has a little something for everyone—wetlands, meadows, creeks and footbridges—and its level terrain and many loop trails let you the set just the right distance for the youngest hikers (psst… many of the trails here are stroller friendly too). With 213 acres and a few different viewpoints, you’ll find lots of variety on this urban hike. Don’t forget the wildlife! Bring your binoculars to spot all kinds of birds and maybe a deer or two too.
Trail tip: There are two parking lots for this park. We suggest parking in the lower lot (4001 224th Ave. N.E.) and starting out from there. It’s the easiest way to access the meadow and wetland trails that are the most family-friendly of the bunch.
4001 224th Ave. N.E.
Schmitz Preserve Park
If you blink, you might miss it. But you (and your little ones) will be sorry you did. Schmitz Preserve Park may only cover 53 acres, but the small park tucked away in West Seattle packs a powerful punch. Watch for woodland creatures and listen for woodpeckers as you wander along footpaths lined with lush vegetation, towering trees, nurse logs and a trickling stream.
Trail Tip: Don’t count on trail signs in the park. Why? Because there aren’t any. But with a modest 1.7 miles of hiking paths to follow, it’s a fine plan to just wing it. Stragglers, er we mean hikers, of all ages and abilities should be able to traverse the entire park in a couple of hours.
5551 S.W. Admiral Way
Wilburton Hill Park
Lucky for locals, Wilburton Hill traded in its past life as a logging town for much greener pastures. Now, urbanites of all ages can plan a quick and satisfying escape into nature—following the trails through densely packed trees, crossing a narrow suspension bridge over a 150-foot ravine and wandering through the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Also lucky for locals? The PopUp StoryWalk, Drawn Together, that's currently on display. Catch it before it's taken down on September 23.
Trail Tip: On the east side of the park, kids will love (let’s face it, more like tolerate) the 1.5-mile loop through the woods up and around the baseball diamonds. If they don’t, you can bribe them with the playground at the end. And if riding the zip line has them clamoring for more adventure, head over to adjacent Bellevue Botanical Garden. From the Visitor Center, take the Tateuchi Loop Trail and follow the markers toward the Lost Meadow Loop Trail. Signs for The Ravine Experience take hikers on a short .3-mile detour across the suspension bridge and back again. Continue on the Lost Meadow Trail to meet back up with the Tateuchi. All this in less than one mile. Score!
12400 Main St.
Grace Cole Nature Park
Lake Forest Park’s Grace Cole Nature Park is another hidden gem that’s big on adventure, but easy on little feet (as well as parents’ supply of patience). Amidst a kaleidoscope of fall colors, kids will enjoy exploring the hillside path as it meanders past big ol’ pine trees, ponds and wetlands.
Trail Tip: This hike is a short one, even for inexperienced trekkers. Plan to hit it up after school or head there to break up a busy Saturday with a dose of serenity. Before you head back to the car, take a short walk north past the top of the parking lot to find a boardwalk. Follow it to find the secret ponds that feed Brookside Creek.
30th Ave. N.E. at N.E. 166th St.
Lake Forest Park, WA
The Homestead Valley Trailhead features an ever winding path along Snoqualimie River’s south fork with sneak previews of the Upper Falls along the way to the bridge that then descends down to the Lower Falls view point. It’s an easy hike that is really great to explore any time of the year. A Discover Pass is required and can be purchased at the trail head.
Trail Tip: This trail was also featured in our Best Waterfall Hikes guide where you’ll find other great trails, too.
Olallie State Park
51350 S.E. Homestead Valley Rd.
North Bend, WA
If fresh air and an endless supply of snacks aren’t enough to entice the hiking–adverse members of your crew, the remnants of an abandoned bus and a little potty humor courtesy of Poo Poo Point just might do the trick. From there, croaking frogs, lush forest, caves, lakes and moss-drenched corridors are just icing on the cake. A handful of trails, ranging from easy-peasy to strenuous, fan out from Tiger Mountain’s High Point Way Trailhead. Grab a map at the parking lot (or download one here before you go), and choose your adventure. A visit to Tiger Mountain requires a Discover Pass.
Trail Tip: For a satisfying 3.5–mile loop with little ones, from the High Point Trailhead, take West Tiger Trail #3 to Talus Rocks Trail. Talus Rocks runs into Section Line Trail, then take the Bus Trail to complete the loop.
High Point Trailhead
26415 S.E. 79th St.
Built on the old Burlington-Northern railroad line, the Centennial trail is much more urban than most of our fall trail choices. Stretching from Arlington to Snohomish, the 31 paved miles of a stroller-friendly trail is a great alternative for families who would rather avoid getting the family’s shoes all mucky and still plenty of fall foliage to appreciate.
Trail Tip: The best part of the trail spans from Snohomish (5801 S. Machias Rd.) to Machias (1624 Virginia St.) and back again.
5801 S. Machias Rd.
Union Bay Natural Area
With 74 acres and four miles of shoreline along Lake Washington, the Union Bay Natural Area is a public wildlife area just a stone’s throw away from the shopping mecca of University Village. Gorgeous grasslands and wetlands combined with the backdrops of Husky Stadium, Lake Washington and Mount Rainier add to the diverse fall scenery. A popular bird watching destination, bring the binoculars and either a heavy-duty jogging stroller or a backpack for the wee ones, as the gravel trails tend to get muddy during the fall season.
Trail Tip: Plenty of parking is available at the adjacent Center for Urban Horticulture. This wildlife area was also featured in our guide to the Best Places to Frolic in Fall Foliage, where you’ll find other great places to explore this fall, too.
3501 N.E. 41st St.
Two Bonus Hikes
Nothing says fall like Leavenworth’s technicolor foliage display. So if you're heading east to view the show, there are a few easy hikes you can take with kids. Hidden Lake's easy 1.5-mile hike offers gorgeous fall colors and the trail’s signature photo opp: craggy hideouts carved by lightning in the base of a couple old cedar trees. Before you head home, pop up to Glacier View Campground just up the road from the Hidden Lake trailhead for a spectacular view of Glacier Peak, one of Washington’s five active volcanoes.
Heather Lake (pictured) is another one of our faves for families who are ready to take it to the next level and don’t mind a bit of a climb. The Heather Lake Trail is about 4.6 miles round trip and some of it is rather steep. But the challenge (and muddy shoes) are worth it. Take advantage of the 6 a.m. wake up call delivered to you bedside courtesy of your bright-eyed little ones; and bring along a thermos of strong coffee and hit the trail early to avoid the crowds.
Good to know: A visit to either of these trailheads requires a Northwest Forest Pass.
—Allison Sutcliffe, Jeffrey Totey & Jennifer Pinto