Chum salmon in McLane Creek. Credit: Thurston County Stream Team
What can your children learn from a fish? Plenty — about determination, perseverance, and the weird and enthralling drama of nature. Every year, Pacific salmon travel hundreds of miles through the ocean, navigating storms and slipping past predators and fishermen’s nets, relentlessly focused on arriving at the local streams where they were hatched. Their purpose: to mate and bury their eggs in the stream bottom before they die.
Where can you take your kids to watch this fascinating action unfold?
Spawning salmon are clearly visible from several local vantage points. It’s a chance for your family to get outdoors and learn about an amazing part of the region’s natural history. And don’t feel silly if you find yourself cheering on a fish — people do it all the time! Here are top locations to watch this drama unfold around the South Sound and South King County.
Farther north? Check out our list of 10 salmon-spotting spots around Seattle and the Eastside.
The following locations are ordered by when you are likely to see salmon, starting with September and October locations and continuing to November and December sites. But predicting when salmon will arrive is an inexact science. Contact locations before venturing out if possible, adjust expectations accordingly, and you will find plenty of educational opportunity in the experience.
1. Duwamish River, Tukwila
Head to four Duwamish River viewing locations, North Wind’s Weir (2914 S. 112th St., Tukwila), Tukwila Gardens Park (11269 East Marginal Way, Tukwila), Codiga Park (12585 50th Place S., Tukwila) or Tukwila Urban Center Pedestrian Bridge (6800 Green River Trail, Tukwila) to see Chinook, coho and chum migrate upstream. Chinook and coho can typically be seen in August and September, and chum in October and November. These places can be good viewing spots for other native wildlife as well, such as bald eagles, osprey and blue heron.
2. Green River, Auburn
Gather at Whitney Bridge Park on S.E. Green Valley Road and 212th Way S.E. to see Chinook, pink, coho and chum make their way up the Green River from September through December. The best viewing is from the 212th Street bridge. From the west parking lot, walk up to 212th, turn right and follow the broad sidewalk to the bridge for viewing. There is no need to cross this active county road. For more info, call 206-529-9467.
3. Covington Creek, Auburn
View coho salmon during September and October from the roadway bridge on 168th Ave. S.E., just off the Auburn-Black Diamond Road.
4. Soos Creek Hatchery, Auburn
Mid-September through October is your best bet to view Chinook and coho returning to the hatchery, located at 13030 Auburn-Black Diamond Road. Check out the viewing pond and outdoor kiosk explaining hatchery operations. The hatchery is open every day from 8 a.m.–4 p.m.; staff are sometimes available to answer questions.
5. Deschutes River, Tumwater
Watch spawning Chinook in Tumwater Falls Park in late September and early October. For info, contact Debbie Smith, City of Tumwater, at 360-754-4148.
6. Clarks Creek, Puyallup
Leave the car at Puyallup’s Clarks Creek Park and follow a short trail to a footbridge overlooking spawning chum. These chum are a winter run stock with adults returning in late November to late January, but the peak of the run happens in mid-December.
7. Minter Creek Hatchery, Gig Harbor
Visitors can tour the hatchery (12710 124th Ave. Ct. N.W., Gig Harbor) and then walk three-quarters of a mile down a gravel road to view a large run of chum and coho salmon, starting in November. For info, call 253-857-5077.
8. McLane Creek Nature Trail, Capitol State Forest
This gentle nature loop offers streamside views of spawning chum salmon in November and early December, depending on rainfall. Salmon Stewards are sometimes stationed at McLane Creek on November weekends; we're attempting to confirm for 2019. Everyone is welcome to join the Chum Salmon and Cider Celebration on Sunday, Nov. 10, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. To reach the McLane Creek Nature Trail from Olympia, drive west on Mud Bay Road and turn south onto Delphi Road. Turn right at the sign for the trail. You will need a Discover Pass to park.
9. Kennedy Creek, Mason County, northwest of Olympia
Around 40,000 chum cram into the lower two miles of this creek to spawn each fall. Best viewing is from a 1.5-mile Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail. For 2019, the trail is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 2–3, 9–10, 16–17, 23–24 and Nov. 30–Dec. 1, plus Veterans' Day, Monday, Nov. 11, and the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29. Open hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. on those dates. The public is invited to an open house fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 16 where chowder will be served for a suggested donation of $5 a bowl. Coffee, tea and hot cocoa will also be on offer. The trail is maintained by donor support, and the first half-mile ADA-accessible.
From Highway 101, turn west at Old Pacific Highway. Follow the signs onto a gravel road to Kennedy Creek. Please note that Kennedy Creek has a no-dog policy to protect both the salmon and dogs; dogs are susceptible to poisoning from a parasite in the salmon. For more information, contact KennedyCreek@spsseg.org.
First time out? Here are some tips to enhance your experience.
- Bring binoculars for a better view of the salmon’s physical changes.
- Dress to stay warm — watching salmon is a quiet activity.
- Keep pooches leashed (if dogs are allowed). A dead salmon might look like an irresistible snack.
- If you see a dead fish, leave it where it is. The ecosystem needs them!
- The salmon are hard at work. Stay out of the water and don’t disturb the fish in any way.
Editor's note: ParentMap staff contributed to this article which was originally published in 2013 and updated for 2019.