Outings + Activities | Family fun | South Sound

Go Fish! 9 Spots to Spy Spawning Salmon in the South Sound

Get an up-close view as salmon return to the streams where they hatched


Chum powering up McLane Creek | Courtesy Thurston County Stream Team

What can your children learn from a fish? Plenty — about determination, perseverance, and the weird and entrhalling 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.

Why not take your kids to watch this fascinating action? Spawning salmon are clearly visible from a number of 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 a fish — people do it all the time! Here are top locations to watch this drama unfold around the South Sound. North Sound locations are here. 

These locations are ordered by when you are likely to see salmon, starting with September and October locations and continuing to November and December sites.

Warmer summers and drought conditions make a salmon's life harder, and 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.

Duwamish River, Tukwila

Head to two viewing locations, North Wind’s Weir (2914 S. 112th St., Tukwila) and Codiga Park (12585 – 50th Pl. S., 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. Both sites are well maintained and great places to view other native wildlife as well, such as bald eagles, osprey and blue heron.

Green River, Auburn

Gather at Whitney Bridge Park on S.E. Green Valley Road and 212th Way S.E. to see Chinook, 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. Info: 206-280-9551.

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.

Soos Creek Hatchery, Auburn

Photo Courtesy of Joe Rankin, Soos Hatchery

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. 

Deschutes River, Tumwater

Watch spawning Chinook in Tumwater Falls Park in late September and early October. Salmon stewards are on hand for egg-taking operations on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Salmon stewards will usually also be around to answer questions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings and on weekends when the salmon move from Capitol Lake into Deschutes River. Info: Debbie Smith, City of Tumwater, 360-754-4148.

Clark’s Creek, Puyallup

Leave the car at Puyallup’s Clark’s Creek Park and follow a short trail to a footbridge overlooking spawning chum. Salmon start running in late September, but the peak of the run happens in mid-December. 

Minter Creek Hatchery, Gig Harbor

Visitors can tour the hatchery (12710 124th Ave. Court KPN) 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. Info: 253-857-5077.

McLane Creek Nature Trail, Capitol State Forest 

McLane Creek | Courtesy Thurston County Stream Team

This gentle nature loop offers streamside views of spawning chum salmon in November and early December, depending on rainfall. Stream stewards follow the salmon and are usually present on weekends, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. From Olympia, drive west on Mud Bay Road. Turn left onto Delphi Road. Turn right at the sign for the trail. You will need a Discover Pass to park. 

Kennedy Creek, Mason County, northwest of Olympia 

Salmon Viewing at Kennedy Creek Trail | Photo Courtesy of SPSSEG

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 interpretive trail, maintained by donor support, with the first half-mile ADA accessible. Starting Saturday, October 31, the trail is open to the public from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. on weekends through November, plus Veterans' Day (Nov. 11) and the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 27). During the week, the trail is reserved for educational groups. 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, which are susceptible to poisoning from a parasite in the salmon. Info: Contact the trail coordinator with South Puget Sound Enhancement Group, Jerilyn Walley 360-412-0808 ext. 107.

South Sound salmon events

Chum Salmon and Cider Celebration, McLane Creek Nature Trail, Sunday, Nov. 15, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Enjoy hot cider and snacks while learning from trained Salmon Stewards about the wild spawning chum salmon. For more info contact Ann Marie at 360-754-3355 ext. 6857 or pearcea@co.thurston.wa.us.

Chum powering up McLane Creek | Courtesy Thurston County Stream Team

Salmon-watching tips

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.

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