Mercer Slough Nature Park, Bellevue
One of Bellevue's largest parks, Mercer Slough Nature Park is 320 acres of wetland ecosystems teeming with all kinds of wildlife, from pileated woodpeckers to mallard ducks. The park features more than seven miles of trails. Begin your exploration by parking at the Environmental Education Center, a complex of classrooms, a visitor center and a lookout tower with a commanding view over the wetlands (once reopened, ask the ranger on duty at the education center for the key to climb into the lookout tower).
Favorite trails: Walk south from the Education Center along the road and down the hill to the Bellefields Loop Trail, where you can choose the distance you hike. A one-mile loop takes you through forest and wetlands, fresh with the pungent odor of skunk cabbage, down to the open water of the slough. From there you can go farther if your kids desire. Birds are abundant, and there are interpretive signs along the paths and boardwalks. If you're more ambitious, you can connect from the Bellefields Trail to the Heritage Trail, another loop of more than a mile that meanders past blueberry farms and other habitats.
Indoor options: Get some tips from the friendly ranger, pick up a trail map and a scavenger hunt, or you can even check out a backpack with activities, books and binoculars for a suggested donation of $5. There is an art exhibit inside as well. As of March 1, 2021, the center remains closed; check for status updates at the Environmental Education Center website.