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Seattle’s Newest Playground Is Its Largest, Most Inclusive Yet

Pathways Park welcomes people of all ages and abilities

Published on: June 12, 2024

Young girl slides down a roller slide at a new inclusive playground near Seattle
Thrill seekers will love the slides at Pathways Park. Photo: Meredith Charaba

It’s the largest playground in the city of Seattle, and the most accessible. The long-awaited Pathways Park is finally open and ready to welcome the entire community. This special park with a playground, made possible through community efforts driven by a local mom honoring her son, took more than seven years of planning and over $6 million to complete.

It’s the kind of playground that shows the unlimited possibilities that come with play. For kids, play is everything. It’s how they learn; it’s how they interact with each other; it’s how they grow and develop. And what better place to do that than on a playground with kids of all different ages, abilities and backgrounds?

Looking around the park on its opening day, I saw an entire community coming together. Playing together on a playground in a new way. My daughter and I couldn’t wait to join the fun.

Park with playground in Seattle includes large turf field, slides and climbing structures
The center of the park has slides, climbing structures and a cave. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Playground structures that invite play

Pathways Park is a nature-based, inclusive playground designed for all kinds of kids (and parents and caregivers) to play alongside each other, or watch from a comfortable distance. It sets a new standard for community spaces and outdoor playgrounds, and it exceeds ADA requirements.

The play structures in the park connect people immediately, as they are designed for multiple people to use together. We barely made it past the entrance, where my daughter stopped and stared in awe at the large log climbing structure.

Young kids climb on a log structure at Pathways Park, the largest playground in Seattle
Kids can climb the rope hammock or logs on this fun structure at Pathways Park. Photo: Meredith Charaba

The nearby ground-level merry-go-round is designed for two wheelchairs, with extra bench seating for kids who want to take a ride with their friends — or make a new friend, like my daughter did.

"Three girls sit on the bench seat of an accessible ground-level merry-go-round at Seattle's Pathways Park"
The ground-level merry-go-round has room for everyone. Photo: Jocelyn RC/Seattle Parks and Recreation

The roller slide invites two kids down at a time on a bumpy ride to the bottom. The polished concrete slide (the first I have ever seen!) on the hillside is wide enough for a group of four to slide down together. My daughter’s feet had barely touched the turf at the bottom before she shouted “Again!” and ran back up the hillside.

Seattle’s newest playground Pathways Park has turf for accessibility and wide slides
Run, walk or climb up the hillside to take a turn on the slides. Photo: Meredith Charaba

A sand and water section has plenty of room for kids to sit side-by-side and dig around in the sand pit. The custom carved basalt table is wide and low for younger kids and people in wheelchairs to access. Kids can take turns spinning the wheel to run water down pathways to the table’s edge while others play in the moving stream.

Young girl playing at the Pathways Park water table, with carved channels for water play
Young kids can spin the wheel to pump water down the custom basalt table. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Even swinging at Pathways Park is a group activity. My husband took our daughter on the face-to-face swing, where he could see her smiles as they swung back and forth. The middle swing is a wide saucer that multiple kids can pile on during their visit to the playground. There is a single-person adaptive swing with a roller-coaster-like bar that secures one kid in place (and makes it easy for a friend to push them). And two more custom swings are on their way: one for the park entrance, and one for the tree house-style overlook.

Three swings at Seattle’s inclusive Pathways Park playground offer face-to-face options, group swing time and individual use
Choose from three different experiences at the Pathways Park swing set. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Places to rest, observe and engage the senses

The park is named after its parallel pathways, where park-goers can choose between a flat, smooth terrain or a more adventurous one with different challenges. There’s plenty to do and see on each pathway. The “Rolly Polly” path section has smooth hills that kids on wheels (be it bicycle, stroller, scooter or wheelchair) can zoom up and down for added thrills.

The Rolly Polly path at Pathways Park in Seattle is designed for wheelchairs, scooters, strollers and bicycles with accessible turf next to it
The “Rolly Polly” path is perfect for thrill seekers. Photo: Meredith Charaba

For those who need a break from busy play, the park offers multiple pockets for rest and observation. Near the two slides is a cave-like structure where kids and parents alike can sit and watch. Down the trail, you’ll find “The Nest,” a sitting spot surrounded by large slats. I was happy to see that the slats offered visibility while shielding me from some of the busyness of the park. And it’s connected to the park’s sensory garden, a path with a variety of plants and steel drums to engage the senses. (For an even quieter stroll, head down past the park’s marsh to the Burke-Gilman Trail.)

Young girl and her father peek through the slats at Pathway Park’s "Nest" for a sensory break from playtime
Hang out in “The Nest” for a sensory break or snack time. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Perhaps my favorite part of the park was the tree house-like ravine overlook, where I could sit on a porch swing or peek over the deck to be surrounded by the greenery of the forest, feeling for a moment like I was not in the middle of a busy neighborhood. Along the rail is a poem written by the community, translated to braille to allow those who cannot see the ravine to still experience it.

The tree house ravine at Seattle’s inclusive playground at Pathways Park has swings and a braille poem.
Enjoy the sounds of nature and a forest view from the tree house overlook. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Art elements at the park and playground

Multiple artists contributed to the design elements of the park, and I had so much fun walking through and discovering their work. The first sculpture I noticed was a worm, tucked in the cave by the slides. Eli Reischl, the young boy who inspired the park, loved worms and the sculpture is just one way the park honors his memory. Other sculptures throughout the park have an other-worldly feel.

Art sculpture attached to the slats of "The Nest" at Seattle’s Pathways Park
Spot creatures of all kinds in sculpture form throughout the park. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Along the pathway atop the hillside, an interactive art piece called “Roots of Recognition” equally acknowledges every person who contributed to the park project, whether they donated money or attended a planning meeting.

Young girl slides discs on an art sculpture at inclusive Pathways Park playground that recognizes donors and contributors
An interactive art piece lists the names of community members who contributed the park’s development. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Down by the bioretention marsh, you can use the two talking poles to chat with other park-goers (my daughter happily shouted “Hello!” into one as soon as another child and parent got close). The sculptures have hidden creatures peeking out from various points — I especially loved the woodpeckers and small bat.

A woodpecker statue on a talking pole at Seattle’s inclusive Pathways Park playground
Talking poles in the park include adorable creatures. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Up the path, beyond the treehouse ravine, a frog peeks out from a tall lily pad. Titled “Beyond the Surface,” this sculpture has multiple elements that speak to the inclusivity and thoughtfulness of the park. Large tadpoles were added to the bottom of the sculpture’s posts to ensure it was detectable to people with vision impairments walking with a cane.

"A huge frog peeks over a lily pad at Pathways Park, Seattle's largest, most inclusive playground"
Artwork throughout the park includes this giant frog, peeking over a lily pad. Photo: courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation

A location that serves the community

The location of Pathways Park is unique: It’s near affordable housing, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House and a developmental preschool. The park in its previous condition could not serve the needs of the community.

Everyone I spoke to, from landscape architect, Clayton Beaudoin, to Seattle Parks and Rec project manager, Roma Shah, shared the importance of this being a park for (and by) the local community. The intention behind its design shows through in every element. It is clear the community devoted time, energy and resources into planning and developing a park with a playground that welcomes everyone.

A picnic area with two tables, cookout spots, and a path down the Burke-Gilman trail complete Pathways Park
Plan for a picnic or follow the path down to Burke-Gilman Trail for more time in nature. Photo: Meredith Charaba

From the rainbow-adorned tree snags to the easy-to-navigate turf, Pathways Park is an incredible gathering place. The picnic area is perfect for a lunch or barbecue, and the small community room at the park entrance will be available for events and gatherings.

It’s a park I could go to again and again.

If you go to Pathways Park playground in Seattle …

Location: Pathways Park is located at 5201 Sand Point Way N.E. in Seattle.

Open hours: Pathways Park is open daily, 4 a.m.–11:30 p.m.

Parking: There is a small parking lot with ADA parking. Street parking is also available.

Facilities: Pathways Park has three single-use, all-gender restrooms, each equipped with a baby changing table. One also has an adult-size changing table while the other two have low benches.

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