Climbing fort at new Yesler Terrace Park. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Got climbers? This new park is for you.
The centerpiece of Seattle's new 1.7-acre Yesler Terrace Park is a huge fort with a web of ropes to challenge your little mountaineers. There’s a second play structure, designed for ages 2–5, if low-key play is more your kids’ style.
As its name suggests, Yesler Terrace Park is built on a steep hill with lots of levels. At the top of the hill is a spray park outside the beautiful Mithun-designed and LEED Gold-certified Yesler Community Center.
Below, there are the climbing structures, a turf soccer field, a walking loop around a grassy lawn and a basketball court with an elliptical machine next to it. (Maybe you can sneak in a workout while the kids are playing ball?) There’s just one swing, but it’s a big one. We saw six, then seven kids pile in at once.
The whole park is sited on a hill, and its design embraces the slope by making it fun. My 3-year-old loved the slide built right into the hill — it’s got bumpy rollers like an airport baggage claim carousel. We saw lots of kids skip the slide altogether and just slither down the Astroturf on their bellies. Paved paths lead uphill gently, which is great for wheelchairs, strollers and parents hauling bikes.
Kids can reach the fort’s crow’s nest by rope ladder, or walk across a bridge from the plaza level — a nice option for kids who’d never make it to the top otherwise. Inside, three spy glasses let you peek at the surrounding neighborhood. Under the fort are rock climbing grips tucked in the concrete wall. All these little touches give you the sense that this playground was really nicely thought out.
I saw a big, orange button in the plaza outside the community center. There was no signage on it, but what do you do when you see a big, orange button? Press it! Turns out the button activates the fountain and turns the plaza into a spray park. (The spray park is seasonal.)
From anywhere in the park, you’ll get a great panorama of the city: Columbia Tower, Smith Tower, the stadiums and peek-a-boo views of the water. New high-rises and more buildings under construction border the park, signs of the changing neighborhood.
Yesler Terrace was built in the 1940s as low-income public housing. Its more famous residents include Jimi Hendrix and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke. The original two-story apartment buildings were demolished and replaced with these high-rises, which are a mix of low-income and market-rate housing.
The park is meant to be a gathering place for local residents, but definitely put it on your list of must-visit playgrounds even if you don't live nearby. It’s centrally located and easy to get to, with free two-hour parking at the community center, and bus routes 60 and 27 and the First Hill streetcar line running nearby.
Yesler Terrace Park is located at the intersection of Little Saigon, Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central District — a five-minute walk takes you into any of these neighborhoods. A new ramp and staircase leads you down to Little Saigon, the section of the International District east of I-5. (A tasty lunch is just minutes away.)
The new park, funded in part by the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy, began its planning and design period in 2013 and was completed in late August 2018.
If you go...
Open hours: Daily, 4 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Snack time: Explore the nearby International District and find places to eat in our Secrets to the International District from a Chinese Mom
More destination playgrounds: