If you're lucky, you might find a tree fort near the playground. Or build your own. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
At 534 acres, Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest park, and visiting it feels like you’ve magically been teleported out of the city.
Build a fort at the playground
Renovated in 2017, Discovery Park’s playground provides lots of opportunities for nature-inspired play. A multilevel climbing structure gives kids the sense that they’re in the tree canopy, while tunnel-like archways below offer spaces to crawl over and through.
After a dozen flights on the zipline, my kids often migrate to the trees. While I can never guarantee it, previous playground visitors often leave behind epic forts constructed from fallen branches.
Notes on access: Normally, families parking next to the Environmental Learning & Visitor Center can easily access its facilities, educational center and clean restrooms. However, the center has remained closed during the pandemic, including the restrooms. There's a portable toilet instead. (Planned ADA improvements, that will close this parking area, have been postponed until fall 2022.)
Get some sand in your shoes
Puget Sound beaches are known for their rocky surfaces, so we make our way from the south parking lot to the viewpoint at Magnolia Bluff for some honest-to-goodness sand.
With a few toys packed from home and a good bit of distance from the cliff, my kids can play happily while we watch for boats and seals. (Orcas have also been known to make their way past the park.)
Weather tip: There is no real tree cover on the exposed bluff. While a little rain never hurt anyone, we head to another area on windy days to avoid getting sand blown in our faces.
Hit the trails
Of the parks featured in this guide, Discovery Park offers the most opportunities for traditional dirt trails (although there are paved roads through the park that suit bikes).
With independent little legs, we head for Wolf Tree Nature Trail. The quarter-mile loop has cute boardwalks and plenty of stops to learn about the local flora and fauna. (Remember dogs are not allowed on this particular trail.)
If we’re feeling more ambitious, we cobble together some combination of the Loop Trail and North Beach Trail. If you take this approach, make sure you have a map; download one from the Friends of Discovery Park website or use an app like AllTrails. A round-trip hike of about 4 miles takes us by the West Point Lighthouse and the beach, which is currently only accessible on foot or with an ADA placard — hopefully, permits for families of young children will be available again once the visitor center reopens.
Search for wildflowers
I’m a sucker for a good field of wildflowers. Springtime blooms seem to peak in late May and early June, and I can usually con my toddler into a floral scavenger hunt if I promise him some beach time. In my experience, the North Beach and Hidden Valley trails offer the most variety — we’ve seen wild roses, salmonberries, giant daisies and large patches of purple lupines.
Remember that we share this big backyard with others. Please admire flowers from the path and don’t pick them (I know, it’s tempting); that way, everyone gets a chance to enjoy them.
For more Discovery Park fun, including educational opportunities, check out this article full of tips.