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Day Trip to Suquamish: History, Culture and an Amazing New Playground

Where Seattle-area families can play and learn about Chief Seattle

Published on: April 27, 2021

Young boys standing on Orca sculpture at new Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area playground in Suquamish Washington near gravesite of Chief Seattle
Photo:
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

My kids have been learning about Indigenous people in school, so I took them to pay respects at the final resting place of our city’s namesake, Chief Seattle. His gravesite is on the Port Madison Native Reservation, which belongs to the Suquamish Tribe.

Grave of Chiefl Seattle in the Suquamish Tribal Cemetary on the Port Madison Native Reservation
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Chief Seattle is buried in the village of Suquamish, about a 15-minute drive from the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal. His grave is the most prominent one in the Suquamish Tribal Cemetery.

We saw a stone cross and two carved story poles on either side of the gravestone representing his life story. A paved walkway leads from the parking lot of a white clapboard church to the grave, so you can walk respectfully through the cemetery. Some of the graves are recent, others are weathered gray stones simply marked “Unknown.”

New playground

After a somber few minutes talking about Chief Seattle and the first people who lived in the place we now call home, we were surprised to see a fantastic playground across the street from the cemetery.

Of course we had to go test it out. Turns out the Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area is brand new: It just opened to the public this month. And it is amazing.

Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area in Suquamish Washington Chief Seattle Native history culture playground
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

A piece of forest is now a culturally-themed children’s playground, and it even has a pod of orcas to climb on. Adventurous kids will love testing out the nature-inspired rope bridges and the enormous spinning basket. The ultimate challenge is a huge climbing boulder that features tribal art.

The play area has fun stuff for younger kids, too, including a wooden shelter and a small slide built into the slope.

Spinning rope climber bucket feature at new Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

One unique feature of this playground are the Lushootseed phrases on the sidewalks, with English printed below.

Families will appreciate a covered picnic shelter with tables and benches next to the play area. There’s also a nice public restroom with a family restroom and changing tables.

Lushootseed phrases and English translations at new Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Learn about Suquamish culture and history

This new playground connects the restored Chief Seattle gravesite, the Suquamish Museum, the Suquamish Veterans Memorial and the House of Awakened Culture (the Suquamish Community House). Just down the hill is Old Man Park, where one of the largest longhouses in the region once stood. All these culturally important sites are within a short walk of each other in Suquamish Village.

The playground is located just behind the Suquamish Museum, which is currently open by appointment only due to COVID. It’s a stunning Mithun-designed facility, opened in 2012, that showcases artifacts, historic photographs and documents of the Suquamish Tribe.

Wide view of kid playing on Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

If you go in, you’ll see traditional baskets, jewelry, tools, a canoe — but it’s a no-touch zone, so probably best for older kids who can read and appreciate the history and culture.

Walk to the beach

From the playground, you can see the beautiful blue water of Port Madison. It’s a five-minute stroll from the playground to the dock and boat launch with the rocky beach, where public day use is permitted at tribal discretion.

Suquamish Shores Natural Play area giant boulder history Native culture day trip Seattle families
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

If a sandy beach is your jam, head to Old Man House Park, just half a mile away. The Suquamish call this place D’Suq’Wub, or “place of clear saltwater.” It was the site of Old Man House, which was the winter home of Chief Seattle and where he died in 1866. Old Man House Park was returned to the Suquamish Tribe in 2004.

By sheer coincidence, the ferry we caught home was the M/V Suquamish. We walked around looking at the many photographs of the Suquamish people on the walls of the passenger deck. One was a portrait of Chief Seattle’s daughter Kikisoblu, also known as Princess Angeline. She was a familiar figure in the streets of downtown Seattle, the caption read, until her death in 1896.

View through the ferry port hole on the MV Suquamish Bainbridge to Seattle ferry route
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Seattle is our home, and on this ferry trip our family learned more about the city’s thorny history.

If you go...

Find it: The Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area is located behind the Suquamish Museum at 6861 N.E. South Street in Suquamish, Wash

Getting there: Getting to Suquamish from Seattle takes about an hour and 15 minutes, including crossing time on the Seattle-to-Bainbridge ferry, but not including ferry wait time. From Tacoma, it's about an hour's drive, no ferry crossing.

Visiting the museum: The Suquamish Museum is doing a phased re-opening. You need to book an appointment to visit the exhibits, and the maximum group size allowed is 5 people. Masks must be worn by everyone older than 2. Current open times are Friday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Book a 60-minute appointment by emailing musmark@suquamish.nsn.us or calling 360-394-7105. Admission costs $5 for adults; elders ages 55 and older and children ages 5–17 cost $3. The family rate is $15.

Playground: The play area is free and open to the public.

More nearby fun with kids:

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