Travel Diaries Lake Washington Arboretum Waterfront Trail Header Image

Walking the Lake Washington Arboretum Waterfront Trail

Recently I took a trip to Seattle to visit my friend Steven. He’s lived there for a little while now, and while spring isn’t the best time to get outside and do things, he was excited to show me around.

Sign at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA Trail along Lake Washington

One of the first places he took me is the Washington Park Arboretum, which is super pretty. My favorite part of the trip was the Arboretum Waterfront Trail along the edge of Lake Washington.

Map and information about the Arboretum Waterfront Trail near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The trail is a 1/2 mile long. Most of it is pretty muddy and the parts that aren’t are floating walkways that allow you to walk across the water from Foster Island to Marsh Island.

Steven walking along the muddy Arboretum Waterfront Trail in the marsh along Lake Washington near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The Arboretum Waterfront Trail is in the largest wetland in Seattle, hence all the mud. The floating walkways give beautiful views of Lake Washington, but a lot of the trail is actually in the marshes on the lake’s edge. Willow and birch trees hide the lake from view in these areas, but there’s still plenty to see. If you watch carefully, you may spot some dragonflies, marsh wrens, or even a turtle.

Sign showing prohibited activities on the Arboretum Waterfront Trail along Lake Washington near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The marsh is a fragile environment, so bikes, runners, and dogs are not allowed.

Since the trail is all mud and floating walkways, it’s not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers and you should be prepared to get a little dirty.

Holly standing on the steps of the raised observation platform overlooking Lake Washington on the Arboretum Waterfront Trail near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

There is a raised observation platform on Foster Island as well as several other platforms on Marsh Island, but they don’t look very well maintained. Steven assured me that the observation platform was *probably* safe, but the wood looked like it would give way at any moment, so I didn’t want to risk going all the way up to the platform. Even getting on the steps was tricky, since there was a mud pit in front of the platform and the bottom step was missing.

A bench in the marsh on Marsh Island in Lake Washington on the Arboretum Waterfront Trail near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The benches along the trail looked just as dilapidated and unsafe as the platforms.

Save This Trail sign from Seattle Parks and Recreation for the Arboretum Waterfront Trail along Lake Washington near the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

At the end of the trail is a sign from Seattle Parks and Recreation asking for help in preserving and improving the trail. If you’ve used the Arboretum Waterfront Trail, be sure to take the survey about how often you go, your favorite activities, and how to improve the trail, or email with how you would like to see the trail preserved or improved.

Travel Diaries Header Washington Park Arboretum Seattle

Exploring the Washington Park Arboretum

Recently I took a trip to Seattle to visit my friend Steven. He’s lived there for a little while now, and while spring isn’t the best time to get outside and do things, he was excited to show me around.

Steven at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA.

One of the first places we went was the Washington Park Arboretum, right next to Lake Washington.


The Washington Park Arboretum was established by the University of Washington’s Board of Regents and the City of Seattle in 1934. Originally named the University of Washington Arboretum, it became the Washington Park Arboretum in 1974.

The Arboretum was originally designed by James Dawson and Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm as an ordered taxonomic system. The plants were ordered from most primitive to most advanced in order to help students and scientists study plant evolution. However, this system did not take into consideration the needs of the different plant types and many of the plants and trees ended up in environments they could not thrive in. In 1947, director Brian O. Mulligan stepped in and moved many of the plants to more suitable environments.

Through the years, more and more gardens have been added to the Arboretum.

In 1949, Mulligan added a winter garden, now known as the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden, featuring cedar and fir trees, along with Chinese witchhazel, daphnes, rhododendrons, and many more plants that thrive in winter.

The Japanese Garden was completed in 1960 and is one of the best Japanese gardens in North America. In addition to the beautiful garden itself, the Japanese Garden also offers the experience of a tea ceremony. It is the only part of the Arboretum that has an entrance fee.

Pacific Connections Garden Sign at Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

My favorite part of the Arboretum is the most recent addition. The Pacific Connections Garden features plants from Cascadia, Chile, China, Australia, and New Zealand. The New Zealand forest alone has almost 10,000 plants. The garden also has an audio tour that can be found on the Pacific Connections Garden page on the University of Washington Botanic Gardens website.

The Arboretum is currently jointly managed by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, the City of Seattle, and the Arboretum Foundation.

Environment & Wildlife

The 230 acre park is home to one of the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest collections of temperate trees and plants.

Work on the park’s newest trail, the Arboretum Loop Trail, has uncovered a stretch of Arboretum Creek that previously flowed through pipes underground. This and other restoration work done during the project has helped create more habitats for wildlife in the natural wetlands.

The Arboretum is a great place for bird watching. The wet and temperate environment provides a home to hundreds of bird species, including my favorite, the American Coot, as well as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Trumpeter Swans, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Pacific Wrens, and many others.


Holly Walking on a trail at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The Washington Arboretum has several miles of trails throughout its 230 acres, most of which are paved.

The Arboretum Loop Trail, which opened in April, is one of the best ways to explore the Arboretum. The 2 mile trail is entirely paved and features several bridges over Arboretum Creek. The restoration work done during construction of the trail has helped increase the wildlife activity in the area, as well as allowing visitors to see previously hidden plants.

Hours & Fees

Most of the Arboretum is free to visit and is open all day. The Visitors Center is open from 9am to 5pm daily.

The Japanese Garden at the southern end of the Arboretum does have an entrance fee, which is $8 for adults, $6 for Seattle residents (have your ID!), and $4 for children, senior citizens, college students (have your ID!) and disabled persons. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month from 3pm until closing and anytime for children 5 or younger.

The Japanese Garden opens at noon every Monday and 10am Tuesday-Sunday. It closes at 4pm, 5pm, 6pm or 7pm depending on the month. Guided tours are at 12:30pm every day April through October and are included with the price of admission.


Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Hiking Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Last weekend I took a trip to the coast and ended up visiting the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. If you follow my blog (hit the follow button on the right if you don’t), you know that I love hiking and exploring new places, so I was super excited to discover Bolsa Chica. I haven’t gotten to do as much exploring in California as I’ve wanted, so a trip to Bolsa Chica is just what I needed.


Bolsa Chica has a tumultuous history. The earliest known inhabitants lived here 8,000 years ago, but not much is known about them. Since then, other Native American groups have moved in, later to be culturally dominated and killed by diseases brought by Spanish colonists and missionaries.

It was one of these Spaniards, Joaquin Ruiz, who gave the land its name. His sister had inherited land from her father-in-law and given Joaquin 8,000 acres of her inheritance. She had named her land Rancho Las Bolsas, The Purses, so he called his small tract of land Rancho La Bolsa Chica, The Little Purse.

In the 1800s, when California became part of the United States, Spanish land grants were required to be registered. Many Spaniards had to take out loans to pay these registrations that they could not repay, and so lost their land. A portion of Bolsa Chica was lost in this way and sold to some Los Angeles businessmen for a duck hunting preserve. The tides made for poor hunting, so a dam was built across one of the channels. In a short while, this dam transformed the salt water marshes into fresh water ponds, devastating the local ecology.

In the 1900s, Bolsa Chica was the site of oil and natural gas drilling and later an artillery battery during World War II. In 2004, efforts began to restore Bolsa Chica to its original conditions. More than 500 acres have been restored thus far.

Environment & Wildlife

Bolsa Chica is a salt marsh wetland. It is also a seasonal estuary, where the ocean tide and the river current flow into each other. Salt water enters the wetlands throughout the year at several points. During the rainy season, freshwater flows into the wetlands through a flood control channel. The meeting of salt water and fresh water creates brackish conditions in several areas of the park.

One of the main draws to Bolsa Chica are the birds. Hundreds of bird species frequent the reserve, so you’ll be sure to spot something cool during your visit. I saw plenty of sandpipers and other water birds fishing, but my favorite birds were the hummingbirds. There were several flitting among the flowers along the path. I got as close as I could to get some pictures before the moved on to the next flower.


There’s plenty of life in the water as well. Since Bolsa Chica is on the ocean, marine life abounds. Be sure to bring polarized sunglasses so things in the water are easier to spot. I saw a school of smelt, which looked really cool with the sun reflecting off their bodies as they swam. I also spotted a little stingray, which I was excited about because I’ve never seen one in the wild before. If you’re lucky, you may also see a shark or a guitarfish or even an octopus hiding behind the rocks.


Of course, you’ll always see animals on land when you hike. I saw plenty of rabbits and ground squirrels running around. They do blend in with the brown dirt and grass really well, though, so you have to have a good eye to spot them. I don’t often see wild lizards, so I was very excited to spot a western fence lizard.


There are 5 miles of trails at Bolsa Chica. I hiked along the Mesa Trail and part of the Pocket Loop Trail. The trails are very well maintained and mostly flat, so it isn’t a strenuous place to hike as long as you stay on the trails.

If you go off the trails, there are rattlesnakes, black widows and poison oak to contend with. Bolsa Chica is also home to some rare and endangered plants and animals, so staying on the trails can prevent damage to the plants and the animals’ environment.

A trail map of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve can be found here.