Seattle's Discovery Park: The Complete Guide

A lighthouse

TripSavvy / Noah Kreyenhagen

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Discovery Park

3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle, WA 98199, USA
Phone +1 206-386-4236

Discovery Park is the largest park in the city of Seattle—a treasure trove of green spaces, natural shoreline, and paved and rough trails alike. Whether you want to hike, enjoy a picnic or spend some time relaxing on a beach, this park has got you covered. With 534 acres to its name, it’s hard not to find something to do.

While some parks are groomed and you might find blacktops or playgrounds, Discovery Park has a slightly wild appeal. Sure, there are some paved trails and they are a great way to experience nature without having to put on your hiking boots, but you’ll find a lot of open meadows, cliffs overlooking the Puget Sound, wooded areas, and a couple of stretches of natural, rocky shoreline complete with a lighthouse. This is a place to enjoy the best of Western Washington’s natural side—views of Mount Rainier and the Olympics, the Puget Sound, and lush forests—without having to drive out of town or take on any major terrain.

Fort Lawton Post Exchange and Gymnasium
Photo by Trevor Tinker (@iamtrevorseye) / Getty Images

Top Hikes and Trails

The trails of Discovery Park are a real highlight, providing enough of a hike that you can get a nice workout or avoid inclines for a leisurely stroll. There are just over 12 miles of trails to enjoy.

  • Discovery Park and Lighthouse Loop Trail: This popular, relatively easy, 4.4-mile trail takes hikers on a loop through much of the park with views of forest, beach, and lighthouses. There is a slight elevation gain of 472 feet and leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. Some portions of the trail are unpaved and aren't friendly to wheelchair users.
  • South Beach and Hidden Valley Loop Trail: This moderate 2.4-mile loop trail is great for bird watching, scenic views, and a beach detour. There is a 328-foot elevation gain and while the trail is rated moderate, it's still doable for beginner hikers.
  • North Beach and Hidden Valley Loop: If you love walks on the beach, this is the trail for you. The 1.8-mile loop travels along the beach and is relatively easy save for a group of stairs and an incline on the return.
  • Birds Nest and Lookout Beach: This 2.6-mile out and back trail has several stunning views of the Olympics mountains. The return may be a bit difficult since it's all uphill, but as the elevation gain is only 380 feet, it's not too intense.

The Best Things to Do

The majority of visitors to Discovery Park come to wander with no particular agenda and the park really is best that way. That said, there are several highlights of a visit to Discovery Park.

  • Enjoy the Beaches and Lighthouse: Many visitors make a point to see the West Point Lighthouse, which is on the far side of the park. The active lighthouse is quaint, cute, and extremely picturesque against a backdrop of mountains and Puget Sound views. In fact, the beaches are the most beautiful spots in this overall beautiful park. On clear days, you’ll find top-notch views of Mount Rainier and the Olympics and on clear evenings, the beaches are some of the best spots in town to watch a sunset.
  • Go Wildlife Spotting: Since Discovery Park is also one of the most natural spots in Seattle, wildlife still hangs out here pretty regularly. Seals and cranes like to spend time on the beaches (don’t expect too many on busy days, though). On the forested trails, you might see an owl or raccoons. You'll always spot plenty of birds.
  • Learn About the History of Seattle's Indigenous Tribes: In honor of this history and the wider history of Native American tribes in and around Seattle, the park is home to the Daybreak Star Cultural Center—a 20-acre event space and conference center that not only hosts larger events and pow-wows, but also a preschool, family services programs, an art gallery and more. Visiting the cultural center is free (though, donations are appreciated) and it’s open from 9 to 5 on weekdays.
  • Tour a Historic Fort: Discovery Park was the site of Fort Lawton, used most notably, to keep prisoners of war during World War II. Many of the WWII-era buildings were demolished but there are still several former military buildings in the park. Visitors can tour the grounds of the historic Fort Lawton passing by a military cemetery, band barracks, and more.

When to Visit

If you're interested in hiking the best time to visit Discovery park is from May to September. A majority of trails will be at their peak and Seattle's rainy season hasn't yet begun. Many of the trails can get crowded on the weekend, especially when the weather is nice, so aim your visit during the week instead of the weekend if at all possible.

Getting There

Discovery Park is located 5 miles from Downtown Seattle in the Magnolia Neighborhood with entrances to the park along West Emerson Street and 36th Avenue West. If you're taking the bus, Route 24 stops at the West Emerson Street entrance while Route 33 stops inside the park, close to the North Parking Lot. There are three parking lots in the park: the East Lot right next to the visitors center, the North Lot, and the South Lot

Tips for Your Visit

  •  There is a sewage water treatment plant on the westernmost side of the park right by the beach with a few designated parking spaces. While it's tempting to park in there while enjoying the beach, they are permit-only. Parking in those spaces without a permit, or at other points on that stretch of road will get your car towed.
  • While you can ride a bike on any paved road, they must be walked on unpaved trails.
  • Discovery Park has some sensitive wildlife areas. As such, visitors are discouraged from going off-trail.
  • Dogs are allowed in most areas of the park and on most trails (excluding Wolf Tree Nature Trail) as long as they are leashed.
  • If you want to visit the beach prepare for some walking. It's 1.5-2 miles from the East Lot.
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Seattle's Discovery Park: The Complete Guide