Q: Old Growth Forest Hikes Near Seattle?

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Dear TripFinder,

My son is only five and he is already obsessed with forest ecosystems. He can identify several trees, mosses and ferns! I’d love to take him on some local hikes through old-growth forests. Can you recommend some old-growth hikes near Seattle?

-Lara in Seattle

Dear Lara,

Q: Old Growth Hikes Near Seattle?I remember the first time I hiked in an old-growth forest, and I’ll bet your son will, too. My first was on Mount Rainier National Park’s Grove of the Patriarchs trail during my very first visit to Washington. The sheer beauty of the green forest layers and the awe-inspiring diameter of the trees were certainly a few of the reasons I moved to across the country to Seattle in the summer that followed. A hike among giants will do that to a girl.

You don’t have to drive all the way to Mount Rainier or the Hoh Rainforest to hike among old-growth, though these truly ancient forest ecosystems are unique and well worth the time it takes to get there. Technically, an old-growth forest is a stand that has attained great age (say 150 years or greater) without significant unnatural disturbance such as logging, and that applies to nearly all designated wilderness land that is forested throughout Washington state.

So, where to hike? The great news is, you don’t even have to leave Seattle to hike among old-growth trees. You’ll see a nice remnant old-growth stand in West Seattle at Schmitz Preserve Park, with rich layers of native undergrowth. South Seattle’s Seward Park has old-growth trees as well.

Maybe you’re looking for a bit more trail, wildness and solitude than a city park can provide. Here are two of my favorite old-growth forest hikes just outside Seattle.

Denny Creek Trail

Q: Old Growth Hikes Near Seattle?

One of the closest old-growth hikes is the Denny Creek Trail (4 miles round-trip to the turnaround at Snowshoe Falls, 9 miles round-trip if you hike all the way in to Melakwa Lake). Oh, and about that old-growth; this popular trail boasts excellent examples of ancient mountain hemlock and superb Pacific silver fir. Novice hikers and small children will find the walking easy and pleasant up to the smooth, natural waterslide at 1.3 miles, where kids can indulge in some water play on a hot summer day. Solitude seekers with good knees should continue on and up to the pass, where Melakwa Lake sits waiting for another rest stop just on the other side. To get there, drive I-90 East to Exit 47, then make a left then a right at the T in the road.  Shortly thereafter turn left onto Denny Creek Road, FS58. Drive 3 miles more and just before the campground turn left on the signed road and follow it to the trailhead parking lot. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Skookum Flats

This close in trail is an easy drive past Enumclaw, and a relatively easy hike for the elevation-challenged. The treasures are big Douglas firs and western red cedars growing along the banks of the rushing White River. Some trees are five or six feet in diameter, although the stand of old-growth is relatively young (about 250-300 years old) by Northwest old-growth standards. Don’t expect solitude at the peak of hiking season; the trail’s gentle grade and easy access attract both hikers and mountain bikers. It’s a 12 mile loop, or for a shorter hike turn around at Skookum Falls just 2 miles in.  To get there, take SR 410 east from Enumclaw towards Mount Rainier for about 24 miles to the Huckleberry Creek Road, FR73.  Turn right and drive .5 miles to the trailhead, on your left. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Hope this helps! Don’t forget to look up recent WTA trip reports from other hikers before your trip. Happy Hiking!

Got a burning travel question? You ask, we’ll answer.

photos: entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the Denny Creek Trail by heystax, Denny Creek Waterfall by Cocoa Dream, Trillium in bloom on the Denny Creek Trail by heystax.
Lauren Braden’s new book, 52 Ways to Nature, Washington: Your Seasonal Guide to a Wilder Year, is now available for pre-order
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2 Responses

  1. These are great choices! I haven’t been to the Schmitz Preserve yet – need to put that one on the top of my list. We like the Asahel Curtis Nature Trail up near Snoqualmie Pass for the little kids, or for a short afternoon trip to the mountains. We pair it with a picnic at the picnic area on the other side of the freeway and play in the creek there. We like Federation Forest SP in the south end and Rockport SP up Hwy 20, too, though those are farther drives. There is a nice old growth stand on Whidbey Island at South Whidbey State Park. Old Sauk out by Darrington is a fabulous trail for 5-year-olds. Flat and gorgeous. We are so fortunate to have places like these to get away!

  2. Jennifer – I love so many of the trails you mention, too! Old Sauk is one of those trails that seems to have 100 shades of green. Schmitz Preserve is a very special place. I’m always impressed with the diversity of native plants in the understory, and there are very few invasives, so it feels wild… in the city. When we were there last week, a pair of Barred Owls began calling to each other at 2pm in the afternoon! It was so awesome.

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