Sweeping view of Puget Sound and Olympics
Beach (via stairs)
Walking paths and wooded hiking trails
From 3rd Ave NW turn west onto NW 110th St.
Drive carefully, the road narrows and winds down into a ravine.
At the three-way stop turn left into the park.
Carkeek Park is very popular, and on sunny weekends has difficulty accommodating everyone who wants to be there. For how large the park is, the amount of parking offered just isn’t enough and there is no overflow area.
With that said, Carkeek is one of my favorite places to go in the north end. At off times there is usually parking available, no matter which part of the park you want to spend time in.
Immediately on your right after you make the turn into the park is the lot for the Environmental Learning Center. I have no idea when it is open. It was closed when I tried and I didn’t see posted hours.
Next to the Learning Center parking is a large sign with a map of the park. There is also a small demonstration garden and a picnic area.
Back on the main park road, a ways after you enter the park, the road splits and becomes one way, making a loop through the park. Stay right and the road starts climbing the hill.
Half way up is a short stretch of parking on the left. It is mostly used by people going out on the trails, but can be a nice shady spot on a hot day. Other than trail heads, nothing else is located there.
Eventually the road takes you to a wide open expanse at the western tip of the park. For anyone not hiking, this is the popular place to go.
There is a large grassy field, two picnic areas, a playground, restrooms, access to the beach, and a sweeping view over Puget Sound. The first picnic area is right next to the parking lot. The second is on the east side of the field on a little hill.
This part of the park is up on a short bluff, so beach access is only available to the able-bodied. A footbridge crosses high over the train tracks, then a long set of stairs goes down to the mixed sand and gravel beach.
But even if you can’t go down to the beach, the area up top is a wonderful place to spend some time walking around, or just sitting on a bench enjoying the view. There is a paved path along the bluff, through the first picnic area, past the playground and bathrooms to the second picnic area.
This is one of the parks where, if one of the bluff slots are open, you can enjoy the view without ever getting out of your car.
Leaving the parking lot, the road turns and begins heading back towards the park entrance. Once down at the bottom of the ravine again you come to a long grass meadow.
Just before the meadow there is a road to the right. It curves back and up toward the bluff again. At the end of the road is a small parking lot, lawn, and picnic tables.
This second bluff section isn’t terribly interesting and doesn’t have nearly the view the main west bluff does. It is primarily used by people parking cars to go out on the trails. But if you’re looking for a little seclusion this might be your spot.
Back at the lower meadow there is parking all along its length. On crowded weekends people also park on the shoulder of the road.
Several picnic tables are set widely apart, and there is a level walking path that follows the length of the meadow on its far side. Foot bridges cross Piper’s Creek leading to park trails.
At the west end of the meadow, across the road to the second bluff, is the Wetland Trail. It’s a nice wide path and provides a pleasant walk in the woods next to the creek. Just past a footbridge is a bench if you want to rest while listening to birds and the babbling brook.
This lower section of the park is prettiest in late spring through mid-autumn, because most of the trees are deciduous.
At the east end of the meadow the road joins back up and becomes two-way again, and you can head back out of the park. If you missed where you intended to go the first time through, you can turn around at the Learning Center.
My advice for Carkeek is that if you go and find it’s full, leave and try somewhere else. Having to loop through the entire park on the one-way road each time you want to go back and see if any parking has opened up can be time-consuming and frustrating.
If it’s not busy, decide what kind of park experience you’re in the mood for and pick your spot accordingly. You might need to make several trips to explore everything you want to see. I love the bluff view so much that I never spent time in the lower meadow area until I needed the info for this preview, and discovered I like that part of the park just as much.
Things to Know
6 am – 10 pm
There are benches and/or picnic tables in every major section of the park.
There is a large porta potty at the east end of the lower meadow, located near where the road splits.
A bathroom is located at the west bluff, past the playground from the parking lot.
At the Environmental Learning Center.
A short stretch on the left of the road as you go up the hill.
On the right of the road along the field just before you get to the west bluff.
Two rows at the bluff. There are four handicap slots where the road bends.
A lot at the second bluff.
Along the length of the lower meadow. There is handicap parking in a couple places, including next to the porta potty.
People come from all over the Seattle area to visit Carkeek. Even at off times you’re just as likely to run into someone from a suburb as you are a local.
The park is almost always at least somewhat busy, especially if the weather is nice. In off weather or at off times it doesn’t feel crowded and can be quite peaceful.
When the park is full it can feel something like a circus.
The view from the west bluff will make you want to grab your camera, especially if the Olympics aren’t hiding behind clouds or there’s a good sunset.
A long telephoto is especially handy for boats and birds.
The train tracks to the north curve around a point, making for an interesting picture, especially if a train comes by while you’re there.
Best light: morning or sunset for viewpoint. Late morning through early afternoon in woods.
Includes links to PDF files of park trail map and bird list.
A satellite overlay is available for the map.
(You can click on the pause button in the photo slideshow and use the arrows to navigate the pictures at your own pace.)