Lake Washinton Parks in Seattle Introduction


I am starting a preview series for Seattle parks along the Lake Washington shoreline. This series will cover a string of nine parks that stretch between the 520 Bridge and Seward Park. (Seward itself isn’t included. I will preview it separately in the future.)

The parks covered (going from north to south) will be:

Madison Park
Madrona Park
Leschi Park
South Day Street Park
Colman Park
Mt. Baker Park
Stan Sayres Memorial Park
Lakewood Marina Park
Ferdinand Street Boat Launch Park

The two parks along this stretch not included in my coverage are Denny Blaine and Howell. (Located between Madison and Madrona). Denny Blaine is small, doesn’t have much parking, and consists of only a tiered lawn and the lakeshore, with no other features. It is traditionally a clothing optional park. Howell is a street end park, so it’s teensy. There is no parking at Howell and the lake is accessed by a trail wedged between two private properties. It is also considered clothing optional.

The boulevards connecting the parks in this chain are the result of consulting done by the famous Olmstead brothers in the early 1900s. The city had already acquired land for several parks and sought advice on how to make the most of the acquisitions. Additional land was donated to the city by private developers. These donations were significant in preserving expansive stretches of Lake Washington shoreline for common use by Seattle citizens.

Several of the parks in this series are similar in layout, in that the portion near the water is a narrow strip, with another larger area extending west up the hill across the boulevard. I am only previewing the waterfront sections of these parks.

That’s not to say the hillsides aren’t worth checking out if that interests you. Some are quite pretty with lots of trees, a few paths or trails, and occasional view spots. But the hillsides are not very accessible for those with mobility issues, especially since most have no upper level public parking available.

Most of the parks in this series are local in nature, meaning that individually most don’t have a wow factor that makes the average person want to go a sizeable distance out of their way to visit. That these parks take extra time to reach from distant areas of the city due to street layouts and traffic reinforces their mostly local draw.

Collectively though, this chain of parks can make for a great day outing for those from other parts of the Seattle Metro area. To make the most of the needed travel time, set aside a full afternoon on a nice day and stop at each park that interests you on one extended tour.

I’ve remarked before on this blog about the lack of elevated east-facing viewpoints in Seattle. Now that I’ve toured all these parks I can say that, even though they are at lake level, the best views of the Cascade Mountains to be had in Seattle are at Madrona, Colman, and Stan Sayres parks. All three are also great places to go to watch sunrises.

The views are prettiest on clear days in winter when there is little to no horizon haze and a lot of snow on the Cascade peaks. Afternoons are the best time to visit to make the most of the views so you won’t be looking into the glare of the sun. This is especially important if photography is your main goal.

Though it’s important to note here that while afternoon light is by far best for enjoying the distant views, many of the parks have a hill and tall trees immediately to the west. This means those parks start losing direct sunlight in some sections two hours or more before sunset.

So plan the timing of your outings according to your purpose for going, especially during the short days in winter.

Several parks suffer from too few parking spaces compared to how popular they are in summer when everyone heads to the lake to go boating or cool off. So unless you are going specifically to launch a kayak or swim, these parks are best visited outside of summer if you’re not walking, biking, or busing your way there.

From Colman Park to Seward Park exists what is in essence one very long, continuous park. A paved walking and biking path that follows the Lake Washington shoreline starts at Colman and travels southeast uninterrupted all the way into Seward.

Along the route are maintained lawns and a few scattered picnic tables and benches. So if you’re looking for somewhere to go for an extended non-strenuous stroll or a bike ride with nice views, with maybe a picnic or book reading break along the way, you can leave your car at any of the parks in this section and take off from there.

On nice warm weather weekends you’ll often see lots of people spread out on these lawns in between the actual parks. Some groups even set up elaborate day camps with canopies for shade, along with tables and chairs, for an extended afternoon of swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and picnicking.

One last thing to keep in mind when planning an outing is that the south section of Lake Washington Boulevard is closed to motor vehicle traffic on select Sundays from May to September for Bicycle Sundays. For details and the 2018 schedule see this post.

Comments or questions always welcome!

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