This is the fifth park in my central Seattle Lake Washington parks series. For full info and a list of all the parks see the introduction here.
View of Mt. Rainier, Cascades, Bellevue, and the I-90 Floating Bridge
Lake Washington Boulevard
In 1884 the Spring Hill Water Company built the first steam pumphouse to supply municipal water to Seattle. The water was pumped from Lake Washington at present day Colman Park through a pipe to a reservoir on top of what is now Beacon Hill.
The story goes that sometime around 1886 the steam pump failed and expert engineers from the East were unable to figure out what was wrong. Seattle engineer James M. Colman then worked for 36 hours non-stop and got the pump back into operation. Later on his estate donated some of the current park’s land, and the park is named for him.
After the great Seattle fire of 1889, when it was discovered there wasn’t enough water pressure to fight the inferno, the water company had to sell the business to the city, which continued to use the steam pumphouse until the Cedar River pipeline began operation in 1901.
In 1907 the Park Board was given jurisdiction of the site and in 1910 the Olmstead Brothers incorporated it into their plans. Additional gifts and purchases of land increased the size of the park, and by 1915 a building near the pumphouse had been converted into a bathhouse. Some 40,000 swimmers made use of the beach every year.
Eventually the old pumphouse was remodeled to add a concession stand and more changing areas, a large dock was built out in the water, and the beach at Coleman remained a popular swimming destination for several decades. But in the 1960s an effort to renovate the former pumphouse as a landmark failed and it was torn down in 1965, leaving the park much how it is today, without an official swimming beach.
Coleman Park is one of my favorites of the nine parks covered in this central Lake Washington series. It’s a simple park, but the view, landscaping, and peacefulness combine into one very pleasing whole. I’m apparently far from alone in this opinion because on any nice day at any time of year you’re likely find several others enjoying the park along with you.
The park is popular despite the fact (or maybe because) it doesn’t have a playground or a patrolled swimming area to attract children. There are no picnic tables, there’s no bathroom, and the only benches are located down the hill next to the lake.
Colman Park does have a touch of old-fashioned charm and a smashing view. From here you can see the Cascade Mountains, Bellevue skyline, I-90 floating bridge, Mount Rainier, and neighboring Mt. Baker Bark. The view is best in the afternoon on clear days in winter and early spring when snow is on the mountains.
Unfortunately for how popular the park is, the parking lot is quite small. There are spaces for 22 cars, which may not sound stingy, but they frequently fill up. If you plan a special trip to see this park I recommend going in the offseason if you can.
The lot does have a turnaround to make it easy to leave again if there’s no room. Half the spaces look out over the lake, so this is yet another spot for enjoying a view from the comfort of your car.
At the north end of the lot next to the turnaround a paved path passes by a grassy elevated point around a large tree. Since there are no upper level benches in the park, this is a good spot to plant the folding chair you keep in your car for such occasions.
The path continues on out a short distance to a stone-paved overlook bordered by an old-fashioned balustrade. This sits over the old water intake for the municipal water supply steam pump. (Now gone.)
There are no benches at the overlook, but a low stone wall at the back of the paved area provides a place to sit and rest if needed.
At the south end of the lot is a small cement half-circle surrounded by a low cement wall. Again no bench, but you can sit on the wall. From here there are two ways down to the lake.
On the left is a path that goes directly down to the lake so it’s shorter, but it’s a bit steep at the top. If you need a more gradual descent, to the right is a long paved path that travels down to the lake at the north end of the park.
Down by the lake are four benches, cement steps at the water’s edge left over from the old swimming area, and a very narrow gravel beach. People do still swim and paddle around on floaties here, but this hasn’t been an official swimming beach with a lifeguard for a long time due to the lack of a bathhouse.
Just south of the parking lot is a tunnel under Lakeside Avenue for pedestrians to access the west section of the park. The west section is on the hillside with trails, lots of trees, and a P-Patch. (I haven’t been up there.)
Colman is the starting point for the paved pedestrian and bike path that travels uninterrupted along Lake Washington Boulevard all the way southeast into Seward Park.
Colman Park is lovely in its simplicity and a nice place to visit any time of year. It makes a great summer alternative to the crowded swim beaches at Madrona and Mt. Baker parks if you’re lucky enough to get a parking spot. (Bus route 27 serves the lower park to avoid that problem.)
As nice as the park is, the waterfront area would really be improved with the addition of a bathroom and some picnic tables or benches in the upper level for people who want to spend a lazy afternoon reading, playing in the water, or chatting with friends.
Things to Know
6 am – 10 pm
Low walls at overlooks.
Four benches down by the lake.
No picnic tables.
Public bathrooms available at nearby Mt. Baker Park to the south.
Small lot with room for 22 cars. In the offseason you can usually get a space, but the lot can often fill up on nice weekends and on any day in summer.
On the sunny Tuesday afternoon at the beginning of March I was here the lot was half full. I drove by on sunny weekends in late May and early June and both times the lot was full.
Colman Park is primarily used by people living in east central Seattle, but sightseers and photographers often stop by as well.
The park gets regular use year-round, especially on sunny days when the mountain is out. On a sunny Tuesday in March there were 8-10 other people in the waterfront area, and more up on the hillside. Some people just come to briefly look at the view, but you can also expect a few to be on the lake benches or lawn blankets for extended periods.
On sunny weekends in late May and early June I didn’t even bother stopping because the lot was full. On nice warm weather weekends you can expect quite a few people to be set up on the lawns with reading materials and picnic supplies.
Leaving Colman Park is a bit frustrating if you want to head north from here. A right turn onto the boulevard isn’t allowed. The sharp angle of the park road is such that you can only turn left and go south.
To turn around after you’ve left the park so you can go north you can use the parking lot at Mt. Baker Park, which is very close by. But the lot there is long and narrow, so turning around isn’t easy if the lot is mostly full, and it has an angled exit as well. On a busy day it can be less stressful to keep driving further southeast and use the lot at Stan Sayres Park, which has a large loop and an easy exit.
Because of the turn restriction when leaving Colman, if you’re planning a day outing to tour several of these parks it’s best to start at the north end and travel south so you don’t have to double back in the middle of your tour.
Bellevue and Cascades, Mt. Rainier, water fowl, trees.
Best light: Sunrise, afternoon.