The great outdoors

Gas Works Park

Case Tanaka


Seattle: An urban city with myriad natural spaces

A few of the best parks in the Emerald City

By Kara Patajo

When I first transitioned to Seattle as a UW student, I thought I was entering a highly urban environment and nothing else. I did not expect to discover such an abundance of natural spaces. To my surprise and delight, I quickly learned that my love for spending time outdoors was not going to be restricted by living in such a big city. Actually, there are many parks within walking distance from the UW campus and, of course, many more accessible by public transportation.

In total, Seattle is home to almost 500 parks and natural areas. As a port city in a state famous for its breathtaking natural wonders, Seattle offers access to a wide variety of natural environments, including beaches, lakes, forested areas, and views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains (both of which are only a few hours drive away).

For my fellow nature-seekers in Seattle, here is an overview of just a few of the magnificent parks close to campus.


One of the best parks to walk to from campus is Gas Works Park. This spot in Wallingford is the ideal place to unwind, exercise, or catch a view of the sunset. Its most distinctive characteristic is the remains (now overgrown with plants) of the industrial plant that used to occupy that tract of land. In another life, before late 1965, the park was the site of a production plant for synthetic gas.

Much of the attention the park gets nowadays is due to its spectacular views of downtown Seattle (including the Space Needle) from across Lake Union. The lake is often a hub of activity with sailboats, kayakers, and seaplanes.

Another notable feature of this park is its hills. There is a paved trail that weaves around the park and leads to the top of Kite Hill, from which the lake can be seen. At the top is a massive sundial.

The extensive availability of lawns makes this park perfect for those looking for their own spaces to play sports or soak up some sunshine.

There are public restrooms and concessions available. A map of the park is available online.

Travel time: under 10 minutes by car or bike, 30 minutes walking along the Burke-Gilman Trail, or 20 minutes via bus 31 or 32.


Seattle’s biggest (and possibly best) park is Magnolia’s Discovery Park. Over 500 acres are home to tidal beaches, a lighthouse, forested trails, meadows, streams, and cliffs over the bays.

Park visitors can view Elliott and Shilshole Bays from the upper areas of the park high above the beach. For beach lovers, you can walk down a trail to reach West Point Lighthouse and beach areas. The beach is the best spot to see the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, which appear crystal clear on sunny days. Near the lighthouse, the two bays mix, creating interesting wave patterns. The lighthouse is not open to the public but is still a popular spot for photographers and others.

Offering so much, Discovery Park does not disappoint. It is easy to spend all day here, so plan to designate a few hours for exploring this park if you want to experience it all.

Like Gas Works, this park has a fascinating history as it previously served as Fort Lawton. This fort was particularly active during World Wars I and II and the Korean War.

As a result of Native American claims to the site, the Daybreak Star Cultural Center was established in Discovery Park nearly 40 years ago. This serves as a space for events and has a Native American art gallery.

Travel time: 20 minutes by car or an hour on public transportation via buses 43 or 44.


A serene, plant-filled environment where you can connect with nature, the Washington Park Arboretum is excellently maintained. Here you will be greeted with various types of towering trees, blossoming flowers, gardens, and plants from all over the world.

As an arboretum, there is emphasis placed on planted collections, including japanese maples, oaks, and hollies. During the spring, Azalea Way and Rhododendron Glen are must-see spots because of their eye-catching flowers in bloom that time of the year. Usually, ducklings and goslings are born in the coming weeks and can be spotted in or near Duck Bay.

Paved trails here are suitable for an afternoon stroll or a morning jog. Numerous benches line the trails which lead the way through the park’s 230 acres. A map of the park can be found online.

Overall, the arboretum is a very quiet, peaceful park where it can be easy to forget that you are still in Seattle.

Travel time: 10 minutes by car, 30 minutes walking, 15 minutes by bike, or 20 minutes via buses 43 or 48.

Whether you prefer lakeshores, beachfront, forested terrain, or a different natural setting, chances are Seattle has something for you. Thankfully, living in a big city does not have to mean leaving nature behind.