Listen closely, and you’ll hear it: the collective cheer from Seattle parents signaling the sweet spot between the end of the summer and the start of winter’s near-constant rainfall. Yup, autumn in the Pacific Northwest is pretty much the best. It’s also perhaps the perfect time of year to enjoy some of our area’s awesome trails. So get your snacks packed and your boots tied, and read on for a rundown of your family’s soon-to-be-favorite fall hikes.

photo: Kristina Moy

Discovery Park
With more than 11 miles of trails, Discovery Park offers a bit of everything for families who are looking for a great hike close to home. The 534-acre park (the largest in Seattle) sits atop the city’s Magnolia neighborhood overlooking Puget Sound and offering views of both the Cascades and the Olympics. Whether it’s gathering freshly fallen Maple leaves as big as their head, searching for “monsters” in the swampy wetlands or building drift wood hideouts on the beach, little explorers will find plenty to pique their interest.

Trail Tip: For those with toddlers in tow, try the half-mile Wolf Tree Nature Trail accessible via the north parking lot. Then, when you’re ready for more of a challenge, hit the Discovery Park Loop Trail. Hike the 2.8 miles around to check out the best of what the park has to offer. Past the sandy part of the trail, take a .5-mile detour down the South Beach Trail to the beach near the lighthouse.

3801 Discovery Park Blvd.
Seattle, Wa 98199
206-386-4236
Online: seattle.gov/parks/find/parks/discovery-park

photo: Jennifer Pinto

Schmitz Preserve Park
If you blink, you might miss it. But you (and your little ones) will be sorry you did. Schmitz Preserve Park may only cover 53 acres, but the small park tucked away in West Seattle packs a powerful punch. Watch for woodland creatures and listen for woodpeckers as you wander along footpaths lined with lush vegetation, towering trees, nurse logs and a trickling stream.

Trail Tip: Don’t count on trail signs in the park. Why? Because there aren’t any. But with a modest 1.7 miles of hiking paths to follow, it’s fine plan to just wing it. Stragglers (err, we mean hikers) of all ages and abilities should be able to traverse the entire park in a couple of hours.

5551 S.W. Admiral Way
Seattle, Wa 98116
206-684-4075
Online: seattle.gov/parks/find/parks/schmitz-preserve-park

photo: J Brew via Flickr

Grace Cole Nature Park
Lake Forest Park’s Grace Cole Nature Park is another hidden gem that’s big on adventure, but easy on little feet (as well as parents’ supply of patience). Amidst a kaleidoscope of fall colors, kids will enjoy exploring the hillside path as it meanders past big ol’ pine trees, ponds and wetlands.

Trail Tip: This hike is a short one, even for inexperienced trekkers. Plan to hit it up after school or head there to break up a busy Saturday with a dose of serenity. Before you head back to the car, take a short walk north past the top of the parking lot to find a boardwalk. Follow it to find the secret ponds that feed Brookside Creek.

30th Ave. N.E. at N.E. 166th St.
Lake Forest Park, Wa 98155
Online: cityoflfp.com/302/Grace-Cole-Nature-Park

photo: Jennifer Pinto

Wilburton Hill Park
Lucky for locals, Wilburton Hill traded in its past life as a logging town for much greener pastures. Now, urbanites of all ages can plan a quick and satisfying escape into nature — following the trails through densely packed trees, crossing a narrow suspension bridge over a 150-foot ravine and wandering through the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

Trail Tip: On the east side of the park, kiddos will love (let’s face it, more like tolerate) the 1.5-mile loop through the woods up and around the baseball diamonds. If they don’t, you can bribe them with the playground at the end. And if riding the zip line has them clamoring for more adventure, head over to adjacent Bellevue Botanical Garden. From the Visitor Center, take the Tateuchi Loop Trail. From there, follow the markers toward the Lost Meadow Loop Trail. Signs for The Ravine Experience take hikers on a short .3-mile detour across the suspension bridge and back again. Continue on the Lost Meadow Trail to meet back up with the Tateuchi. All this in less than one mile. Score!

12400 Main St.
Bellevue, Wa 98005
425-452-6885
Online: parks.bellevuewa.gov/parks-and-trails/parks/wilburton-hill-park/

photo: Alireza Borhani via Flickr 

Tiger Mountain
If fresh air and an endless supply of snacks aren’t enough to entice the hiking–adverse members of your crew, the remnants of an abandoned bus and a little potty humor courtesy of Poo Poo Point just might do the trick. From there, croaking frogs, lush forest, caves, lakes and moss-drenched corridors are just icing on the cake. A handful of trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, fan out from Tiger Mountain’s High Point Way Trailhead. Grab a map at the parking lot (or download one here before you go), and choose your adventure.

Trail Tip: For a satisfying 3.5–mile loop with little ones, from the High Point Trailhead, take West Tiger Trail #3 to Talus Rocks Trail. Talus Rocks runs into Section Line Trail, then take Bus Trail to complete the loop.

Know Before You Go: A visit to Tiger Mountain requires a Discover Pass.

High Point Trailhead
26415 S.E. 79th St.
Issaquah, Wa 98027
206-625-1367
Online: issaquahwa.gov

photo: Jennifer Pinto

Hidden Lake
Nothing says fall like Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest. Once you’ve filled up on bratwurst and other festive offerings, steer the fam away from the hubbub with an easy hike 1.5-mile (round trip) hike to Hidden Lake. Along the way, take in the gorgeous fall colors and corral the kiddos for the trail’s signature photo opp: craggy hideouts carved by lightning in the base of a couple old cedar trees.

Trail Tip: Before you head home, pop up to Glacier View Campground just up the road from the Hidden Lake Trailhead for a spectacular view of Glacier Peak, one of Washington’s five active volcanoes.

Know Before You Go: A visit to Heather lake requires a Northwest Forest Pass.

Hidden Lake Trailhead
NF-6750
Leavenworth, Wa 98826
Online: leavenworth.org/?s=hidden+lake

photo: internets_dairy via Flickr

Bonus: Hike It up a Notch At…
Heather Lake
Indoor playground and bounce house season will be here before we know it. Before stinky sock smell becomes stuck (at least temporarily) in your nose, now is the time to soak in as much ridiculously fresh Pacific Northwest air as possible. For families who are ready to take it to the next level and don’t mind a bit of a climb, the Heather Lake Trail through the Wenatchee Forest, should do the trick.

Trail Tip: Heather Lake Trail is about 4.6 miles round trip and some of it is rather steep. But the challenge (and muddy shoes) are worth it. Take advantage of the 6 a.m. wake up call delivered to you bedside courtesy of your bright-eyed little ones, bring along a thermos of strong coffee and hit the trail early to avoid the crowds.

Know Before You Go: A visit to Heather lake requires a Northwest Forest Pass.

Heather Lake Trailhead
NF-400
Leavenworth, Wa 98826
Online: wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/washington/highlakes/1177

Does your family have a favorite fall hike? Tell us about it in the comments below.

— Jennifer Pinto