Editor’s note: The Gnomes Trail is moving. Starting the week of Aug. 9, 2020, families can now find the gnomes at the new Maple Valley Farmer’s Market behind The Legacy Site. It is located on Hwy 169 directly across from Rock Creek Elementary. This article details the prior location and trail.
Outside adventure is the name of the game for Seattle families right now. And there’s no better place to avoid crowds and still have a great time with your kids than on the Gnomes Trail. Not too far outside the city, this easy Seattle hike is perfect for kids of all ages. Get the who, what, where and how when you read on.
Magical Tales IRL
Although finding an easy hiking trail that keep kids of all ages interested in exploring might seem like a fantasy, it’s not if you’re on the Gnomes Trail in Maple Valley. This magical trail is a two-mile loop, with a slight elevation gain, that’s as engaging for toddlers as it is for big kids because it’s dotted with gnomes, fairies and storybook figures along the way. You never know what you’ll find because new gnomes appear as if by magic. This week you might spy a happy Buddha gnome, an Ohio fan or one who’s channeling the spirit of John Travolta. Finding these fanciful folk is the perfect motivation kids need to happily hike this loop.
Rock the Trail
Painted rocks are another cool find along the Gnomes Trail. Although the gnomes stay put, these rocks (if you're lucky enough to spot one) are a legit score. Claim finders-keepers, or re-hide them for others to find along the trail or at a different location. If you really want to up your hiking game, paint rocks before you go and make a point of finding special places to hide them when you're there.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The Gnomes Trail is part of Maple Valley’s Henry’s Ridge Open Space's extensive trail network. The trailhead can be tricky to find, but once you’re on it, it’s easy to follow. And since it’s a loop, getting lost isn’t really a concern, as long as you keep moving in the same direction.
Starting from the main trailhead, follow signs for Stinger, a trail that takes you over a bridge, following behind the neighborhood. When the trail forks, head right taking the Once Upon a Time trail, over a gravel road and through more mossy forest, until you hit the Derailer (hint: it’s marked with a black diamond bike trail sign). Stay on the Derailer, crossing another bridge, always taking the right fork when you come to one, until you’re welcomed on to the Gnomes Trail. You can’t miss its start—a large gnome perched atop a tree stump.
Since tech isn't always reliable when it comes to finding this trailhead, these directions should get you there. Depending on your starting point, pick up 169 from I-5 or I-90. Once you’re on 169, it’s a straight shot south, through Maple Valley, until you turn left on S.E. Maple Ridge Drive. Climb this road, through the neighborhood, until you see a large white water tower. Take the next right at 253rd Place S.E. and look for a spot to park. The trailhead is easy to spot, right where 253rd Place turns into 281st Way. Although there’s no designated trailhead parking, street parking is easy to find.
If the kids still have energy to burn, area parks and playgrounds provide a great outlet. Head back down the way you came to play at the Maple Woods neighborhood park where you’ll find a climbing wall, tube slides and everything you need to keep the kids busy. Take note of the notice that designates the park for residents only; keep that in mind when you make your play plans. Lake Wilderness Park is also a great option for families, and it’s on your way back to the city. This large recreation area has a newly-updated playground, a beach and picnic spots if lunch is on the menu.
Editor's note: Dine-in restaurants across the state are currently closed down. Check websites to see if these restaurants are offering curb-side or to-go options.
If the kids have worked up an appetite playing Sister's Grimm, Maple Valley has quite a few kid-friendly restaurants that’ll fill their bellies for the way home. Farrelli’s Pizza is a fun one for kids who fancy themselves chefs. Order a Kids Make pizza and all the ingredients your crew needs to assemble their own ‘za will be brought to your table. Familiar fave, MOD Pizza, is also just off 169. If sandwiches, salads and soups are more your speed, check out S’wiched, where you can feed your crew for under $5 each. Spring Kitchen offers another local option that caters to families. Kids eat free on Tuesdays and the kids menu includes Vietnamese faves like pho, teriyaki and sweet and sour chicken.
Good to know:
1. There aren’t any bathrooms near the trail so make a pit stop before you head out.
2. This is a multi-use trail so expect to share it with mountain bikers. Hold on to darting toddlers so they don’t get run over.
3. Fur-babies are welcome along the trail, so feel free to bring Rover along too.
4. Plan to wear non-walkers, as bumps and narrow sections make strollers hard to maneuver.
featured image: via rawpixel