‘Tis the season for Pacific salmon to return to local rivers and creeks to spawn. After last year’s hiatus at some of Seattle’s best salmon viewing spots, families can once again hit their re-opened favorites—here’s looking at you, Ballard Locks—plus nearby rivers and streams to catch this show live. So grab the kids and head to one of these exceptional vantage points to witness nature in action.
Ballard Locks - Ballard
From up above, your little fish finders will love watching boats of all shapes and sizes travel through the narrow isthmus of the Ballard Locks, which connects the Puget Sound to Lake Washington, via the Ship Canal. Also keep your eyes peeled for seals and sea lions hoping to catch their lunch. But hidden beneath the surface is where the water comes alive. Throughout the summer and fall, you can spot Pacific salmon bypassing the locks by migrating up a 21-step fish ladder located adjacent to the boat passageway. Kids love peering through the set of subaquatic viewing windows as they watch the sockeye, chinook and coho use their keen sense of smell to navigate back to the rivers from where they were hatched.
Bonus: After hanging out with the fishes, be sure to stop by the visitor’s center where you’ll find information about the locks and a gift shop. Burn some energy by taking a stroll through the Carl S. English Botanical Gardens.
Dates & Times: Daily, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
3015 N.W. 54th St.
Ballard, WA 98107
Cedar River - Renton & Maple Valley
When the salmon complete an epic journey by traveling through the Ballard Locks and swimming through Lake Washington, they make their way to the Cedar River in Renton and Maple Valley to spawn. That makes this a salmon hot spot for sure. And this year, families can one again meet up with naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium, eager to share their wisdom and knowledge. Volunteers will be stationed at five locations along the river, including the Renton Library, Cedar River Park, Riverview Park, Belmond Reach and Landsburg Park and Dam (no tours at the last location) on weekends in October, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bonus: When you've had your fill of salmon spotting, a trip to the playground is in order.
Cedar River Park
1717 S.E. Maple Valley Hwy.
100 Mill Ave. S.
3201 Maple Valley Highway
Belmondo Reach Natural Area
16214-16248 S.E. Cedar Mountain Pl.
Landsburg Park and Dam
S.E. 252nd Pl. & Landsburg Rd. S.E.
Piper's Creek - North Seattle
You won’t want to miss watching as salmon return from their ocean adventures to Piper’s Creek at Seattle’s Carkeek Park this fall. Every October, hundreds of chum and coho salmon head up the creek to spawn through early December. Take a seat and cheer them on at this nearby city park. While you're there, see if you can find Piper's Orchard, the oldest orchard in the city, or wander the many trails that wind their way through this 220-acre park.
950 N.W. Carkeek Park Rd.
Longfellow Creek - West Seattle
This spot in West Seattle is a perfect place for the adventurer with a keen eye. Walk the four-mile pedestrian path along Longfellow Creek (starting from Dragonfly Pavilion) and see coho and chum migrating from October to December. Psst... look under the bridges where fish often hide if you need a little help. Be sure to stop at the nearby Delridge Skate Park to scooter or shred before you head home with the kids.
28th Ave. S.W. & S.W. Dakota St.
Issaquah Salmon Hatchery
Welcome the autumn season by making the trek to the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, the most visited hatchery in the state. Although the Hatchery grounds remain closed to the public, families can take a guided tour on the weekends. Tours run from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. through November 14, 2021 and must be booked online in advance. The cost is $5 per person. The tour is a great way to see chinook and coho swim up-stream, then watch them work their way up the fish ladder. Gaze through viewing windows and notice the physical changes salmon have undergone during spawning, as most males and some females developed hooked snouts, strong teeth, color changes and are showing new markings on their skin. Most of the fish return beginning in mid-September through early November.
Bonus: Make it a day trip and pop in to the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival on Oct. 2 & 3, 2021 where there will be tons of fishy activities, carnival rides, food and a salmon bake.
Dates: Weekends, Sep. 13-Nov. 14, 2021
Times: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
125 W. Sunset Way
Issaquah, WA 98027
Kelsey Creek Farm - Bellevue
With plenty of run-around room, Kelsey Creek Farm Park makes a perfect destination to take your mini for some salmon spotting. See fish swimming near the west tributary, located by the parking lot, and along the stream heading toward Pioneer cabin. See fishes swimming near the west tributary, located by the parking lot, and along the stream heading toward Pioneer cabin. Afterwards, spend some time visiting the sheep, horses, bunnies and goats (daily from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.) or burn off some energy at the playground.
Bonus: The annual Kelsey Creek Farm Fair is back this year and its scheduled for Oct. 2, 2021, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Before or after your salmon spotting adventure, enjoy a variety of old-time activities as well as pony rides, tractor-pulled hay rides, the Country Lane Play Area and more. Free entrance, but no on-site ATM for food and activities.
410 130th Pl. S.E.
Duwamish River - Tukwila
Make your way along the Green River Trail at North Wind’s Weir (psst… it’s right next to Boeing in Tukwila), or gaze from the footbridge above and spy salmon swimming up the Duwamish River. Be sure to keep a lookout for bald eagles, blue heron and osprey scouting for their next meal too. If you see 'em, it's a good sign. Also on the Duwamish River, Codiga Park was once a dairy farm and now is a terrific place for spotting salmon. Walk the short path from the parking lot down to the river’s edge where you’ll see chinook and coho during the months of August and September and chum from October through November. Put Duwamish Gardens on your list to see too. It's a park specifically designed to provide critical shallow water habitat essential to survival of juvenile salmon.
North Wind’s Weir
2914 S. 112th St.
12585 50th Pl. S.
Duwamish Gardens Park
11269 E. Marginal Way S.
North Creek Trail - Bothell
For three solid months in the fall, visit Bothell’s North Creek and see the majestic return of chinook, sockeye and coho. Start at North Creek Trail Park (120th Ave. N.E. & North Creek Pkwy. N.) and walk the paved tails south along the creek. Beginning in September, the fish are plentiful in the creek and continue throughout the fall. If the salmon are hard to spot, check under bridges were they often like to hide. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail.
Good to know: The park and trailhead are tucked away amidst the North Creek Business Park.
Tumwater Falls - Tumwater
One of the most scenic spots to spy salmon is along Tumwater Falls. Walk the half-mile Deschutes River Loop Trail that's perfect for kids of any age to experience gorgeous views of cascading waterfalls and changing leaves that surround the river. The salmon make their way up three fish ladders during late September through mid October. And the best place to catch them is at the end of the loop.
Hours: Daily, 8 a.m.-30 minutes before sunset
Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls
110 Deschutes Pkwy. S.W.
Fennel Creek - Bonney Lake
Bonney Lake’s Fennel Creek, a large tributary that feeds into the Puyallup River, is one of the best destinations to view the salmon run in the South Sound. It's a little tricky to find, as it's somewhat hidden and surrounded by housing developments. But what it lacks in forest-y atmosphere it makes up for in fish. From September through November, an estimated 15,000 salmon swim up Fennel Creek each year.
11110 185th Ave. E.
Bonney Lake, WA
Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail - Shelton
Just off Highway 101, between Shelton and Olympia, you’ll find one of our region’s most popular places to watch salmon spawning. During November, you can trek the half-mile Kennedy Creek Trail to visit over 40,000 chum as they swim back to their native waters. The large number of swimming salmon in the creek provides extraordinary viewing opportunities. Along the path you’ll find bridges and platforms your little ones can walk upon to get a better look, plus interpretive signs and volunteers from The South Puget Sound Enhancement Group to answer all your curious kiddo’s mind boggling questions. The free trail is open weekends in Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in November from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Psst… dogs are not allowed on the trail, so be sure to leave Fido at home. Get helpful driving directions here.
1530 S.E. Old Olympic Hwy.
Salmon Watching Tips:
1. Spawning marks the end of the line for the Pacific salmon and there’s a chance you and your brood might come across fish carcasses while visiting the rivers. Be sure to keep curious kiddos from disturbing their bodies, as they serve a valuable purpose for our environment.
3. Get up close and personal! Bring binoculars if you have them.
4. Remember that the salmon run through November, so you’ve got plenty of weekends to see if you can spot ’em.
Looking for more spots?
Check out the Salmon SEEson website where families can find even more viewing opportunities around King County.
— Abbey McGee & Rachael Brandon