‘Tis the season for Pacific Salmon to return to local rivers and creeks to spawn. And even though families won’t be able to watch the salmon run at the Ballard Locks or local hatcheries, you can still catch this show live at nearby rivers and streams. So grab the kids and head to one of these exceptional vantage points to witness nature in action.
Editor’s note: Please recreate responsibly when you head out to see the salmon by wearing a mask, limiting your group size and practicing social distancing.
Cedar River - Renton and 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. This is usually where families can meet up with naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium, eager to share their wisdom and knowledge. But this year, they won't be on-site to answer questions and lead groups. Instead, families can download educational materials and activities from the Seattle Aquarium's website before they head out. Parents can also download one of four TRACK Trail brochures. These free, self-guided hikes help kids learn along the trail and give them chances to win prizes too. When you've had your fill of salmon spotting, a trip to the playground (yep, it's open) is in order.
Good to know: There's a spot along the trail that's narrowed to one lane because of a flood event and a section that's closed for construction. Find out more here.
Cedar River Park
1717 S.E. Maple Valley Hwy.
100 Mill Ave. S.
17410 S.E. Maple Valley Rd.
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.
Good to know: The parking lot at Carkeek remains closed.
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.
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. While you're there, see if your crew can spot some other animals too. Although the barnyard remains closed, the farm animals are often out in the main field. Remember to wander the park trails before you head home.
Kelsey Creek Farm Park
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.
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 new Salmon SEEson website where families can find virtual viewing opportunities as well as self-guided locations around King County.
— Abbey McGee & Rachael Brandon
featured photo: Nate G via yelp