Discovery Park, Seattle: What to See & Do + How to Get There

If you’re in Seattle and longing for a mix of nature, history, and breathtaking views, Discovery Park is your ticket to paradise! Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, this beautiful bluff-top reserve is the largest park in Seattle, protecting a remarkable 534 acres of urban wilderness in the heart of the city. From miles of hiking trails and diverse landscapes to beautiful beaches and historical sites, learn everything you need to know about Discovery Park with this in-depth guide!

What to see & do

West Point Lighthouse

Discover a slice of history at the elegant West Point Lighthouse. This famous piece of Seattle’s maritime history offers a mix of scenic beauty, history, and outdoor adventure.

Built in 1881, West Point Lighthouse has been guiding ships through the waters of Puget Sound for over a century. The lighthouse’s history adds a layer of charm to your visit as you explore the same paths and surroundings that mariners relied on in times past.

West Point Lighthouse

Join a guided lighthouse tour and get an in-depth understanding of the history and significance of this Seattle landmark. Climb up to the lantern room for unparalleled views. The beach near the lighthouse is great for exploring tidal pools and marine life. Look out for starfish, crabs, and other creatures that thrive along the shore.

The surrounding Discovery Park offers a network of trails that take you through lush forests, past sandy beaches, and down to the lighthouse itself. The park has lovely picnic areas, making it an ideal spot for a meal with a view. Pack a picnic basket, enjoy the fresh air, and savor your lunch while gazing at the lighthouse and the sound.

Discovery Park Beach

Discovery Park Beach is a tranquil coastal haven with a touch of history, perfect for beachcombing, picnicking, and taking in the picturesque views of Puget Sound.

Like the larger Discovery Park itself, the beach has a fascinating history dating back to the late 19th century. It was once a significant military installation known as Fort Lawton, which was established to protect Puget Sound and the city of Seattle from naval threats.

Discovery Park Beach

Take a leisurely walk along the beach’s shoreline, and you might come across some fascinating remnants of history, like old structures and bunkers from the fort’s golden days. While walking, search for shells, interesting rocks, and other beach treasures that the tides bring in.

Discovery Park Beach has lovely picnic areas where you can enjoy a meal with beautiful waterfront views. The scenic beauty of the beach, with its captivating views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, offers fantastic opportunities for photography. It’s a great place to capture the essence of the Pacific Northwest.

Fort Lawton Historic District

Step back in time and explore Seattle’s rich military heritage at the Fort Lawton Historic District. Established in the 1890s, Fort Lawton was a significant military installation for protecting Puget Sound and Seattle from naval threats. It was named in honor of Major General Henry Ware Lawton, a prominent military figure.

If you wander the historic district with a keen eye, you’ll spot remnants of the fort’s past, like old military buildings and bunkers. These structures provide a tangible link to the area’s military history.

The Fort Lawton Historic District is home to beautifully preserved officer’s quarters, some of which have been turned into residences for military personnel. The architecture and surroundings provide a picturesque setting for a leisurely stroll.

The parade ground at the center of the area is a historical feature and a beautiful open space for picnics, playing frisbee, or simply enjoying the green expanse. Visit the serene garden near the parade ground for a moment of reflection.

The Fort Lawton Historic District also houses the Fort Lawton Military Cemetery, where you’ll find rows of white headstones, each marking the resting place of a military member. It’s a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made to serve the country.

Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center

Immerse yourself in the rich traditions and heritage of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. If you’re a history buff interested in indigenous culture, this cultural and educational gem is a must!

The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center was established in 1977 by the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation as a response to the decades-long struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples. The center stands as a symbol of resilience and cultural preservation.

Start your visit at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center by learning about its history. Explore fascinating exhibits and gain insights into the center’s importance in supporting and celebrating indigenous communities.

The center hosts a variety of art exhibitions that showcase indigenous artists and their works. These exhibitions often highlight contemporary and traditional Native American art, providing a deeper appreciation of the region’s cultural richness.

You can enjoy various cultural events like powwows, storytelling sessions, and dance performances at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. These events are held throughout the year and offer an authentic glimpse into the diverse cultures of Native American tribes.

South Beach Trail

If you’re yearning for a scenic adventure that takes you through the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest, the South Beach Trail is the perfect escape. Winding from the 5-way junction near the Birds Nest down the beach, this 1.5-mile trail is ideal for solo hikes, family outings, or a peaceful escape from city life.

South Beach Trail winds through lush forests, providing a cool, shaded journey during warmer months. After wandering along the trail, you’ll reach the beach, where spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains await.

As you embark on your hike, watch for local wildlife. You might spot rabbits, various bird species, and even the occasional seal or sea lion if you’re near the shoreline. Binoculars can come in handy. You’ll also see Douglas fir, madrona trees, and seasonal wildflowers along the way.

The beach near South Beach Trail is perfect for beachcombing. You can explore the rocky shoreline and tidal pools and collect unique shells, interesting rocks, and other beach treasures brought in by the tides.

After your hike, there are lovely picnic areas where you can enjoy a meal surrounded by the natural beauty of Discovery Park.

Loop Trail

The Loop Trail is another fantastic trail in Discovery Park for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. This 2.8-mile roundtrip trail winds through woodlands and open meadows with beautiful coastal views.

Discovery Park Loop Trail

Begin your Loop Trail hike near the Visitor Center and meander through towering forests and open meadows. The trail leads you to various hidden beaches along the Puget Sound shoreline, where you can enjoy beachcombing, tidepool exploration, and the sounds of the waves.

The Loop Trail features several scenic overlooks that provide breathtaking views of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and the Seattle skyline. You’ll find picturesque picnic spots perfect for a mid-hike break or a leisurely meal along the way. Pack a picnic basket and enjoy your lunch surrounded by nature.

Environmental Learning Center

The Environmental Learning Center combines environmental education, interactive exhibits, and nature exploration in a way that inspires an understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Built in 1998, the award-winning center is centrally located in the park, near the Loop Trail, a playground, a basketball court, and a tennis court.

Kickstart your visit with a visit to the Learning Center’s exhibits. Explore various aspects of the park’s ecosystems, from the marine environment to the forested areas. These hands-on displays are perfect for learners of all ages and provide a wealth of knowledge on the park’s ecosystems, wildlife, and efforts to protect the environment.

Look out for guided nature walks and birdwatching tours organized by the Environmental Learning Center. These experiences provide expert insights into the park’s flora and fauna. If you’re an avid twitcher, you’ll delight in the birdwatching opportunities around the center. Discovery Park is home to a diverse range of bird species, making it a haven for birdwatchers.

Environmental Learning Center occasionally hosts art exhibitions and workshops celebrating the natural world through various artistic mediums.

NOTE: The Environmental Learning Center is temporarily closed.

Hidden Valley Trail

Explore the tranquil oasis of the Hidden Valley Trail, a serene and secluded hike that takes you through the heart of Discovery Park. This trail is a bit of a local secret, a path that provides a sense of seclusion within the larger park. It’s perfect if you’re looking for some solitude and the tranquility of nature.

This Hidden Valley Trail offers a moderate hike that leads you through a hidden forested valley, away from the crowds. It’s a peaceful journey through the woods and meadows, where the only sounds are birdsong and the rustling of leaves.

Hidden Valley is a prime location for birdwatching. You can spot various bird species, from songbirds to woodpeckers. Bring your binoculars and a bird guidebook to identify the feathered residents.

The trail eventually leads to a hidden beach along Puget Sound. This serene spot is ideal for contemplation, beachcombing, or simply enjoying the sound of the waves.

North Beach Trail

Embark on a coastal adventure and savor the rugged beauty of the Pacific Northwest on the North Beach Trail. This scenic coastal trail winds along the shores of Puget Sound through coastal forests, sandy shores, and past spectacular viewpoints.

As you begin your journey, embrace the rugged beauty of the coastline. The North Beach Trail offers a glimpse of the wild side of the Pacific Northwest, from driftwood-strewn beaches to Puget Sound’s raw power.

The North Beach Trail provides breathtaking viewpoints where you can gaze upon the stunning vistas of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and the bustling maritime traffic of the sound. Don’t rush your journey. Take your time at the scenic overlooks to observe the ebb and flow of the tides.

The trail leads you to pristine beaches where you can indulge in beachcombing. Collect unique seashells, smooth stones, and other treasures from the waves. Keep an eye out for marine life, including seals and sea lions, often spotted in Puget Sound waters.

Wolf Tree Nature Trail

For a tranquil and immersive outdoor experience, head out on the Wolf Tree Nature Trail. This hidden gem takes you through the lush woodlands of Discovery Park, where you can connect with the lush, untouched landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.

The Wolf Tree Nature Trail is a quiet, contemplative path that takes you through pristine woodlands. Towering trees, native plants, and the soothing sounds of nature surround you. If you’re a budding botanist, you’ll see a diverse range of flora, from ferns and salal to moss-covered trees.

The surrounding forest is home to various wildlife species, so keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife, from squirrels to owls and other forest creatures. Pack a picnic lunch and find a quiet spot en route to take a break and enjoy the serenity of the woodlands.

Discovery Park Playground

When the kids need to burn off some steam, head to Discovery Park Playground. Designed with children’s enjoyment in mind, the park provides a safe and stimulating environment for play and exploration.

The Discovery Park Playground features a range of play structures, from slides and swings to climbing walls, ensuring that kids of all ages can have a blast. There’s a sandbox and a water play area where kids can let their creativity run wild. Bring some sandcastle-building tools for extra fun.

While your little ones enjoy the sand and water play, take a moment to enjoy the view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distance. Discovery Park has large, open fields nearby where you can throw a frisbee, picnic, or play a friendly game of catch with your family.

After the playground, take a short hike or nature walk with your kids to explore the park’s scenic trails and learn about the local flora and fauna.

How to get there

Getting to Discovery Park from Seattle is a breeze. If you’re driving, start in Downtown Seattle and head west on Elliott Avenue West, which offers stunning waterfront views. Follow the road until you reach the park entrance at 36th Avenue West. Parking lots are available throughout the park for your convenience.

If you prefer public transportation, catch Bus Route 33 from downtown to Magnolia and then walk to the park.

For cyclists, the Elliott Bay Trail offers a scenic ride. You can cross the Magnolia Bridge into the park. The trip to Discovery Park is as enjoyable as the destination, offering beautiful sights and outdoor experiences along the way.

Mia Russell

Mia Russell is a freelance writer based in South Africa with a passion for travel. She’s travelled to 35 countries and counting, and when she is not in the water swimming, freediving, or snorkeling in beautiful places around the world, she is writing about her experiences. Before becoming a freelance travel writer, Mia worked as Chief Copy Editor for Glamor magazine and Managing Editor for One Small Seed Magazine. She's a regular contributor to travel websites like Go City, Bookmundi, The Maldives Expert, and Heritage Safaris.

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