Discovery Park is possibly one of Seattle best kept secrets, and to be honest I hope it stays that way. You need to take the bus (#33 towards Magnolia from 4th and Pike/Pine) or to drive out to Magnolia Bluff where there are at least three, free car parks available to the public. Be sure not to drive down private access roads in Discovery Park though, as military housing is still in use within the 534-acre park.
As described on the City of Seattle website, "the site is one of breathtaking majesty. Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, Discovery Park offers spectacular view of both the Cascade and the Olympic Mountain ranges." If you’re fortunate enough to visit the park on a clear day, you will understand that the statement is no understatement and even if you can’t see the mountains, the views through the forests and over Puget Sound are worth going for alone.
We parked in the North parking lot, close to the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, which is home to an art gallery. From here, you have a choice of trails to follow. All are well marked and most markers also indicate distances. We followed the trail to North Beach on Shilshole Bay. At 1pm on a Saturday the tide was out but on the turn. We watched people on sailboats out enjoying the sun, dragging their feet in the water. A large heron stood in the waves, no doubt taking advantage of the abundance of seafood. We saw multitudes of clams spurting water out of the sand and many discarded shells. Clam digging and other fishing activities are prohibited in this park so the beach is obviously a prime spot for herons.
We walked up towards the small lighthouse where North Beach meets South Beach. In the instant that we turned the corner, the noise from the boats in Shilshole Bay dissipated and the beach widened, Rocks and pebbles give way to smooth sand and a scattering of families who made the trek down were picnicking with young children. It’s from here, looking roughly southeast on a clear day that you get an incredible view of Mt. Rainier. It would very easy to loiter on South Beach. Even on a sunny day, foot traffic is fairly light and the beach is quiet and serene. The road that comes close to South Beach is for authorised vehicles only which helps keep out the crowds.
From the beach we picked up the South Beach Trail. All paths are well maintained, with wooden stairways for the steep cliffs that lead down to North Beach and up from South Beach. There were a fair number of joggers and dog walkers on the route and if you’re planning to hike for a while, it’s worth taking a bottle of water and a snack along. At the top of the South Beach Trail in an overgrown meadow we joined the Loop Trail and headed north back to our car. There are a few fields in the park and most are left to their own devices, giving Discovery Park a wonderful air of being abandoned so that you do often feel like you’re on a journey of discovery.
The Loop Trail took us past some of the military housing and through a cluster of woods and brush before we rejoined the paved road back down to the parking lot. For any visitors to Seattle who don’t have the time to visit the mountains or the San Juan Islands, Discovery Park is definitely not a bad substitute. Here you experience magnificent mountain views, get close to the glacial waters of Puget Sound, and all in a location that feels much further than a 15-minute drive from downtown Seattle.
3801 W Government Way, Seattle, WA 98199