Discover Seattle’s Discovery Park

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seattle running discovery park Discover Seattle’s Discovery Park

Surrounded by evergreen forests and the Olympic and Cascade mountains, there is no shortage of hikes and trail runs surrounding the city of Seattle. However, those visiting a short time or without access to a car may find reaching some of these hikes a bit of a challenge. Discovery Park offers locals and visitors the opportunity to experience the lush beauty of the Pacific Northwest without leaving the city limits.

The semi-tamed feel of the woodland trails, sandy bluffs, and seaside cliffs is not typical of an urban park. Discovery Park provides great views of the Puget Sound and, on a clear day, the surrounding mountains. It is an excellent reprieve for runners and a must-see spot for visitors to Seattle.

About the Park:

Discovery Park occupies 534 acres on Magnolia Bluff, overlooking the Puget Sound. The space was the formerly an army base called Fort Lawton. Fort Lawton served as an embarkation and debarkation point during World War II and the Korean war but had little use during times of peace. The fort was acquired by the city of Seattle in the 1970s to be turned into the park that we enjoy today.

The park includes a few acres of pebble beaches along the shore of the Puget Sound. This includes the picturesque West Point Light Station that was built in 1872. The lighthouse is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was the last lighthouse in the United States to become automated in 1985.

The Trails

The Discovery Loop Trail

This is the most popular trail among joggers and first-time visitors to the park. The loop is just shy of three miles and is easily accessed from all three parking lots. From the East Lot Visitor’s Center, you’ll head north a short way until you reach the trailhead. The loop can be hiked in either direction but most users recommend heading left (south) at the trailhead. This trail takes you through meadows and forested areas, up onto the bluff overlooking the Sound. On a clear day, you should be able to see the Olympic Mountains across the sound and you may sneak a peek of the impressive Mount Rainier to the south. The loop trail passes both parking lots and spits you out right back where you started.

Discovery Park Beach and Highlands Loop

For a longer route with slightly more elevation gain, some runners can choose the 5-mile Discovery Park Beach and Highlands Loop. This route follows some portions of the Discovery Loop trail including the viewpoints on the bluff but is largely its own trail covering the southern area of the park. This route includes some stairs and will take you all the way down to the beach and the historic lighthouse. The pebbled beach is littered with large rocks and driftwood and, although it is certainly worth a stop to watch for seals, may not be ideal for running.

Hidden Valley Trail (HVT)

If you are looking to add distance and some extra stairs to either of the main trails, keep your eye out for signs for the Hidden Valley Trail. This addition will provide great views of the Sound as you head down to the beach and back.

Wolf Tree Nature Trail

This quiet nature trail is not the best for jogging. The trail is frequented by environmental learning classes and contemplative walkers. This is also one of the small portions of the park where dogs are not allowed.

Getting There

Discovery Park sits on the shores of the Puget Sound in the neighborhood of Magnolia. Coming from downtown, follow 15th Ave W north and pay attention as you near the complex ramps leading to the Ballard Bridge. Follow W Emerson Pl west just south of the bridge. Take in the views of Elliot Bay as you wind your way through the hilly streets of Magnolia and turn right on Gilman Ave W. Gilman will become Government Way, which will lead you to the park’s entrance. There are three free parking lots that allow easy access to the park. The East Lot sits next to the visitors center but the South and North Lots may offer more parking during busy times.

The park can also be reached by taking the bus from downtown Seattle. The Metro 33 bus route has stops near the east and north entrances at Government Way and Illinois Way respectively. The Metro 24 line drops riders off one block away from the South lot on West Emerson Street.

Doesn’t it rain all the time?

Don’t let the dramatic downpours depicted on Gray’s Anatomy fool you. It does rain frequently in Seattle but the overcast days are generally characterized by intermittent drizzles and occasional periods of heavier rainfall. It is rare to see a true Seattleite using an umbrella as hooded sweaters and rain jackets are more than adequate for staying dry in the light rain.

From October to May, it is frequently overcast and rainy but, due to the rainy reputation, Seattle’s summers are one of the city’s best-kept secrets. There is little rain in the summer months and it can stay light up to 16 hours a day. The temperatures remain fairly moderate year round, rarely climbing above 85 in the summer or dipping below freezing in the winter. These moderate temperatures make Seattle ideal for runners all year. However, the daylight hours shrink dramatically in the winter months so runs should be planned mid-day.


  1. Washington Trail Association, Discovery Park Beach and Highlands Loop, Web Page
  2. Washington Trail Association, Discovery Park Loop Trail, Web Page
  3. Seattle Parks and Recreation, Discovery Park History, Web Page