Washington Park Arboretum By Land and By Sea

Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum is the ultimate urban oasis. Set on 200 acres, part of which lines the shore of Lake Washington, the Arboretum is the ideal place to spend time on a sunny Seattle weekend.

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Chad and I spent time at the Arboretum twice on a recent weekend: on Saturday by foot and on Sunday by boat (more on that later). On Saturday, we parked at the Graham Visitors Center in the Arboretum and asked the friendly volunteer what was in bloom this weekend. Sadly, we missed many of the rhododendrons which were recently in full splendor, but some were still in bloom and she directed us to the best trails for bloom viewing.

Despite having missed many of the rhododendrons, there were many other species in bloom on this day.


We walked the length of the Arboretum from the Visitors Center to the Pacific Connections Garden and back again.

(map courtesy of Washington Park Arboretum)

(map courtesy of Washington Park Arboretum)

The trails at the Arboretum are fabulous and there are so many trail offshoots, that every visit feels new.


At one point, Chad even decided to have a brief Arboretum jog.

We crossed over to Foster Island, where we saw adorable baby ducks swimming in the appropriately titled Duck Bay.

We walked further and saw people canoeing along the banks of Foster Island.


We have never ventured to the Arboretum by boat (although we’ve come close at times), so we made it a goal to kayak these waters this summer.

Being overachievers (kidding), we kicked that goal off our bucket list the very next day. On Sunday, we rented kayaks from our favorite watersport rental company – Northwest Outdoor Center (NWOC for short). NWOC’s friendly staff hooked us up with two single kayaks

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and we set out across Lake Union towards the cut dividing Lake Union and Lake Washington. We started our kayaking at 10:00 am and we advise anyone who wants to go through the cut to do so earlier in the day when there is less motorboat traffic.

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Because the cut is narrow, the motorboats create a lot of chop and wake, which can be difficult to maneuver in a small kayak. In the morning, the waters were much more peaceful.

After going through the cut, we ducked under the 520 Bridge (and the still under construction new 520 bridge).

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We crossed many fields of lily pads which were in bloom with lovely water lilies (Monet would have loved these fields!).


We then explored the various reeds and marshes of Union Bay finding little waterway “roads” – one of which ended in a dead end. Turning around was quite the challenge and at one point I got stuck and thought I would either spend the rest of my days in this kayak stuck in the tall reeds or I would have to jump out into the water to right my wrong.

The reeds as viewed by land.

The reeds as viewed by land.

Thankfully Chad boated over to my kayak and pulled me out of my jam. These waterway roads were fascinating because most were scarcely traveled – only canoes and kayaks could fit in them – and they were full of herons, ducks, turtles and other wildlife.

Our nephew, Jack, on a previous trip through the lily pads - the splendour is overwhelming!

Our nephew, Jack, on a previous trip through the lily pads – the splendour is overwhelming!

We reached Duck Bay, which once again lived up to its name with loads of ducks and ducklings at every turn. Still in our kayaks, we circumnavigated Foster Island, and then returned back to NWOC by our original route.

At this time of day (around 12:30 pm), the boat traffic going through the cut was in full swing. We had to paddle, paddle, paddle to make it through the choppy wake. Half-way through the cut, we saw a canoe had been overturned due to a negligent motorboat. Chad helped the canoers right their boat, rid it of water, and return them to safety. (Note to all – do NOT ride a canoe through the cut – no matter your skill level, you will likely be overturned by the chop).

We ended our journey back at NWOC with tired muscles but grins on our faces for finally traversing the Arboretum by boat.

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