Discovery Park, Seattle

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  • detail view of West Point Lighthouse light tower
    detail view of West Point Lighthouse...
    by glabah
  • maps of Discovery Park for $1 at Visitor's Center
    maps of Discovery Park for $1 at...
    by glabah
  • loook back towards Seattle @ West Point Lighthouse
    loook back towards Seattle @ West Point...
    by glabah
  • glabah's Profile Photo

    The Basics of Discovery Park

    by glabah Updated Feb 13, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Discovery Park historic housing, Olympic Mountains
    4 more images

    Seattle has a few parks that are fairly good sized, and Discovery Park is one of them. This park is large enough to contain a number of different activities and attractions. I have written a few separate tips about this park which I have put in my Magnolia pages as that is the name of the community where the park is actually located (several miles to the northwest of downtown Seattle). If you are viewing this tip in the Seattle Travel Guide, you will not be able to see the hyperlinks built into the text, so you will have to view it through my Seattle travel page if you want to see the links to the various other tips that help describe this park.

    The park used to be Fort Lawton, and parts of the military base in the park are still active so you will want to stay away from those areas.

    Probably the biggest attraction in the park is the Loop Trail, which is mostly gravel and passes through dense forests of the park as well as along the edge of the south bluffs, providing some good views of the surrounding area, Puget Sound, and in the distance on a clear day it is possible to see the Olympic Mountains.

    Branches from this trail lead to North Beach and South Beach that provide additional viewpoints of the surrounding area. PLEASE NOTE that due to the damage done to the beach environment that the city of Seattle now prohibits dogs from beaches in City of Seattle parks. The only exception to this is the off-leash dog park beach at Magnusun Park, on Lake Washington.

    Connected to the Loop Trail by either the North Beach Trail or the South Beach Trail is the West Point Light, which is the lighthouse at the base of the hill. It has been replaced by a simple light tower, and there have been some plans to make the light house part of the light publicly open on an occasional basis for tours. However, budget shortages curtailed these plans for a few years.

    Other branches of the loop trail provide a link to lesser visited areas of the park. These include:

    + The Fort Lawton Cemetery mostly dates from the active military era of the park, especially during World War II.

    + The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center was formed at the insistence of local protesters, who were attempting to get better social services for First Nations groups living in the Seattle area. The center also includes a small art gallery and a few cultural resources such as a Native Plant Garden with plants important for use in the First Nations culture, and two small trail systems that I have divided into the Pond Trails and the Wolf Tree Nature Trail, which are very short trails but add to the areas of the park that may be enjoyed by visitors.

    The number of ecosystems in the small area of the park mean that the area attracts some wildlife. In 2009 that included a cougar (it was caught and relocated) but usually the wildlife seen by people is limited to birds of various types. In the summer months listen for Anna's and rufous hummingbirds. In the winter months a number of different birds winter on the water along the beaches.

    Some of the roads inside the park are limted access, for the remaining military residents or others, other roads are limited access but pedestrian traffic and bicycles are allowed, and others are public roads. Carefully follow the signs posted at each location to make sure you don't go into places where you should not go.

    The best place to get started in the park is probably the main visitor's center, located near the main entrance to the park, at 36th Avenue West and West Government Way. This center is open and staffed during certain hours. The largest parking lots are located at Emerson Street and 43rd Avenue, and at the end of Illinois Avenue (follow signs to Daybreak Star until you reach a large open parking area near a bus stop).

    How to Get There:

    Go north to the Magnolia district of Seattle, and continue north and get on W. Government Way. Head west (up the hill) until you enter the park. From many major roads, follow signs to Daybreak Star.

    An additional park entrance is located at W Emerson Street and 43rd Avenue West.

    Bus routes 24 and 33 serve the area, but 33 is the best bus route to take. It is the most direct route from downtown Seattle and goes into the park itself. However, it should be noted there are no bus stops right at the Discovery Park Visitor's Center.

    Getting Around In the Park:

    All of the trail intersections are very well marked inside the park, and it is best to use them for navigating inside the park. You can purchase simple maps of the park for $1 at the visitor's center, but they are fairly basic maps.

    Additional Information:

    I have written quite a bit about Discovery Park, but to avoid creating dozens of tips about it in the Seattle section and cluttering things up, please take a look at my Magnolia Bluff (the community where the park is actually located) and see the rest of the tips I have written about this park there.

    Related to:
    • Beaches
    • Historical Travel
    • Hiking and Walking

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  • glabah's Profile Photo

    West Point Lighthouse

    by glabah Updated Nov 5, 2013

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    West Point Lighthouse sunset, Olympic Mtns in back
    4 more images

    The farthest west spit of land near the Lake Washington Ship Canal is known as West Point, and naturally as a land mark to ships making their approach, and to prevent anyone from running aground in the fog, a lighthouse was installed here in 1881.

    It so happens, the lighthouse is located on an old military base which was largely turned over to the City of Seattle for use as Discovery Park, with a number of attractions located inside. The West Point Lighthouse is now one of those. Today, the lighthouse has been declared surplus to the needs of the US Coast Guard, and the city of Seattle is working on a plan to take over the lighthouse, restore it, and preserve it.

    Notice carefully photo 5: the light that is on the lighthouse is actually a modern beacon, and has been installed on the roof of the lighthouse in a separate, modern tower. To get the photos that I have of the red light in the tower, it was necessary to take the photo at just the right angle to make it appear as though the light was coming from inside the old tower.

    The easiest way to get here is to enter from the 43rd Avenue West and West Emerson Street. Keep following the walking paths west and downhill. Eventually you will come to the edge of the water, and you will need to follow the trail that runs along the beach. There are a number of trails in the park, so the number of ways to get here are too large to explain any of them in detail.

    While the view of the Olympic Mountains is wonderful from here, looking back towards downtown Seattle does not give any impression there is a major urban area there. There are some lights from the Alki Peninsula, but otherwise the city is mostly hidden from view by the bulge of land on which the Magnolia neighborhood sits. See photo 5 for a look back towards Seattle.

    This tip is part of a larger set of tips about Discovery Park in Seattle's Magnolia area. See my Basics of Discovery Park tip in the Seattle travel page.

    Web Sites:

    A number of web sites feature this lighthouse. The ones listed below are only those that seemed to have the most interesting set of photographs, or official documentation about the lighthouse, or were otherwise interesting about what is going on here.

    http://www.seattle.gov/parks/parkspaces/DiscoveryPark/lighthouse.htm
    City of Seattle Parks description of its effort to take over the lighthouse, and produce a plan for preservation and restoration

    http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=33
    Light House Friends page about the West Point Lighthouse

    http://www.rudyalicelighthouse.net/NWLts/WestPt/WestPt.htm
    Rudy & Alice's Lighthouse Page about the West Point Lighthouse

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture
    • Hiking and Walking

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  • dlandt's Profile Photo

    FREE - Discovery Park and Indian Cultural Center

    by dlandt Written Mar 9, 2004

    4 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Locagted on the far westr side of the Magnolia neighborhood, there is a very large park called Discovery Park. Not only do you get nice rainforest hiking trails and excellent views of Puget Sound, the parklands have a number of other attractions. There is a small nature and information center, and a very large Indian Cultural Center that offers activities as well as arts. Its free to ewalk through though the Indian salmon bakes and dances charge a small fee. Nearby the park is a military reservation, the lighthouse, and a small veterans cemetery.

    Related to:
    • Theme Park Trips
    • Budget Travel
    • Arts and Culture

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    West Point Lighthouse

    by dlandt Written Mar 7, 2004

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    West Point Lighthouse

    At the bottom of Magnolia, near Discovery Park, there is a small, functioning lighthouse. Its run by the Coast Guard and overlooks the sound in a very picturesque setting. You can't go in, but its free.

    Related to:
    • Family Travel
    • Budget Travel

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  • lifeofbrian's Profile Photo

    Beautiful park overlooking the sound

    by lifeofbrian Written Dec 28, 2003
    View of the sound from Discovery Park

    Discovery Park is a great place to go for a good urban hike. The main loop is about 2 miles long and has very little incline. Make sure to bring a camera along because there's plenty of photo opportunities. It's not uncommon to see rabbits hopping amongst the tall grass.

    Related to:
    • Family Travel
    • Hiking and Walking

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  • Sunshine64's Profile Photo

    Discovery Park

    by Sunshine64 Written Aug 25, 2002

    1.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The tide is out

    Discovery Park - It's in Magnolia, and it is one of my favorite places in Seattle. There are trails that run through it, the longest being about a 3 mile loop trail that takes you through the trees and onto a bluff overlooking the sound. There is also a trail that takes you down to the beach where you can explore. This is a picture of the beach.

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  • chuckyc's Profile Photo

    Take a trip to dicovery park...

    by chuckyc Updated Aug 25, 2002

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    Take a trip to dicovery park in the magnolia neighborhood only 5 minutes from town for nature trails through woods down to a beach on the sound.(somewhat steep)afterwards have some wine on the bluffs and enjoy the view across the sound as the sun sets behind the olympic mountains.

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  • tripster's Profile Photo

    Discovery Park, not to be...

    by tripster Written Aug 24, 2002

    1.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Discovery Park, not to be missed for great views. Just north of the city go to the Indian Cultural Center (follow signs to Daybreak Star Center)and go to the lookout for an unbelievable view of the Puget Sound as well as the rugged peaks of the Olympic Peninsula. Try it at sunset!
    Some great hiking trails as well.

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