Update on 5/8:
Current state guidelines on outdoor activities do allow for outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, running or biking, but only if appropriate social distancing practices are used. They also recommend that 1) people with flu-like symptoms not participate, 2) recreate locally – do not travel farther than necessary, 3) limit your recreation partners to those who live in your household unit. 4) use face masks in any situation where social distancing is not possible, 5) bring your own food and supplies.
King County says: “Visitors are asked to “Keep it Moving!” – meaning to use our parks and trails for walking, running, riding, and rolling. No congregating in parking lots or trailheads and no team sports or pick-up games on ballfields.”
I would add – don’t count on restrooms being available – be sure to “go” before you go. And please, Please, PLEASE respect the guidelines!!! If lots of people violate them, the parks will be closed down again. 😦
Choosing a Less Traveled Path
When planning an outing, the first parks that come to mind are the most popular ones – Green Lake, Alki Beach, Marymoor, Rattlesnake Ridge. But these can get crowded. But in King County, we are blessed with so many fabulous public spaces outdoors. Here are some less well known gems to consider for your walks during this time. (Some of these are bike-friendly, some are not: check bike maps for bike trails.)
If a park has a playground you would have to pass by to get to the trails, I’ll make a note, because I know it could be super hard for some little ones to see a playground and be told they couldn’t play there. Below, I’ll link to websites for city parks departments. Here’s the current status of King County parks, and Washington state parks.
Bellevue Parks has over 2700 acres of parks and open space and over 90 miles of trails! There’s a map of Bellevue Parks here. Some options to consider:
Lake to Lake Trail System is ten miles of trails. You could park at many spots along the way and just do a portion of the walk. The Lake Hills Greenbelt is from Phantom Lake to Larsen Lake. Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm has plenty of room for wandering up and down the rows.
Coal Creek Natural Trail is near the Cougar Mountain trails, but has fewer hikers.
Mercer Slough is 320 acres. It’s got multiple trails to hike to view wetlands and meadow.
There are three parks I know of that you might never know had a mile or more of hiking hidden in them. Robinswood Park – near Bellevue College. Here’s a trail map, with one of our favorite trails through the woods marked out on it. Ardmore Park – near Microsoft. Zumdieck is just north of downtown, and has a nice little loop through the woods. These are all great hikes for younger kids – I’ve done them with many three year olds, also good for elders who aren’t looking for an endurance hike. All three have playgrounds.
If you want a more challenging, straight up the hill in the woods hike, try the Weowna Park Trail up hill from Lake Sammamish.
If you’re just looking for a place to sit and read or have non-social play, there’s also tons more parks, both big and small. Some have playgrounds, some don’t. There are also lots of “mini-parks” and “corner parks” that aren’t much more than some grass, some trees and a picnic table. (We ate at one of those the other day, but we threw a blanket out on the lawn rather than sitting at the table, where virus concentrations might be higher.) Check on the Bellevue Parks website to learn more. And more Bellevue trails are listed here. Click here for: covid-19 restrictions.
Crowded Parks – may want to avoid
Avoid Downtown Bellevue Park – it’s often crowded – leave this to the folks who live downtown and may not have cars. Same thing for Crossroads Park, which can be crowded and is in another neighborhood where lots of folks don’t have cars to take them to other options. I would leave Bridle Trails for the horse folks to get the outings that they and their animals need. I would avoid the barn area at Kelsey Creek park which may be more crowded, but there is a nice .9 mile walking trail there, which should be fine.
OO Denny – north of Juanita, near the Kenmore border. Nice beach area. (There’s a playground there.) What many people don’t notice is that on the other side of the road, up the hill, there’s a few miles of fabulous wooded trails (here’s a trail map with points of interest). It’s a pretty challenging steep climb, but beautiful. When we went on a beautiful day in late April, we hiked two hours, and passed maybe 20 people.
Places to sit and read/work outside: Everest Park – I like parking at their north parking lot and sitting by the stream. (The playground is out of sight from there.) Peter Kirk in downtown Kirkland, Terrace Park in Houghton – both of those have playgrounds.
Parks to Avoid
Tot Lot – I usually love it, but it’s a tiny fenced in park with a now-closed playground. There’s lots of parks that are basically just a play-ground – now closed – so I wouldn’t take kids there, but they could work for some grown-ups for a picnic on the grass, such as the park at Phyllis Needy, Reservoir, Van Aalst. Juanita Beach, Marina Park, and Houghton Beach can get crowded on sunny days. When we went to Marina Park on a beautiful evening in early May, it was feeling a little crowded for my comfort, so we walked on through rather than staying and sitting a while.
Rhododendron Park has a short trail – a nice amble for a young child or an elder.
Wallace Swamp Creek has trails, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out. (Note, this is NOT an off leash dog park, but some people are under the impression it is, so there may be loose dogs there.)
Burke-Gilman Trail. This is a 20 mile long trail, but portions of it go through Kenmore. It’s paved, so great for bikes, roller blades, strollers. It is quite busy on sunny weekends, but probably a decent option for a cloudy, gray weekday. We have found the Kenmore stretches to be less busy than the Seattle zones.
St. Edward’s State Park. Lots of great trails. Definitely too busy on a sunny weekend, but would be a good outing on a rainy weekday. Large playground – it’s possible to park a ways away and walk away from it, and they might not notice. It’s a state park, so you need a Discover Pass, or it’s $10 to park there.
There are 59 miles of public trails in the City of Redmond!
The City of Redmond website doesn’t provide a lot of detailed information on the trails; however, you can find more info about them on the All Trails website or app, on the Washington Trails Association website or TrailLink.
Trail names to look up:
- Watershed Preserve Trails, off of Novelty Hill Road. 800 acres, with multiple trail options from 0.6 short loops to 4.3 mile hikes. Beautiful walk through green – moss, ferns, trees, ponds…. beautiful.
- Tolt Pipeline Trail – 11 miles, Duvall to Bothell. Bridle Crest Trail, 3.3 miles from Bridle Trails to just north of Microsoft – it runs where 60th St would be if 60th went through.
- The Marymoor Connector Trail is a 1.6 mile trail through Marymoor Park. It’s an easy walk with a stroller or an easy bike ride. It connects the East Lake Sammamish Trail (11 miles, up the east side of the lake) and the Sammamish River Trail (10 miles, Redmond to Bothell)
- Farrell-McWhirter off Novelty Hill Rd. near Avondale – this is a farm park and there might be more people over by the animals, but there’s also a 1.3 mile trail through the woods. There’s a self-guided orienteering course there.
Or, there’s the 1.5 mile Viewpoint trail in the Tam O’Shanter neighborhood on the border of Redmond and Bellevue.
Parks to Avoid
I would avoid the dog walk at Marymoor unless you have a dog who absolutely requires that much space for running in, just because there’s probably many humans there. The rest of Marymoor has plenty of open space for walking in or sitting outside in while distancing. (Note: Marymoor is in Redmond, but is a county park.)
Learn about Nature while you’re out
I’ve written a guide to learning about Northwest Native plants, which includes all the major plants you’ll find on a hike outdoors, and also has a couple of scavenger hunts – one for preschool age kids, one for older kids (or adults), and a dichotomous key. Here’s another great Native Plant Field Guide that was developed by someone as her senior year project.
The City of Bellevue has a scavenger hunt for Lewis Creek that could also be used elsewhere. I found that some of the things on it were harder for kids, so I made my own version of the nature scavenger hunt using theirs as a base.
Walking in Your Neighborhood
Or, if you want to stay super close to home, but need to get outdoors (there are LOTS of physical and mental health benefits of time spent outdoors), you can get outdoors with proper social distancing, in ANY neighborhood. If you’re an adult walking alone, try listening to some great podcasts as you walk, or use this time to call and connect with a friend or family member. If you’re walking with kids, and doing the same path over and over, there are lots of ways to liven it up: one day do a search for all the letters in the alphabet (on license plates, street signs, and so on), another day, do a search for all the numbers, another day, play I spy where you take turns spotting things. Some folks are trying to start some coronavirus-time connections, like placing a teddy bear in their window for kids to spot when they’re out walking – keep an eye out in your neighborhood to see if you can find any signs that this is catching on!
When to Go Out
Obviously, if it’s rainy or cool, there will be fewer people out than if it’s gorgeous weather. So, grab a raincoat or an umbrella and head out in any weather.
You may also choose to access the parks at less crowded times – I would suspect that the most crowded times will be lunchtime, maybe a 4 or 5 pm end of the day time, and weekends, since many people are still working regular hours, whether at home or a work place, or attempting to school their kids during “school hours.”
Before you go out
First, let’s be cautious to take as few germs out into the world with us as possible. Things to consider: If you haven’t changed clothes in a few days (no judgment if that’s the case!), do so before going out. Bring a cloth face cover, in case it’s hard to keep enough distance between you and others. Take your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever. (This is not a perfect precaution, because you can be contagious before symptoms, but still a good step because if you do have a fever, you should definitely stay home.) Go to the bathroom before you leave the house, so you’re less likely to need to do it when you’re out. (And because many parks facilities and bathrooms may be closed.) And wash your hands before going out!
If you have children, explain to them before you leave that this is a “no touch” outing. (Toddlers may not be capable of resisting all the time, but we can do our best.) I would not bring snacks along if I had a little one, since their hands would be in and out of their mouths over and over, maybe transporting germs in and out.
Note: Rails to Trails also offers a helpful article on the latest expert guidance on outdoor activity and covid-19.
When You Get Home
Leave your outdoor things (coats, shoes, purse) by the door. Don’t carry them through the house. Wash your hands! If you were using your phone, you could clean that too.
If you have more ideas or any feedback, please add it in the comments!
Elsewhere on this blog, I have tips on Suddenly Homeschooling – I share the system that’s working for us and easy ideas for Toddler Activities in the Time of Coronavirus. Plus the blog is just generally full of tips about parenting kids from birth to age 9.