Park Tips for the Non-Robust
If you feel the park preview on this blog is enough for you great! But if you want to gather all info possible before venturing to a new park then visiting the park’s official website and taking a look at satellite view on Google maps are good ideas.
The Links section of this blog has city parks pages and general maps.
The Seattle Parks website has downloadable PDF maps for all the destination parks on their respective pages. These maps show the trail systems and locations of parking, restrooms, and key features. A couple of the parks also have downloadable bird lists.
See the Weather page for links to weather related resources.
In the previews I try to discuss typical usage levels of the parks on weekdays and sunny weekends. With some parks my info is more vague or includes educated guesses because they are parks I don’t visit frequently enough to have first hand experience under a large variety of conditions.
The main thing to remember is that no matter what I say about usage levels or parking availability, there will be days I am way off. Occasionally you may have a smaller park to yourself or, more likely, run into some kind of event.
Any park that is more appealing than average could be playing host to a wedding, family reunion, children’s daycamp, or company picnic on the day you decide to go there. Especially in the summer months, and most especially on the summer weekends.
The picnic areas and picturesque spots can be reserved and rented out by anyone for group events. And often groups gather without reservations, but still taking up a lot of the first-come-first-served space.
If there is any kind of festival going on nearby the park will be busier than usual also. And you should expect increased usage on holidays, especially from Easter through Labor Day, if the weather is nice enough.
If that happens just chalk it up to bad timing and try again a different day if it interferes with your park plans.
Don’t Feed the Wildlife
When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s I loved going to the park with our bag of stale bread heels and feeding the ducks.
Don’t do that.
I hate to be a killjoy after getting to participate in a time-honored tradition myself, but it turns out it’s bad for the ducks. The bread provides no nutritional value, but fills them up so then they don’t eat the stuff that they do need.
Crows, seagulls, and squirrels are usually more than happy to scarf down whatever bits of leftover lunch you’re willing to toss their way. But even though the birds especially are scavengers, that doesn’t mean you should be providing people food.
Even if you buy appropriate food at a specialty store, feeding wildlife at parks isn’t a good idea. It engenders bad begging habits and changes the behaviors of creatures that are wild.
Resist the temptation, no matter how wistfully the critters look at you.
Listen to Your Body
Stretching your boundaries is good, forcing things is of little to no benefit.
If you really want to visit a specific park, but every time you think about it your chest tightens up and your heart beats fast, pick someplace easier. You can gradually work your way up to your big goal in incremental steps.
If you want to be outside but your joints are painful, choose a place where you know a bench is close to parking. There’s no point in pushing yourself if the end result is misery instead of enjoyment.
If you planned an outing around your schedule and the weather, but when the time comes you absolutely don’t feel like going, scrap your plans. The park will still be there and there will be more nice days.
On the other hand, if you’re just feeling kind of wishy washy, sometimes going out anyway will be just what you needed and you’ll feel infinitely better for it.
If you think you can walk part way down a path and do, if you’re still feeling okay walk farther. Sometimes you can surprise yourself by doing more than you thought you could simply by setting small, obtainable goals and paying close attention to how you feel.
If you’re having a really good day and feel great both mentally and physically, take advantage of it. Especially if days like that don’t come around too often for you. Go to a distant park you wouldn’t normally consider or take a trail that you’ve wanted to explore but haven’t felt up to before.
Your body will tell you what you are actually capable of if you learn to listen.
Find a Home Base Park
You might already have a park you enjoy near where you live or work. You feel comfortable there and you know what to expect any given day or time of year. Congratulations, you have a home base park.
If you’re just testing this getting-out-of-the-house-more-often thing, you want to establish your home base park. It will be your default location, where you can go any time you feel like being outside but don’t have a lot of time or are not feeling up to trying something new.
It might be your local neighborhood park, the type not usually previewed on this blog. Scope them out from your car or get off the bus at that park you’ve seen every day on your way home from work. Test it out. Try another one if it turns out to not be a good fit.
Try Something New
Okay, you’ve been leaving the house and you have a favorite spot or walking path at your home base park. Time to get adventuresome. Watch the weather reports, and if you’re having a good day, visit a park outside your local area.
Pick a park that has a feature that interests you. Maybe you like the looks of one previewed here, or maybe it’s one you’ve heard people rave about. Or maybe it’s one you just haven’t been to in twenty years.
Start easy. One that is within your route comfort zone. Pick a time it won’t be crowded so you don’t get rattled by packed parking lots and throngs of people.
Do that a few times, then get daring and choose a park farther away or outside your comfort zone. There are parks like this on my To Do list.
Plan Your Route to Leave Stress Out
For parks outside of your immediate area you want to know ahead of time the exact route you will take. If you have any anxiety issues that relate to driving or going to unfamiliar locations this is especially critical.
If you’re taking public transportation write down your bus stop locations and route numbers and take it with you.
If you’re driving, study a map and plan which streets you will use based on your own driving preferences. Some people want the most direct route on large, well-known streets and others want a route with the least traffic and fewest stoplights.
If there are a lot of turns, you’re unfamiliar with the area, or you’re just nervous, write it down and take it with you.
I highly recommend keeping a paper map in your car. A fold-up city map is good. A Seattle area map book is even better. I like this Seattle Map Book because it’s spiral bound, inexpensive, and has a park index in the back that makes it easy to find your page.
Always having a paper map handy reduces stress. You don’t need an internet connection, a charged battery, or a GPS that doesn’t understand your driving preferences to get you where you’re going.
Stay in Your Car
For some of us our vehicle is a mobile protective bubble and there are days we don’t feel like leaving its safety. That’s perfectly all right.
There is no rule that just because you’re at a park you must get out and wander around in it.
There are several parks that allow you to enjoy a spectacular view from your parking space. And others where you can park in the shade with the windows rolled down to read and watch squirrels on a hot day.
With a vehicle you have a traveling shelter, allowing you to enjoy parks in weather that keeps many people indoors. Watching trees sway in a chilly wind or listening to rain on the roof can be very soothing.
Ideally your home base park will have a pleasant place to park your car for those days you don’t want to leave it. I can guarantee that if you start doing in-vehicle park visits you will notice others doing the very same thing.
Take Up a Park Hobby
Do you usually just read a book or go for a walk? Try new activities.
If you have a park partner, playing catch isn’t just for kids. Frisbees, footballs, and baseballs are all fun. The rhythm of tossing something back and forth is quite relaxing and it feels good physically. Baseballs, or even just small rubber balls, take the least amount of skill.
– Photography (see my comments on the Park Kit page)
– Basketball (you can throw hoops by yourself)
– Kite flying (start with something easy like a box delta, then you can move up to stunt kites if you like – don’t start with a classic diamond kite, they are difficult to fly)
– Journal writing, or try your hand at a novel or memoir (a picnic table on a warm day is just the spot)
Or heck, go big. Adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group and become a regular at an offleash dog park. Both you and the dog will be happier.
If there’s one crucial piece of information to impart it’s this: on sunny weekends and summer afternoons all of the Seattle area destination parks can get insanely crowded.
Seattleites love to be outdoors, even in gloomy weather. Add some sunshine and what seems like the entire city heads to the park or beach. And it’s no wonder. We live in an incredibly beautiful part of the world and, except for high summer and early autumn, we don’t see a lot of sunshine.
Destination parks are large and show off all the natural splendor we live near. But at popular times expect it to be almost impossible to find parking, and if you do luck into a spot there’s a 50% chance you will have to trek to where you originally planned to go. Even a handicap parking placard is no guarantee you can find an open spot.
If you are retired, unemployed, on disability, or work odd hours you have a big advantage. You can visit these marvelous parks at times when most people are busy elsewhere, thus avoiding panic attack inducing crowds and allowing you to snag the parking spot of your dreams. Plan your outings for weekday mornings or early afternoons and you’re set.
If you work weekdays your best bet is offseason, less than best weather, or even arranging a half day off work. If you must go on a sunny, warm weather (which is anything above 55 degrees in spring or fall) weekend, try to get there early to get parking and claim your turf, be it a bench, picnic table, or patch of lawn/sand. By early I mean before ten in the morning.
Of Bowels and Bathrooms
Anyone who has any sort of inflammatory or irritable bowel condition understands the absolute requirement of always knowing where the closest usable bathroom is. Unfortunately, as the City of Seattle has suffered under tighter and tighter budget restraints over the last couple decades, open bathrooms are no longer a sure thing.
While I have listed bathroom locations in all the park previews, I do not have info on when and if they are open for most of them. Even if they are open one day I’m there it’s no guarantee they will be the next time.
Porta potties are always open at least, but not all parks have one. And in some parks they get moved around or aren’t always there.
The majority of parks have real bathrooms, but some are only open in summer. Or some are now always closed because of operating costs, and a porta potty has been set next to the building to be used instead.
The large destination parks do have a bathroom or porta potty open all year. The key is learning their locations, since it may not be near where you want to spend time at the park.
When choosing a home base park, hopefully it will be one with a year round bathroom. But if not, pick a park that is close enough to make an emergency drive for home. Or pick one that is close enough to a fast food restaurant or other place you know you can use the restroom with no questions asked, like a library or community center.