Everyone wants into Discovery Park. It’s the largest green space in Seattle, with more than 500 acres(!) and 2 miles of beautiful beaches. It hides out in Magnolia, a neighborhood that already hides from the rest of Seattle, but the drive is worth it. The park’s guest list is proof. That list includes:
Military (Fort Lawton)
The military wanted Discovery Park long before it was even called Discovery Park. In the days of the Klondike Gold Rush (1890s), the U.S. government decided Seattle and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard needed protection, so the city of Seattle donated 700 acres to the military, and the military built Fort Lawton. Fort Lawton saw significant use in both World Wars, but the military gave much of the land back to the city in 1972. A smaller Fort Lawton continued to exist as an Army Reserve facility until it finally closed in 2012.
Discovery Park has 11.8 miles of trails that wind through forests, meadows, and beachside hills. Those trails draw their fair share of hikers—even hikers who don’t know what they’re doing. Like last October, when two hikers and their dog failed to check a tide chart. They found themselves trapped by water, scrambled partway up a cliff, and got stuck there. They waited for two hours until emergency teams rescued them.
It’s not just people who recognize a good park when they see it. In 2009, newspapers and blogs erupted with news about the black bear, the coyote, and the cougar roaming around Discovery Park. The animals have since been safely relocated, but we remember 2009 as The Year of Scared Locals.
The park also shelters 270 different species of birds, as any Seattle bird watcher worth his or her salt will tell you. Plus, the park houses the city’s largest active colony of great blue herons. You’ll find run-of-the-mill critters aplenty, as well: squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons. And some insist the park even has feral pigs. That debate ranges from dead-serious sightings to drunken delusions. We’re reserving judgment.
Daybreak Star, a Native American cultural center, sits like an island in the middle of Discovery Park. After the military downsized Fort Lawton, activists declared, “We the Native Americans, reclaim the land known as Fort Lawton, in the name of all American Indians by Right of Discovery.” Today, Daybreak Star acts as a conference center, a place for pow-wows, a facility for a Head Start school program, and an art gallery. The center almost went under this year, but a generous $150,000 donation saved it.
The locals aren’t fans of this group. The homeless camp Nickelsville moved into Discovery Park back in 2008. The camp included 75 people at that point, and it set up tents behind the Daybreak Star cultural center, hoping that by staying on federal land, the city would have a harder time moving them. But the city did kick them out, and Nickelsville has moved more than a dozen other times since then. You can still see pictures of Nickelsville in its Discovery Park days.
A smaller, even more unofficial homeless camp popped almost three years ago in the park. This one only had ten campers, and because Discovery Park is so large, they went undetected for some time. But eventually someone saw them and the city relocated them.
Seattle has a few unofficial nude beaches, due to the lack of a city law against nudity. One nude beach is Discovery Park’s North Beach. It’s much more remote than the southern stretch, so don’t worry—you shouldn’t stumble upon a skinny-dipper by accident.
With beautiful views of the Puget Sound and Shilshole Bay, and with acres of free blackberry picking in August, everyone else comes to Discovery Park, too. But the best part? It’s big enough that no one steps on someone else’s toes. It offers something for everyone, and enough space for everyone. You can expect quiet hikes and beautiful beaches, even during the most popular weekends.