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Union Bay Natural Area

November 3, 2021
Type : hike
Length : 1.6 miles loop
Elevation Gain : 40 ft.
High Point : 15 ft.

While Union Bay Natural Area doesn’t seem very big, measuring in at 74 acres, it’s the second largest natural system on Lake Washington. The Waterfront trail is a short loop will take you by a couple of ponds filled with waterfowl and also provide sweeping views of Lake Washington. This can be combined with the Yesler Swamp trail, which has a number of raised platforms to take you through the bog.

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I was unsure where I was going to park prior to coming, but found a free parking lot with tons of empty spaces right near the Soest Herbaceous Display Garden. I took a dirt road which looped behind the Center for Urban Horticulture, and hooked up with NE Wahkiakum Lane, which was a nice wide open gravel road that took me past a typically lush Northwest forest and then into a more open country with grass and smaller trees.
Lawn behind the Center for Urban Horticulture
Lawn behind the Center for Urban Horticulture
Forest along NE Wahkiakum Lane
Forest along NE Wahkiakum Lane
NE Wahkiakum Lane
NE Wahkiakum Lane
At the first junction with the Waterfront Trail, I decided to continue on NE Wahkiakum Lane and take the Waterfront Trail loop counterclockwise - no particular reason behind the decision, it’s safe to assume either direction will give you great views of Lake Washington, as well as the ponds. As I walked around Carp Pond, I noticed some ducks as well as a Blue Heron, and I was able to walk up to the edge of Carp Pond and snap a photo of the Blue Heron. Afterwards, I noticed that many of the people walking this loop had either binoculars and or DSLR cameras with huge lenses - this is obviously a good spot to watch birds.
Blue Heron in Carp Pond
Blue Heron in Carp Pond
I continued along the Waterfront trail, and noticed a side trail headed up to Central Pond had a number of people on it, so opted to continue along the Waterfront. A lot of the area near the water had fencing around it, and the signs indicated they were trying to rehabilitate the area. There were still a number of places where you could get close to the water and get great views of Lake Washington. And every time I got the near the water I saw ducks or geese or some other bird.
View of Lake Washington
View of Lake Washington
Lake Washington from the Waterfront Trail
Lake Washington from the Waterfront Trail
Tree canopy off of Waterfront Trail
Tree canopy off of Waterfront Trail
Bench overlooking Lake Washington
Bench overlooking Lake Washington
I sat on a bench of a second to take in views of the lake, and then continued along the loop before getting back on NE Wahkiakum Lane. I decided to head towards the buildings and walk around front of the Center for Urban Horticulture, which took me through the Soest Herbaceous Display Garden - it was interesting to see how they had segmented the plants by the the type of soil and amount of sun they like to receive. As I neared the car, I noticed there was another trail through the Yesler Swamp, which I had never heard of. It looked like a quick hike, so I went for it.
Raised platform through Yesler Swamp
Raised platform through Yesler Swamp
The Yesler Swamp trail mostly consists of a raised wooden platform which takes you through the swamp, which is thick with trees. It’s a nice contrast to the Waterfront Trail, and halfway through the loop it opens up and you can see Lake Washington. All along the trail are a number of signs providing information about the area. I was glad I opted to take the short hike through the swamp.
Berry with morning dew in Yesler Swamp
Berry with morning dew in Yesler Swamp
View of Lake Washington from Yesler Swamp
View of Lake Washington from Yesler Swamp
While it's a short hike, even throwing in the Yesler Swamp loop, it's beatiful and defintely worth it, especially if you get to see a Great Heron!