Here’s a frugal fall outing for the kids that has to be unique to the Northwest! Take the kids to one of many area parks or trails where they can spot salmon returning to spawn.
I’ve rounded up your best bets for viewing, but if you know of another good one, please let me know! Note-This post has been updated for 2014. Most, “Prime,” salmon spotting will be next month.
First, let’s be clear that when a salmon is returning to spawn, it’s returning to the place where it was born to deposit eggs. This is the end of its life, and a remarkable natural process. It also means that while you’re catching sight of the salmon heading to spawn, you might end up seeing a dead one. If this would alarm your children, choose another activity!
South King County/Eastside/ Seattle Every weekend beginning October 4th and running through October 26th, trained naturalists will be on hand to help you spot them at 5 sites along the Cedar River. You can get all the locations and details here from the Friends of the Cedar River Watershed. These are all King County locations, beginning with the Renton library with spots all the way up to the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Here is a list of other spots in Seattle and on the Eastside. If you’re up for road tripping, the hatchery in Issaquah just might be the fanciest in America. They even host birthday parties!
Puyallup The fish in the tanks at the Puyallup hatchery are trout, but a small section of Clark’s Creek runs by, where you might be able to see winter run chum beginning in November or a few coho or chinook earlier. If you go straight behind the hatchery and to the left, you’ll find a trail, and the best viewing is from a little bridge over the creek. The boys and I found a lot on our trip last year, but we didn’t time it right, and they were Really, Really dead. Bleah! Naturally, the boys thought it was fantastic! The trout at the hatchery are interesting to look at, and there are a few, weathered informational signs. Our boys consider this the best of do-it-yourself fun! The hatchery is on the corner of an otherwise residential street, but you really can’t miss it. Here’s more information on the Puyallup hatchery and Clark’s Creek.
Update: The hatchery has a brand new educational center (I hope to have a post on that soon), and this year they’re hosting a salmon homecoming event on October 11th. Looks super fun-feed fish at the hatchery, see salmon in the creek, and enjoy kids’ activities.
Thurston County/Olympia If you’re one of my Thurston County readers, you have a tremendous salmon watching resource in Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail. It doesn’t open until November 1st, but when it does, there will be weekend viewing with naturalists on hand. I can’t wait to check it out.
Key Peninsula The Minter Creek hatchery on the Key Peninsula
*I haven’t had a chance to phone here this year, but this was info. I got around the end of October last year. You may just want to call and check open hours before you go. I’ll try to get a hold of them later today to update this.
You’ll see the creek with a ladder and a plunge pool where they pile up. Right now, the Coho run is dwindling, but Chum will be picking up soon. They’re a bit hard to spot right now due to rain muddying up the water, but it sounds like your odds are still pretty good.
Kitsap-The clever folks with the tourism department have created a whole list of spots on what they call the Salmon Run Loop. These are all wild spots, so it’s far from a sure thing, but it would be a fun afternoon adventure.
There is a very cool, downloadable book with coloring pictures here. This is a large, pdf file. Consider yourself warned.
Do wear boots for any of these adventures, because if your kiddos are anything like mine, they will Immediately step in the grossest puddles imaginable.
Do you have a great way to have outdoor fun this time of year? I’d love to hear about it!