Updated for 2020
Streams and creeks around Tacoma, Puyallup and greater Pierce and South King County are the perfect places to look for salmon coming home to spawn. This is a frugal fall outing unique to the Northwest, and it’s a great South Sound outdoor adventure with the kids.
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 (and smelling) a dead one. If this would alarm your children, you may want to choose another activity.
You should also know that this is a historically low year for the salmon run according to the Ballard Locks, so as with all outings in nature, don’t promise your kiddos anything other than adventure!
If you’re up for salmon spotting, here are your best bets! There are several organized salmon spotting opportunities, but this is also a fine activity to do DIY style, and it would be a great adventure for your homeschoolers or other fun group.
South King County/Eastside/Seattle
Salmon can typically be spotted the whole month of October. In person events are cancelled this year, but the link has plenty of info. to help you do this DIY style.
Salmon can be seen at various sites August-November. Link has info. on sites and safe, DIY viewing.
Link has info. on seeing Coho salmon in Soos Creek, Covington Creek, and other area spots.
If you’re up for a road trip, the hatchery in Issaquah just might be the fanciest in America. They pride themselves on being the most visited hatchery in Washington. Tours are available with the size limited. Link has info. on the 2020 salmon season and Covid related precautions and changes.
I don’t see information on an event this year, but you may be able to spot some on your own.
Puyallup/Greater Pierce County
South Prairie- On the east side of town by the fire station you can see salmon in South Prairie Creek between late September-January. This document lists several other Pierce County area spots, but it is older, so I can’t vouch for them. Let us know if you try any of these, and we’ll add them!
Puyallup Fish Hatchery and Clark’s Creek
Typically, you can visit the hatchery during daylight hours, and the educational center on Saturdays; however, I am not sure if either is open right now. You can often see salmon in the creek directly behind the hatchery that connects to the Clark’s Creek trail system. I am not sure if there will be an organized salmon homecoming this year. I suspect not, but I’ll keep you posted. If you find out any scoop, let me know! Here is they city’s page for the hatchery.
The trail, featuring wild chum salmon, is free for visitors. This is one of the most popular sites in Washington, with over 5,000 people visiting every November. Be sure to visit the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail page to show your kiddos a great 3 minute video all about salmon spawning! It will really inspire you to put this event on your calendar! There is more information for visitors here.
Viewing is usually available during the month of November. I don’t see updated info. for this year, so I suspect this is going to be a DIY adventure without docents this year. I’ll work on confirming that for you.
This is an outstanding trail to explore with young hikers near Olympia. During mid November-mid December there are good opportunities to see returning chum.
Update: Currently closed according to their fb page. Thanks to one of our awesome Fb readers for letting me know. Put this one on the list for 2021!
In the 1962, the state funded hatchery operations at the top of Tumwater Falls, making this another great spot to watch salmon. This is also a great place to view fall leaves changing color! Jen, of ThriftyNWMom, has an an awesome full review of Tumwater Falls Park.
State Hatcheries are currently closed.
Donkey Creek Park with Harbor Wild Watch
Traditionally there has been an event towards the end of November. I don’t see info. yet but will keep you posted if I find out more.
Extensive maps and information on free salmon tours if you want to head down to the Kitsap area.
Do you have a great way to have outdoor fun this time of year? I’d love to hear about it!
For more fall fun, check out our these posts