Updated for 2017
Streams and creeks around Tacoma, Puyallup and greater Pierce and South King County are the perfect places to look for salmon returning to spawn. This is a frugal fall outing unique to the Northwest, and it’s a great South Sound outdoor adventure.
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.
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
Weekends in October through the 29th from 11AM-4PM, trained naturalists will be on hand to help you spot salmon at four sites in Renton along the Cedar River. You can check out their website or this flyer for directions and more information.
Each site is different, so you could check out a different one each weekend! For lots more information, including directions to each site and a 6 minute video on the Cedar River, check out the Salmon Conservation and Restoration page dedicated to the Cedar River.
Dates to Remember: 11AM-4PM, Weekends in October through the 29
Locations: Renton Library, Cedar River Park, Cavanaugh Pond, and Landsburg Park and Dam
Take a self-guided tour of the 100-year old hatchery, where chinook salmon usually begin to return in mid-September, with coho beginning to return around mid-October. The hatchery is open every day from 8:00AM-4:00PM, though staff may not always be available to answer questions. Young fish are raised in tanks inside the building. Displays inside the door and at an outdoor kiosk explain hatchery operations and there is a viewing pond.
Dates to Remember: Mid-September and Mid-October, 8:00AM-4:00PM
Location: Soos Creek Salmon Hatchery, 13030 Auburn-Black Diamond Road, near Auburn
Coho salmon can be seen in September and October at the roadway bridge on 168th Ave SE, just off the Auburn-Black Diamond Road. This link also has information on other spots in South King County and the Eastside.
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. They even host birthday parties! There is also a live salmon cam, so you can check out the viewing before you make the trek northeast.
If your kiddos can’t get enough of salmon, be sure to make the trek north to the Ballard Locks. The mesmerizing fish ladder is free to view, and kiddos get a kick out of seeing salmon swim upstream. Professional naturalists provide daily salmon talks at the fish ladder following free one-hour tours.
Dates to Remember: Open Daily from mid-June through October, with the best viewing through September
Location: 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle
Note from SFM: The info below is from 2016 so it may be similar for 2017, it will be updated when the new info is released.
Salmon Saturday is December 10th See salmon returning to spawn at this free event and enjoy tours and children’s activities. I’m guessing if you went during the fall you might see other runs as well. It’s a short stroll to the pretty bridge over the creek, so worth a try! Note that parking is tight here, and this is one where you do want to make sure you haven’t left anything of value in the car, as you are quickly out of sight of it.
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!
The Puyallup Hatchery will be hosting its 4th Annual Salmon Homecoming! There will be guided tours to see salmon returning to Clark’s Creek, tours of the hatchery, food, live music, and science and art activities for kiddos. Be sure to put this one on the calendar! If you can’t make the homecoming, you can still visit the hatchery and Clark’s Creek where you can see winter run chum, coho, and chinook.
Head 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. You can catch our full review of the Puyallup Hatchery here.
Dates to Remember: Salmon Homecoming; Saturday October 7, 11:00AM-3:00PM
Location: Salmon Homecoming; 1416 14th St SW, Puyallup, WA 98371
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.
Dates to Remember: Staffed with docents on the weekends starting October 28-December 1, Veteran’s Day, and the Friday after Thanksgiving
Location: To get to the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail, go north on Highway 101. At Milepost 357, turn left onto Old Olympic Highway. Continue on Old Olympic Highway until you see the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail Signs on your left. Go up forest road 2700 for .75 miles. Turn right into the Trail parking lot.
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.
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.
Also worth a visit is the Nisqually Watershed Festival. This event is coming up on September 30th from 10AM to 4PM. It’s free, and you can make a salmon print t-shirt and learn all about the life of the watershed.
There is a fish ladder and plunge pool at the Minter Creek hatchery where the salmon really pile up! Learn more about Minter Creek and see a cool video of the fish ladder here.
Location: 12710 124th Ave Ct KPN, Gig Harbor, WA 98328
Free tours with volunteers are scheduled for December 2 and December 9 from 10AM to 11:30AM. You might also try Crescent Creek.
Extensive maps and information on free salmon tours if you want to head down to the Kitsap area.
Cool Salmon Resources
For a good, kid friendly explanation of the life cycle of salmon go here.
There is a very cool, downloadable book with coloring pictures here. This is a large, pdf file. Consider yourself warned.
This printable brochure includes images of the various salmon types in Washington, including additional Pierce County sites to view salmon.
For an interactive map of where salmon have been spotted from Renton, north, check out the Seattle Aquarium’s Cedar River Salmon Journey page.
Be sure to wear boots for any of these adventures, because if your kiddos are anything like mine, they will immediately step in the muddiest puddles they can find!
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