Best Places to See Salmon Migration in Seattle Area

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Best Places to See Salmon Migration in Seattle

Best Places to See Salmon Migration in Seattle Area

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we have a unique fall opportunity to learn more about the salmon life cycle by watching the salmon return to the rivers of their birth where we can see them much easier as they journey back home. They are returning to spawn (or give birth) in the river where they were born to produce a new generation of fish.

Salmon are such an integral part of our ecosystem here in the northwest, so we found it so educational & interesting to go and see the salmon migration. We learned so much about the salmon life cycle as well as things we can do in our homes to protect the salmon, too.

Salmon in the Cedar River at Landsburg Park

If you are interested in learning more about the salmon life cycle, there are several great educational opportunities to learn more as you go see the salmon in their native rivers & creeks. We checked out the Kennedy Creek Salmon trail last year, which is on private land, but they open up this educational salmon trail with volunteers several weekends in the fall for visitors. And this year, we visited the Cedar River on a fall weekend when Seattle Aquarium naturalists were out at all the locations to teach more about the salmon journey, which was so helpful to learn more from each of them.

So, we wanted to share about these locations so you can put them on your list to visit in the fall if you are wanting a unique fall opportunity with your family here in the Pacific Northwest!

We’d also love to know which areas you have seen the salmon spawning that you think are best for viewing!

Cedar River in Renton / Maple Valley Area:

The Seattle Aquarium provides an awesome resource for seeing the salmon life cycle as they have special programs all along the Cedar River in Renton and Maple Valley with naturalists stationed at 5 different points along the river where it’s easy access to see the salmon up close.

The Cedar River is one of the few areas where wildlife migration runs thru an urban watershed. The adult salmon first make their way from May thru September from the ocean to Lake Union through the Ballard Locks (it’s so cool to go see the fish ladders there in the summer!) to Lake Washington & then on to the Cedar & Sammamish rivers to return the same rivers they were born in. You’ll find the threatened Chinook salmon as well as sockeye & coho salmon returning to the Cedar river for their final journey to spawn & then die.

Seattle Aquarium Naturalists

Every weekend in October thru October 29, 2023, the Seattle Aquarium will have naturalists at these 5 locations along the Cedar River who have tents set up with information as well as resources to learn more about the salmon & they will talk with you about the salmon life cycle as well.

Polarized glasses to see salmon

Plus, they have polarized glasses they will hand out at each of the locations which you can use to see the salmon better in the water as it helps to take the glare off the water.

Seattle Aquarium Salmon Viewing Opportunities with Sign

The 5 locations along the Cedar River are very clearly marked on weekends with signs showing where to go to “See Salmon”. But you can actually go anytime if you can’t make the times that the naturalists are available as these locations are so easily accessible & kid-friendly. The first 3 locations are within 5-10 minutes of each other – you can walk to each of them along the Cedar River trail if you’d like.  {There may be other parks & locations to access the river all along the Cedar River trail – these are just the spots where the naturalists were & are also easy access points to visit anytime}.

Cedar River Locations with Seattle Aquarium Naturalists:

Renton Library

Did you know that the Renton downtown library is built over a bridge on the Cedar River?  This is definitely one of the easiest & quickest spots to access the river & see the salmon swimming upstream. You’ll want to look on both sides of the river – we found the salmon on the north side of the river when we were there.

Volunteer sharing about Salmon Life Cycle

The volunteer naturalists were so helpful in sharing about the salmon life cycle & journey they go on from the ocean to the lakes to their home rivers. My girls enjoyed seeing the models of the salmon eggs & more.

Playground near Renton Library

An extra bonus to heading to this site is that there is a newer playground built on the other side of the river from the parking lot on the Liberty park grounds . It was a great kid-friendly park with lots of fun features & a unique swing for two kids to swing together. There is also a skate park here too. There is plenty of parking in the library parking lot & bathrooms inside the library too. It is all wheelchair & stroller accessible.

Cedar River Park 

Cedar River Park Salmon Catch Area

The Cedar River park is where we saw the highest number of salmon in one place as this is the location where they have a trap set up to catch the salmon to remove them & bring them to the hatchery. This is to ensure that the salmon will be able to lay their eggs in a more protected space to give the eggs a better chance of survival.

Don’t worry, though, there are some tough salmon coming thru and there are still a number of salmon that outsmart this area & get past it & continue upstream along the river for you to see them at later points along the river too.

This location is a nice big area for salmon viewing and it also has quite a bit of parking & bathrooms inside the community center, too. It is all wheelchair & stroller accessible.

Trains near Cedar River Park

This park is easily accessed by highway 405 – in fact, you can see it right next to the freeway. We parked at the library & then walked across the street & under the highway to visit this park since it was so close. It was a short 5 minute walk & it goes under a train bridge, so this could be fun for your kids who love trains to see them up close as they go by.

Riverview Park 

Riverview Park in Renton

This is another very quick & easy location to visit & watch the salmon migration as it’s a short walk from the parking lot to the small bridge over the river. The downside is that the parking lot is quite small if it’s a busy weekend, but if you go during the week, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Sockeye Salmon in the Cedar River

You will see the salmon closer up from this location (compared to the previous 2 locations) & it’s a great place to look for where the salmon are actually starting to spawn as the river is a bit slower /not as deep here. The naturalists showed us how you can tell where the salmon are spawning – look for areas in the gravel river bed where it is lighter colored – that is where the fish have worked hard to move the rocks away to deposit their eggs so they can then be covered back up. You’ll find circular or oval shaped areas in the gravel where they have been laying their eggs.

When we went a few weeks ago, the trees were just starting to turn colors, but I bet they are about prime color viewing now if you walk past the bridge & into a pretty park-like setting or along the Cedar River trail right there. It was a nice park to let the kids run around in the grass.

Belmondo Reach 

Belmondo Reach Park on Cedar River

My personal favorite location to see the salmon up close was the Belmondo Reach park location. This is a short little walk thru a salmon habitat restoration area and then you come upon the banks of the Cedar River.

Belmondo Reach River Access Area

You can walk right out to the river & we found a big rock to stand on & it was fascinating to have the salmon come right up by the rock & the banks of the river on their journey upstream.

The downside to this location is once again a very small parking area. It does not have a paved path, but our friend was able to take a stroller down to the river bank, but it’s definitely not wheelchair friendly.

Landsburg Park 

Landsburg Park in Maple Valley on Cedar River

This location is the furthest away but it’s definitely worth the visit! If you go on a weekend thru 10/29 between the hours of 11 and 4pm, they will have people on hand who can give you a tour of the dam & fish ladders at this location. Even if you miss the dam tour, you can still view the salmon well from the viewing platform after they have worked their way up a variety of rock platforms – you might even see some jumping thru the air to make their way up. Look for spawning areas once they make it past the rocks as this is a popular place for them to spawn. This location does have a lot of parking on both sides of the road. It is not wheelchair friendly, but I’d say it’s mostly stroller friendly.

Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail – near Olympia / Shelton

Last year, we had the opportunity to head to the popular Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail outside of Olympia & Shelton. This is a 1.5 mile trail that is an interactive learning site where you can view up to 80,000 salmon (typically the number is 20,000 – 40,000) who come to spawn in the lower 2 miles of this creek every fall.  This land is now owned by Washington DNR (Dept of Natural Resources) & they work with the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group to provide volunteer docents who are on hand to give invaluable information about the salmon migration.

The salmon return to this location a bit later, during the month of November & the Kennedy Creek Trail will be open Saturdays – Sundays from November 4th to December 6th. The Trail is open to the public on weekends from 10am to 4pm, for free for visitors to come & walk the trail & see hundreds of salmon cramming the creek!

Salmon at Kennedy Creek

It is so impressive & hard to describe or photograph  the sheer amount of salmon in this creek without going to see it for yourself! This was definitely the best salmon migration experience we had with seeing them so close up & so many of them so active as they’d jump & make their way up the creek.

They do also offer field trips & group hour long guided tours Monday – Thursday with the docents, so make sure to contact them if you’d like to schedule. No dogs are allowed on this trail since you do get so close to the salmon & it’s to protect both the salmon & the dogs. The first 1/2 mile of the trail is ADA accessible.

Salmon Interpretive Trail at Kennedy Creek

There will be docents on hand every day to answer questions & provide information about the salmon journey, but they do not lead guided tours except with scheduled group tours during the week.  We were so grateful for all of the interesting information that the docents provided to us last year as they answered our questions about the salmon spawning process.

More  Resources & Places to See Salmon Migration:

Tumwater Falls – Olympia WA – this is a great location to view the salmon returning to spawn from mid September to mid October. There are fish ladders with new glass walls to help the salmon make their way up past the Upper Falls to spawn. There is also a salmon hatchery at this location too & new interpretive signs explaining the salmon migration process.

This is a beautiful park to visit & walk along the Deschutes River & see these beautiful waterfalls and take in the gorgeous fall colors all around too! Make sure to read our full review of Tumwater Falls here!

Bayshore Preserve – Shelton WA – head to the Johns Creek trail, Johns Creek Estuary trail & the end of the Lookout Trail to see the salmon move upstream thru the creek. Docents will be at the preserve the first 2 weekends of November (Nov 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12) to provide information about the salmon migration from 10am to 12pm.

They also have a cool option at this salmon viewing station where they will have underwater cameras set up in multiple locations to live-stream the salmon action to handheld tablets on the shore. With wifi you can sync your phones to the camera to take real-time photos & videos of the salmon in Johns Creek. This lets you see the underwater activity & look as if you were actually swimming with the salmon. So cool!

Carkeek Park – Seattle. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for details on when to expect the salmon in this area

Chuckanut Creek – Bellingham . The bridge in Arroyo Park is a great place to see the returning salmon

Clark’s Creek Park – Puyallup. Keep an eye on the Puyallup Watershed Salmon Info page on Facebook for more info about when the salmon are returning to Clark’s Creek Park in Puyallup

Issaquah Creek – Issaquah – They have a great viewing area of the Issaquah Creek & the Issaquah Hatchery also offers guided tours – make sure to sign up early though – they were booking out 2-3 weeks or more in advance this year. From the hatchery, you can have creekside viewing as well as a chance to look thru the glass windows into the fish ladders.

Longfellow Creek – West Seattle . Check the King County website for best viewing areas

North Creek Trail – Bothell – check the website for directions on best viewing areas along this trail.

Nooksack River – Whatcom County .  Not only can you see returning salmon here, but once the salmon have spawned & then died, this area brings in hundreds of eagles from mid November thru January.  You can easily see the eagles from the road , especially the bridge at Mosquito Lake Road, just off the Mount Baker Highway near Deming.

Swan Creek Park – Tacoma . They offer naturalist led walks & a salmon celebration most years at Swan Creek.  Keep an eye on the Puyallup Watershed Salmon Info page for more info.

 Tolt River – Carnation – you can view the salmon returning from the Snoqualmie Valley Trail – make sure to check out the website to see the exact locations

Resources to find more about viewing Salmon in Washington:

Where to See Salmon in Washington State – this is a great listing of places & organizations providing information & tours/visits etc to see the salmon migration.

King County Salmon Viewing Sites – this is a great resource listing all of the different sites around King County to see the salmon migration

Parent Map Salmon Viewing List – this list compiled some great options around the south Puget Sound to see the salmon spawning

Let us know your favorite place to see the salmon journey back to their birth rivers! 


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