Travel Diaries Header Washington Park Arboretum Seattle

Exploring the Washington Park Arboretum

Recently I took a trip to Seattle to visit my friend Steven. He’s lived there for a little while now, and while spring isn’t the best time to get outside and do things, he was excited to show me around.

Steven at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA.

One of the first places we went was the Washington Park Arboretum, right next to Lake Washington.


The Washington Park Arboretum was established by the University of Washington’s Board of Regents and the City of Seattle in 1934. Originally named the University of Washington Arboretum, it became the Washington Park Arboretum in 1974.

The Arboretum was originally designed by James Dawson and Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm as an ordered taxonomic system. The plants were ordered from most primitive to most advanced in order to help students and scientists study plant evolution. However, this system did not take into consideration the needs of the different plant types and many of the plants and trees ended up in environments they could not thrive in. In 1947, director Brian O. Mulligan stepped in and moved many of the plants to more suitable environments.

Through the years, more and more gardens have been added to the Arboretum.

In 1949, Mulligan added a winter garden, now known as the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden, featuring cedar and fir trees, along with Chinese witchhazel, daphnes, rhododendrons, and many more plants that thrive in winter.

The Japanese Garden was completed in 1960 and is one of the best Japanese gardens in North America. In addition to the beautiful garden itself, the Japanese Garden also offers the experience of a tea ceremony. It is the only part of the Arboretum that has an entrance fee.

Pacific Connections Garden Sign at Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

My favorite part of the Arboretum is the most recent addition. The Pacific Connections Garden features plants from Cascadia, Chile, China, Australia, and New Zealand. The New Zealand forest alone has almost 10,000 plants. The garden also has an audio tour that can be found on the Pacific Connections Garden page on the University of Washington Botanic Gardens website.

The Arboretum is currently jointly managed by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, the City of Seattle, and the Arboretum Foundation.

Environment & Wildlife

The 230 acre park is home to one of the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest collections of temperate trees and plants.

Work on the park’s newest trail, the Arboretum Loop Trail, has uncovered a stretch of Arboretum Creek that previously flowed through pipes underground. This and other restoration work done during the project has helped create more habitats for wildlife in the natural wetlands.

The Arboretum is a great place for bird watching. The wet and temperate environment provides a home to hundreds of bird species, including my favorite, the American Coot, as well as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Trumpeter Swans, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Pacific Wrens, and many others.


Holly Walking on a trail at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA

The Washington Arboretum has several miles of trails throughout its 230 acres, most of which are paved.

The Arboretum Loop Trail, which opened in April, is one of the best ways to explore the Arboretum. The 2 mile trail is entirely paved and features several bridges over Arboretum Creek. The restoration work done during construction of the trail has helped increase the wildlife activity in the area, as well as allowing visitors to see previously hidden plants.

Hours & Fees

Most of the Arboretum is free to visit and is open all day. The Visitors Center is open from 9am to 5pm daily.

The Japanese Garden at the southern end of the Arboretum does have an entrance fee, which is $8 for adults, $6 for Seattle residents (have your ID!), and $4 for children, senior citizens, college students (have your ID!) and disabled persons. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month from 3pm until closing and anytime for children 5 or younger.

The Japanese Garden opens at noon every Monday and 10am Tuesday-Sunday. It closes at 4pm, 5pm, 6pm or 7pm depending on the month. Guided tours are at 12:30pm every day April through October and are included with the price of admission.


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