As the doldrums of winter are upon us (with snow levels and avalanche danger wildly fluctuating), I have been embracing our nearby parks for my trail fix. Next up, Mercer Slough!
Mercer Slough offers a slew of options (get it?) for outdoor activities. Besides miles of trails, there is summer blueberry picking and a non-motorized boat launch for kayaking or canoeing, as well as an education center and amphitheater. Since July 2017, light rail construction has closed some parking lots and parts of the park. Luckily, the east side of the park has parking by the open-daily visitor center, so I’d recommend starting there rather than plugging in “Mercer Slough” to your GPS and missing the construction entrance to the west lot.
If you start with a map (obtainable at the visitor’s center) and plan your route, it’s possible to get in six miles at this park. However, with it being my first visit and the construction closing off some parts, I just winged it, happy to get in some miles on a beautiful day. The park is small enough that you’d have to be incredibly directionally-challenged to get lost, and pretty enough that doing some trails twice isn’t dull. On the particular day I visited, there was also more animals than I think I had ever seen on a trail! The marshes and wetlands (Lake Washington’s largest remaining wetland) had an abundance of robins, frogs, and dragonflies, with me seeing a rabbit, turtles, and two snakes as well.
I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or what, but I am a big fan of boardwalk trails. Maybe because of the wildlife hiding in there, maybe because it is more exciting than dirt or pavement, but I enjoyed the 0.8-mile Bellefields Loop, with it’s many boardwalks, the best. It is also the first one you’d do if starting at the visitor center. The 1.1-mile gravel and woodchip Heritage Loop, the first if approaching from the west side of the park, offers some white history of the slough along it with interpretive signs, but I was more struck by the fact someone had to write in that Coast Salish people were here well before white settlers. C’mon, Bellevue! This loop includes the blueberry fields and the (currently closed) Winters House.
I wound about the two loops, mixing in pieces of the Periphery Loop as well into intertwining figure eights. While WTA said you could get in six miles with the four-mile Periphery Loop, the loop isn’t entirely in the park, and I wasn’t too keen on being on city sidewalks when I could just circle the other two loops some more.
The wetlands do mean the trails can be muddy in some parts, but with the day getting warmer the mud seemed to lessen with each loop (and seasonally, new bark gets applied as well). Despite that, in some sections there’d be a flurry of movement and splashing, as frogs would leap to the reeds if I unknowingly got too close. It was hard to get a good glimpse sometimes, but if I stayed still and moved slowly my luck would pay off. Between the tranquil water and the wildlife, I almost forgot about the interstate nearby and noises from the light rail construction. I don’t know if the animals in the park will experience changes with light rail overhead, but I sure hope the park remains the same.
Distance: Choose your own adventure, with intertwining trails and spurs.
Elevation: The area by the visitor center is the most hilly, but overall very flat.
Parking: No pass required, multiple lots (I’d recommend parking on the east side at the visitor center during light rail construction).
Bathrooms: Flushing toilets and water fountains at the visitor center (open daily 10AM-4PM), when open there is also flushing toilets and water at the Winter’s House (currently closed for light rail construction).