West Hylebos Wetlands Park in Federal Way showcases historical cabins and a rare piece of the Puget Sound environment.
Location: Federal Way
Length: Just over 1.5 miles of trails.
Level of difficulty: Level to gentle; wheelchair-accessible boardwalks (300 yards down a fine gravel trail) may be slippery when wet.
Setting: This 120-acre preserve offers a big payback for a local trip. Not only does the park display four types of wetlands well-explained by interpretive signs, it features two relocated historic cabins. The 22-foot by 22-foot Denny Cabin, once located west of present-day Seattle Center, was built by David Denny in 1889 as a real-estate office from trees cut down on Queen Anne Hill. Its unusual architecture includes a deep overhanging gable roof. At the nearby 1883 Barker Cabin, read about its history, peer in the window to see period furnishings, and then follow the gravel trail down to the trails and boardwalks that wind through the wetlands. Hylebos Creek (named after a Belgian-born priest who established schools and hospitals in the Northwest) drains into Commencement Bay in Tacoma.
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Follow the signs out to Brook Lake, then finish your walk on the Marlake Trail, which has a labeled arboretum of trees that include a coast redwood, a dawn redwood, and a ginkgo. Once the dirt/gravel trail ends out on the far side of the lake, retrace your steps to avoid going onto private property.
Highlights: Within these valuable wetlands are some ancient Sitka spruce trees and one of the last remaining lowland bogs in South King County, with peat that reaches up to 30 feet thick. The paved parking lot and sidewalks are made of permeable concrete to mimic the wetlands, which absorb runoff to not only prevent flooding, but filter out pollutants (about half of the pollution that reaches Puget Sound is estimated to be the result of stormwater runoff). The Friends of the Hylebos look after the site, which includes removing invasive weeds and replanting with native vegetation (volunteers are always welcome — see contact info below).
Facilities: Vault toilet at parking lot.
Restrictions: No pets or bikes allowed.
Directions: From Interstate 5 in Federal Way, take Exit 142B (northbound or southbound) and bear right off the exit ramp onto South 348th Street to head west. You’ll soon cross Pacific Highway South (Highway 99); in .5 miles, after passing two historic cabins, turn left on Fourth Avenue South, and then left into the parking lot.
Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She’s currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org