This is the third installment in a new series, Fall hikes, a biweekly recommendation for a local hike we’ll run until ski season starts.
Camp Long (West Seattle)
Distance: Stringing short trails together, you can get about 2 miles of walking out of Camp Long. You can also add on more by crossing Southwest Brandon Street and heading to Longfellow Creek.
Points of interest: Schurman Rock, the first artificial climbing rock to be built in North America; cabins available for rent Tuesday to Saturday from March through October; a Works Progress Administration-constructed sluiceway; 4-H challenge course; views of downtown Seattle through the trees.
Kid-friendly?: Most definitely — trails are short and flat.
Terrain: There are gentle hills and narrow sections, but for the most part, trails are flat, beginner-friendly, well-maintained and comfortable for trail running.
Parking situation: Parking lot, street parking.
How long it took me: 45 minutes, taking the Rolling Hills Trail to the Lower Loop Trail and the Animal Tracks Nature Trail, then taking the Ridge Trail back to the Rolling Hills Trail.
Accessibility: The trails here aren’t wheelchair-friendly, but three of the on-site cabins are ADA-accessible.
Reachable on public transit?: Yes. The closest bus stop is at 35th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Hudson Street (route 21).
Friends who live in West Seattle rave about Camp Long and it’s easy to see why. The Seattle city park is a beautiful slice of urban forest in an otherwise residential area, with an environmental education center, a ropes course and even an outdoor preschool (Tiny Trees). It abuts a golf course, but those manicured lawns could not be more different from Camp Long’s gently winding trails and wild curtains of moss and evergreen.
Its most iconic feature — and an omnipresent tie to the region’s climbing community — is Schurman Rock, named for Clark Schurman, a mountaineer who led Boy Scouts on climbing expeditions throughout the Northwest. Originally known as “Monitor Rock” in reference to its educational purpose, Shurman’s simulated mountainside was the first of its kind to be constructed in North America, with the intention to “warn, remind, advise and instruct” climbers before they attempted the real thing. Schurman “[incorporated] every potential rock climbing problem into its design” by mimicking climbing terrain found throughout the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
Restored in 2003 (a plaque touts support from REI and The Mountaineers) and originally built between 1938 and 1939, Schurman Rock (renamed after Schurman’s death in 1955) is just one of many Camp Long landmarks constructed as Works Progress Administration projects during the Great Depression; others include a dramatic sluiceway and trails and cabins that can be rented for up to two nights at a time from March through October. While the trails aren’t wheelchair-friendly, some of the cabins have been modified to be ADA-compliant.
Height-seekers will also appreciate a glimpse at the intricate 4-H challenge course set up throughout the park, although just looking at the obstacle named Enchantments — tiny platforms and a slatted rope bridge built up high among the trees — was almost enough to make my palms sweat. (Don’t do anything stupid; there’s a reason the ropes course areas have warning signs begging off unsupervised amateurs.)
But mostly, the draw here is the chance to take in impressive second growth, dodge sword ferns and meander along a trail equally well-suited for kids or serious trail runners. It’s the kind of hike you can do with a cup of coffee in your hand. (Uptown Espresso, on Southwest Edmunds Street off California Avenue Southwest, is a good pregame spot.) And if you want more of a hike than Camp Long’s trails can provide, it’s easy to add on mileage by exiting the park at the gate on Southwest Brandon Street. Just cross the street, join up with Longfellow Creek Legacy Trail and keep walking.
Some urban parks feel like afterthoughts wedged into an otherwise citified environment, but Camp Long is the rare gem that really feels like nature, an improbable bit of wilderness where you can wander trails and stay in a cabin without leaving Seattle’s city limits. Along the way, you’ll catch glimpses of the city skyline through the trees (a feature best appreciated in the fall and winter) and hear the drone of I-5, which, as I walked the perimeter with my family, had never felt further away.
Camp Long is located at 5200 35th Ave. S.W., Seattle. The entrance is at Southwest Dawson Street and 35th Avenue Southwest. No pass required. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (except holidays), closed Sundays between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28. More information at seattle.gov/parks/find/centers/camp-long.