This is the second installment in a new series, Fall hikes, a biweekly recommendation for a local hike we’ll run until ski season starts.
O.O. Denny Park (Kirkland)
Distance: From the lower loop that starts at the trailhead, you can access 2.5 miles of trail across O.O. Denny Park, Denny Creek MacDonald Memorial Preserve and Big Finn Hill Park.
Points of interest: Homestead sites, historical placards, a fish ladder, views of Lake Washington and the real star of the show — Sylvia, a 600-year-old Douglas fir. You can’t miss her.
Kid-friendly?: Probably. Despite a few uphill stretches, the hike’s brevity makes it a good one for short legs. Little ones will also appreciate the playground.
Terrain: Despite its proximity to civilization, this is a real hiking trail. Aside from a few tidy boardwalks and bridge crossings, it can be muddy in the rain and narrow in places; there are a handful of steep sections, but not much in the way of elevation.
Parking situation: Parking is ridiculously easy — there’s an on-site lot and plenty of on-street options.
How long it took me: About 20 minutes, sticking to the lower loop. It’s possible to add distance.
Accessibility: There are paved areas at the beachside park across from the trailhead, but the wooded trails aren’t wheelchair-friendly.
Reachable on public transit?: No bus lines service O.O. Denny Park. The closest bus stop is at Big Finn Hill Park (lines 234 and 244).
KIRKLAND — Growing up as a snobby Seattle kid, I thought suburbs were for cross-country meets, second-run movies and planned neighborhoods with names that sounded vaguely (and confusingly) pastoral. I didn’t know Kirkland from Bothell or Renton, and certainly wouldn’t have considered going hiking in any of these places. Joke’s on me, though, because it’s hard to imagine a better close-in hike than the one that originates in Kirkland’s O.O. Denny Park.
Denny Park looks small if you don’t know where you’re going. The beachfront park affords a gorgeous view across Lake Washington (Lake City Way never looked so good) that represents the Northwest at its most magical, even on a gray day. The day I went, the sun was weak and orange-tinged under the cover of clouds and impending rain, but it didn’t matter. In a world of gray, it was still good to be outside. Friends chatted on benches looking out at the water, people walked their dogs along the lakeshore, ducks floated and dived and parents watched as their toddlers gleefully took to the playground.
The beach is just the beginning. Across the street, a small trailhead launches hikers into a beginner-friendly trail network along Denny Creek. The route abuts drapey Day-Glo moss and beautifully preserved old-growth forest, whose most famous exemplar is a grand old tree named Sylvia. You’ll find her about a quarter of a mile from the trailhead — a majestic Douglas fir jutting into the sky, her thickened bark and grand silhouette making the adjacent trees look like saplings. Until her top came off in a storm in 1993, Sylvia was the biggest tree in King County; an on-site plaque puts her circumference at 26.3 feet. Pay your respects.
Sylvia is just one piece of O.O. Denny Park’s history. It was once the country seat of Orion O. Denny, of the ubiquitous Seattle Dennys. When Denny died in 1916, his wife transferred ownership of the property to the City of Seattle with the instruction that it be turned into a public park. Management has shifted over the years, and in 2013 it was handed over to the City of Kirkland. Throughout the park, interpretive signs provide Easter-egg glimpses into this long history. Points of interest include the sites of two old homesteads, a stone bridge built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a fish ladder to assist salmon in their journey up Denny Creek.
But the real draw is something less quantifiable: the particular pleasure of wild isolation in an urban-adjacent area. The only people I ran into on the trail were a couple traveling with a little kid, whom I presumed was their grandchild. As I made my way past them along a narrow, mucky section of trail, one of them offered encouragement. “This is the wettest part right here!” she said. She was right. I hadn’t worn good shoes for hiking that day — I’d thought “suburban hike” and chanced it with tractionless Vans — but I didn’t end up needing them.
And that may be the real beauty of O.O. Denny Park. It’s a section of forest that feels improbably wild, surrounded on all sides by the domesticated environs of the suburbs — sprawling homes and street names like Champagne Point Road. It shouldn’t feel like a real hike, but it does. It’s the kind of forest that feels like another world, a cool, green respite from the day-to-day bustle of the universe outside and the resultant internal unease, our ceaseless fretting over smartphone pings and the insistent onslaught of modern life. Here, you’ll find the residue of an untouched past, a quiet, peaceful reminder of how much bigger Washington’s wild places once were. Here, you can get out of your car, walk into the woods, breathe in the fresh smell of pine trees and — however briefly — forget the traffic, inside and out.
O.O. Denny Park is at 12302 Holmes Point Drive N.E. in Kirkland, and is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. No pass required. The park’s restrooms are closed for winter, so plan accordingly. Trail reports are available through the Washington Trails Association at wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/o-o-denny-park.