One Foot in Front of the Other

Who says you need a dog to enjoy the dog park?

There are 40 acres of off-leash area available for four-legged friends at Marymoor Park in Redmond, known to some as Doggy Disneyland. It’s a fitting nickname — like furry cannonballs of joy zipping in every direction, tongues flapping and tails wagging, dogs bounce between their owners, their pup pals and the Sammamish Slough in search of far-flung tennis balls.

Whether you’re in need of a new park, looking to kill some time before a concert this summer or if you just want an accessible, healthy dose of nature without scaling a mountain, this 2-mile walk around the off-leash area at Marymoor is the perfect way to spend an afternoon, dog or no.

It’s worth noting that our route extends beyond the off-leash dog area. Over the last 15-plus years, Eastside Audubon has led restoration efforts in the park, removing invasive plant species, planting native species, creating bird habitats and more. Obey signs and keep your furry friends on a short leash outside the off-leash area.

Marymoor Park loop

Round-trip distance: 2 miles


Parking is available for a buck at lots D and G off Northeast Marymoor Way; our walk starts at the former, just south of the summer concerts stage.

River Trail traces Sammamish Slough from Parking Lot D down to Lake Sammamish, just shy of a mile. At the trailhead, look out for doggy bags as well as signs laying out the ground rules of the park (no digging holes, leashes on in the parking lot, etc.); identifying landmarks (Dog Leg Bridge, Swamp Dog Bridge and so on); and highlighting the six habitat types in the off-leash area, each with distinct plant life, temperatures, birdsong and more.

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Marymoor Park Off-Leash Dog Area has been called Doggy Disneyland — but let’s not forget to give the birds, reptiles and waterfowl their due. It’s a great place for anyone who loves nature. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)

The trailhead marks the transition from the shady Conifer Grove to the River Corridor. Keep the wooden fence and the slough beyond it to your right and follow the gravel trail deeper into the park; it should only be a moment before you see a dog trotting, a great blue heron alighting on a branch above the water, or both.

The dog party, of course, is down by the watering hole. There are a couple of prime spots for nautical fetch in the river; it’s a hoot watching the game itself and the dogs’ differing approaches to the water. Some Labs dive right in after any old soggy ball, no matter who it “belongs” to, while other hounds get as close to the water as they can, think about it a moment, then resign to barking their pals back to shore. It’s a great place to dog/people-watch, especially if you don’t mind an awkward look or two when you explain, “Actually, none of these dogs are mine.”

I am tempted to say I could spend all day watching those dogs leap, splash, paddle, grab, turn, paddle, climb, stumble, drop, turn, leap, repeat. One deterrent, however, might be the violent concert of nesting herons squawking and ruffling feathers in the dozens of nests in the trees across the trail. When folks thought up “the birds and the bees,” herons must have been the inspiration. Those are some noisy birds.

Kip, striking a pose near the Sammamish Slough, is more interested in his close-up than a dip with his pup pals. (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)

Beyond the second canine water access area — around which a dozen-plus dogs were playing tag-and-sniff on a recent summer afternoon — the trail leads into the Sheltering Forest, a cooler patch of green protected from the wind and sun. The area is home to woodpeckers like the red-breasted sapsucker and songbirds like the black-headed grosbeak, which whistles its warbled song in the shade.

Keep along the trail beyond the off-leash area headed into the Rich Marsh. (Leashed dogs are allowed.) When the gravel gives way to a wooden path, you’re near the water. Emerging from tree cover, Lake Sammamish spreads out beyond a short wooden dock, with Cougar Mountain anchoring the horizon.

In the air, watch for dragonflies, more songbirds or even a red-tailed hawk. In the water, or perhaps traversing a field of lily pads, try to spot a duck or a bullfrog. (A sign notes that bullfrogs were introduced to the Pacific Northwest for their legs, but they got the last laugh, eating “everything from dragonflies to ducklings.”)

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Mama duck watches her ducklings as they forge a path for the family across a field of lily pads on Lake Sammamish at the edge of Marymoor Park. Also in the area was a bullfrog, which have been known to eat ducklings. Run, mama duck! (Trevor Lenzmeier / The Seattle Times)

When you’re done admiring ducks, follow the wooden, Y-shaped path in the opposite direction from which you came. You’ll be on Heron Loop Trail. Beyond the Sheltering Forest is the Mysterious Thicket, a bird-friendly area marked by shrubs and low trees like the willow and cascara, the bark of which was used by Native Americans and European settlers as a laxative. “Cedar Waxwings and other birds love the berries,” a sign explains.

Just outside the thicket, you’ll once again notice the sun on your neck in the drier, warmer Grassy Meadow. Heron Loop forks about one-third of a mile north of the water, halfway to Parking Lot G; either staying the course or kicking right to sample Audubon Loop Trail (formerly Sparrow Loop Trail) leads directly to the lot.

From Parking Lot G, our route cuts across the top of the Grassy Meadow and back to Parking Lot D to complete the loop, but the meadow isn’t to be missed. With crisscrossing paths and tall grass, you’ll think you’re alone with your thoughts until a Goldendoodle bursts out of the green growth and onto your path, skidding to a stop and kicking up dust in hot pursuit of a mangled tennis ball.

This 2-mile lap is a great introduction to Marymoor Park, with diverse natural habitat in the form of a river, a lake, shrubs, trees and the many creatures that live in and around them. If you finish the loop in less than an hour, you didn’t have enough fun — or learn enough. Did we mention the dog party?

To extend your walk, explore the off-leash area’s interior paths to your heart’s content. At Marymoor, a park where all paths lead to dogs repeatedly jumping in a river, it’s easy to leave in a good mood.