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Originally published Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Arboretum Waterfront Trail

Location: Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle Length: Half-mile trail (about one mile if you continue to the Arboretum Visitors Center). Level of difficulty: Flat-to-gentle bark...

Location: Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle

Length: Half-mile trail (about one mile if you continue to the Arboretum Visitors Center).

Level of difficulty: Flat-to-gentle bark, boardwalk and old asphalt trails. Portions of the bark trail on Marsh Island can be very muddy after rains.

Setting: Although this popular marsh walk is accompanied by the "soundtrack" of the Highway 520 bridge traffic, it's still an intimate passage through the largest wetlands left in Seattle, and everyone should see it. The trail starts near the lower parking lot of the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) by a descriptive kiosk, then passes onto little Marsh Island.

Lush thickets of willows here shield the highway bridge from view, and the trail (and its occasional floating platforms) offers an intimate look at the waters of Union Bay. The trail continues over a series of boardwalks and bridges along the north edge of Foster Island, with its more open cattail marshes. Once you pass the elevated observation platform and reach the more solid part of Foster Island, turn left for a short walk to Foster Point or go right to access the Arboretum trails.

Highlights: You're out here in the wetlands with diving cormorants, swooping swallows, and trilling red-winged blackbirds, so bring along a bird book (or a bird-watcher). Plant lovers can keep an eye out now for tucked-away skunk cabbage, the bright green leaves of the (nonnative) European yellow iris emerging from the water and, in the summer, the white blooms of the lake's (also nonnative) water lilies.

Facilities: Restrooms at the Arboretum Visitors Center (always open) and at MOHAI (open during museum hours).

Restrictions: No dogs, joggers or cyclists on the fragile bog trail.

Directions: Park at the Arboretum or MOHAI; since parking is usually more available at MOHAI, the following directions take you there: From Highway 520 eastbound, take the Montlake Boulevard exit, and at the light, cross Montlake Boulevard straight onto Lake Washington Boulevard. Turn left in a block on 24th Avenue East, which crosses over the freeway, and proceed to the lower museum parking lot. From the Eastside, take Highway 520 west across Lake Washington and take the first exit (Lake Washington Boulevard). Turn right off the exit ramp onto Lake Washington Boulevard, then turn right on 24th Avenue East.

For more information: 206-543-8800 or

— Cathy McDonald, Special to The Seattle Times

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:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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