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Different colors of salmon crowd together just under the surface of shallow water with a rocky bed.
Salmon spawning in Issaquah Creek.
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Where to see salmon runs in and around Seattle

It’s time to go salmon spotting

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Salmon spawning in Issaquah Creek.
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The rivers and creeks of the Pacific Northwest have thousands of years of stories flowing through them, but none is as inspiring and beautiful as the salmon run. For countless generations, salmon have been spawning in our waterways, swimming out into the salty waters of the Pacific for a few years, then returning home to continue the lifecycle.

It’s in these creeks and rivers where they are born, and it is here that they will spawn and die. This natural circle may seem trivial to some, but salmon are an important species in the region, bringing nourishment to creatures great and small. From orcas and humans, to eagles, bobcats and even small insects, salmon are part of what makes the Pacific Northwest livable and sustainable. It doesn’t hurt that they are awesome to see in shallow streams, splashing around and finding the perfect partner with which they will pass on their ancient DNA.

Salmon used to be much more prevalent in our waterways, with rumors of salmon runs so thick that legend tells stories of crossing a river walking on their backs. Today, impacted by climate change, overfishing, pollution, and development, the salmon runs are just a fraction of what a healthy and normal run looks like.

While conservationists and communities are working to help restore salmon habitat, it’s important for all of us to head out and see why they need to be protected. Along the waterways, docents and educators take time out of their fall days to teach those who come to salmon-filled waterways, ensuring that everyone who visits and witnesses this amazing circle of life understands the salmon’s importance to the Pacific Northwest. All around the region, there are spectacular places to see these salmon runs—including these ten great destinations.

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1. Pipers Creek in Carkeek Park

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Pipers Creek
Seattle, WA

Carkeek Park is a fantastic year-round outdoor recreation destination, but in October, November and December, the North Seattle Park becomes even more magical. Each fall, hundreds of chum salmon return to their birthplace to spawn in the best salmon-watching spot in the city. Check out the Carkeek Park Salmon Stewards Facebook page for a preview and to check their calendar for events. Weekends in November, the park has salmon stewards onsite from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer all of your salmon questions. 

2. Longfellow Creek in West Seattle

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Longfellow Creek Trail
Seattle, WA 98106

From October through December—with early November typically the best time—Longfellow Creek in West Seattle is yet another fantastic salmon-watching spot in town. The best way to see salmon in the creek is to walk from the Dragonfly Garden at 28th and Dakota, then walk south along the trail. You may see coho and chum salmon here, depending on how warm the summer was. Before heading out to this family-friendly spot, make sure you check King County’s website for the park for viewing parties.

3. North Creek in Bothell

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For three straight months, the salmon run at North Creek in Bothell is a fantastic place to go and see the return of the fish. In September, the creek is full of returning chinook salmon, followed by sockeye salmon in October. In November, the salmon run winds down with the return of the coho, giving all who visit an incredible opportunity for multiple weekends of adventure and nature-watching. A trip here is self-guided, but following the North Creek Trail is simple to do and always a good walk. If salmon are hard to find, look under the bridges—this is where they often hide. 

4. Issaquah Creek

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One of the best places in the greater Seattle area to see salmon returning to spawn upstream is Issaquah Creek. What makes this location stand out is a hatchery to keep the salmon returning here year after year. At the hatchery, you’ll have both creekside viewing and a chance to look through glass windows into the fish ladders. During the salmon-spawning month, it also has free tours with a suggested donation of $2. In September and October, you’ll see chinook and sockeye, while November brings in the coho.

5. Chuckanut Creek in Bellingham

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1700 Old Samish Rd
Bellingham, WA 98229
(360) 778-7000
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North of Seattle, Chuckanut Creek in Bellingham is a fun place to go if you’re looking for a salmon-viewing road trip. Running from October through December, with November typically being the best month, the salmon are best seen at the bridge that crosses the creek in Arroyo Park. This is the largest natural run of chum salmon run in Bellingham, and it’s always impressive to see. 

6. Nooksack River in Whatcom County

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Just outside of Bellingham is the Nooksack River, the salmon run brings in one of the most incredible displays of eagles anywhere in the contiguous United States from mid-November through January. As the chum salmon slowly start to decompose after arriving in freshwater and spawning, eagles from around the Pacific Northwest flock to the region in hopes for serious sustenance.

This amazing display is visible from the road, and is the perfect weekend trip. The bridge at Mosquito Lake Road just off Mount Baker Highway near Deming is the ideal spot to see dozens, if not hundreds, of bald eagles feasting on the remains of spawned-out salmon.

7. Swan Creek Park in Tacoma

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3997 E Roosevelt Ave
Tacoma, WA 98404
(253) 305-1000
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South of Seattle, the salmon runs are equally impressive, and at Swan Creek Park in Tacoma you’ll find a family-friendly destination for salmon watching. Each year, this small creek becomes a salmon-spawning paradise, with naturalist-led walks and a salmon celebration taking place each year. If you miss the year’s events, fret not! In late November and early December, the easy-to-explore park is open for you to see the salmon on your own.

8. Fennel Creek in Bonney Lake

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Fennel Creek, a large tributary to the Puyallup River near Tacoma, has estimated run of 15,000 salmon returning each year. Starting in late September and lasting through the month of November, watching the salmon here can feel surreal: This somewhat hidden trail system to the stream is surrounded by homes and developments and not quite the wilderness views one may expect, standing in contrast to the dense salmon run. While the typical salmon-watching look may be missing from this trail, it’s a great vantage point for watching spawning.

9. McLane Creek in Olympia

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McLane Creek Nature Trail
Olympia, WA 98512

Just outside of Olympia, McLane Creek is a hidden gem for salmon watching in October, November, and even into December. McLane Creek becomes nearly stuffed to the gills (get it?) with chum salmon returning home. Splashing and jumping over logs, the spawning season is short and sweet, visible from numerous lookouts along the creek.

Each fall, McLane Creek swells with both the returning rain and the hundreds of salmon that worked their way up the narrow channel from the Puget Sound. In October and early November, volunteers help educate and point out the unique characteristics of the spawning salmon. Into December, the salmon still remain in the creek, but the surrounding trail system and forest nearly empty.

10. Hoh River in Olympic National Park

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18113 Upper Hoh Rd
Forks, WA 98331
(360) 374-6925
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Finally, we end with one of the most iconic and spots to salmon watch in the state: The Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. While the drive to get here and back may take a long time, the salmon watching and wilderness exploration in the Hoh is some of the best in America. Salmon swim through the small creeks each November and December, giving you a glimpse at an uninterrupted migration that has been going on for millennia as you weave your way between the changing leaves of the maple trees. Your best bet is to take the Hall of Mosses Trail, a short trip to a creek crossing with salmon swimming amongst the moss. Keep an eye out for bobcats, as they like to sit on the banks and scoop out a tasty meal.

A fish leaps up a small waterfall in a rocky landscape. Shutterstock

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1. Pipers Creek in Carkeek Park

Pipers Creek, Seattle, WA

Carkeek Park is a fantastic year-round outdoor recreation destination, but in October, November and December, the North Seattle Park becomes even more magical. Each fall, hundreds of chum salmon return to their birthplace to spawn in the best salmon-watching spot in the city. Check out the Carkeek Park Salmon Stewards Facebook page for a preview and to check their calendar for events. Weekends in November, the park has salmon stewards onsite from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer all of your salmon questions. 

Pipers Creek
Seattle, WA

2. Longfellow Creek in West Seattle

Longfellow Creek Trail, Seattle, WA 98106

From October through December—with early November typically the best time—Longfellow Creek in West Seattle is yet another fantastic salmon-watching spot in town. The best way to see salmon in the creek is to walk from the Dragonfly Garden at 28th and Dakota, then walk south along the trail. You may see coho and chum salmon here, depending on how warm the summer was. Before heading out to this family-friendly spot, make sure you check King County’s website for the park for viewing parties.

Longfellow Creek Trail
Seattle, WA 98106

3. North Creek in Bothell

North Creek, WA

For three straight months, the salmon run at North Creek in Bothell is a fantastic place to go and see the return of the fish. In September, the creek is full of returning chinook salmon, followed by sockeye salmon in October. In November, the salmon run winds down with the return of the coho, giving all who visit an incredible opportunity for multiple weekends of adventure and nature-watching. A trip here is self-guided, but following the North Creek Trail is simple to do and always a good walk. If salmon are hard to find, look under the bridges—this is where they often hide. 

4. Issaquah Creek

Issaquah Creek, Washington

One of the best places in the greater Seattle area to see salmon returning to spawn upstream is Issaquah Creek. What makes this location stand out is a hatchery to keep the salmon returning here year after year. At the hatchery, you’ll have both creekside viewing and a chance to look through glass windows into the fish ladders. During the salmon-spawning month, it also has free tours with a suggested donation of $2. In September and October, you’ll see chinook and sockeye, while November brings in the coho.

5. Chuckanut Creek in Bellingham

1700 Old Samish Rd, Bellingham, WA 98229

North of Seattle, Chuckanut Creek in Bellingham is a fun place to go if you’re looking for a salmon-viewing road trip. Running from October through December, with November typically being the best month, the salmon are best seen at the bridge that crosses the creek in Arroyo Park. This is the largest natural run of chum salmon run in Bellingham, and it’s always impressive to see. 

1700 Old Samish Rd
Bellingham, WA 98229

6. Nooksack River in Whatcom County

Nooksack River, Washington

Just outside of Bellingham is the Nooksack River, the salmon run brings in one of the most incredible displays of eagles anywhere in the contiguous United States from mid-November through January. As the chum salmon slowly start to decompose after arriving in freshwater and spawning, eagles from around the Pacific Northwest flock to the region in hopes for serious sustenance.

This amazing display is visible from the road, and is the perfect weekend trip. The bridge at Mosquito Lake Road just off Mount Baker Highway near Deming is the ideal spot to see dozens, if not hundreds, of bald eagles feasting on the remains of spawned-out salmon.

7. Swan Creek Park in Tacoma

3997 E Roosevelt Ave, Tacoma, WA 98404

South of Seattle, the salmon runs are equally impressive, and at Swan Creek Park in Tacoma you’ll find a family-friendly destination for salmon watching. Each year, this small creek becomes a salmon-spawning paradise, with naturalist-led walks and a salmon celebration taking place each year. If you miss the year’s events, fret not! In late November and early December, the easy-to-explore park is open for you to see the salmon on your own.

3997 E Roosevelt Ave
Tacoma, WA 98404

8. Fennel Creek in Bonney Lake

Fennel Creek, Washington

Fennel Creek, a large tributary to the Puyallup River near Tacoma, has estimated run of 15,000 salmon returning each year. Starting in late September and lasting through the month of November, watching the salmon here can feel surreal: This somewhat hidden trail system to the stream is surrounded by homes and developments and not quite the wilderness views one may expect, standing in contrast to the dense salmon run. While the typical salmon-watching look may be missing from this trail, it’s a great vantage point for watching spawning.

9. McLane Creek in Olympia

McLane Creek Nature Trail, Olympia, WA 98512

Just outside of Olympia, McLane Creek is a hidden gem for salmon watching in October, November, and even into December. McLane Creek becomes nearly stuffed to the gills (get it?) with chum salmon returning home. Splashing and jumping over logs, the spawning season is short and sweet, visible from numerous lookouts along the creek.

Each fall, McLane Creek swells with both the returning rain and the hundreds of salmon that worked their way up the narrow channel from the Puget Sound. In October and early November, volunteers help educate and point out the unique characteristics of the spawning salmon. Into December, the salmon still remain in the creek, but the surrounding trail system and forest nearly empty.

McLane Creek Nature Trail
Olympia, WA 98512

10. Hoh River in Olympic National Park

18113 Upper Hoh Rd, Forks, WA 98331
A fish leaps up a small waterfall in a rocky landscape. Shutterstock

Finally, we end with one of the most iconic and spots to salmon watch in the state: The Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. While the drive to get here and back may take a long time, the salmon watching and wilderness exploration in the Hoh is some of the best in America. Salmon swim through the small creeks each November and December, giving you a glimpse at an uninterrupted migration that has been going on for millennia as you weave your way between the changing leaves of the maple trees. Your best bet is to take the Hall of Mosses Trail, a short trip to a creek crossing with salmon swimming amongst the moss. Keep an eye out for bobcats, as they like to sit on the banks and scoop out a tasty meal.

18113 Upper Hoh Rd
Forks, WA 98331