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18 Gardens to Wander in this Winter

Arboretums and local gardens make great wintertime destinations. They're close to town and have relatively flat trail systems, so they're great for a casual stroll or practicing your macro photography.

Winter may seem like a strange time to head to a garden. Shrubs are dormant and the trees don't have leaves. But the stark outlines of twisting tree branches against clear, cold skies, give you a closer look at the intricate network of branches, the scaffolding that presents your favorite flower show every year.

Hard-to-spot interpretive signs are easier to see and read without a zillion leaves bursting every which way. And you can use the opportunity to be up-close to practice your macro photography.

Best of all, most of these locations are closer to town, with little elevation gain, and typically snow-free. So find a nearby park and take yourself or the whole family. If that includes a pup, remember to keep them on leash and pick up after them while you're there. 

Puget Sound Area

Bellevue Botanical Garden

Location: Bellevue

bellevue botanical garden_andrewJK.jpegThe Bellevue Botanical Garden on a wintry day. Photo by AndrewJK.

This gorgeous garden is a tranquil gem nestled in Wilburton Hill Park. Winding pathways lace these elegant gardens, and a 150-foot suspension bridge provides hikers and families with a visual cornucopia and gentle refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are nine distinct gardens maintained with the help of the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society, the City of Bellevue, local gardening groups and volunteers.

> Plan your visit to Bellevue Botanical Garden using WTA's Hiking Guide

Oak Tree Park

Location: Tacoma

Garry oaks like this one are stunning in full leaf, but in winter they're striking and beautiful in their sparseness. Photo by David Anderson.

Garry Oaks used to be widespread in the south part of Puget Sound. Their ecosystems were protected and managed by Native Americans to stop evergreen forests from taking over open areas, but now only a few examples remain. Oak Tree Park is one of those remnants. Spend a short time here, or sit under a tree for hours.

Bonus: Currently, we have no trip reports for this park. Be the first to write a report and show us some current photos of the area.

> Plan your visit to Oak Tree Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Seattle Chinese Garden

Location: Seattle

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Lush evergreens line the trails at the Seattle Chinese Garden. Photo by ejain.

This garden provides a peaceful retreat from the busyness of Seattle and is made possible by a partnership with Seattle's sister city in China: Chongqing. Chongqing helped develop the park in the style of Sichuan gardens, which function both as backdrops for civic celebrations and quiet contemplation. You'll find more quiet than celebration here, but the water features flowing through the park and rock formations reflect the natural landscape and provide a soundtrack to go with your walk.

> Plan your visit to Seattle Chinese Garden using WTA's Hiking Guide

Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden

Location: Federal Way

Rhody shoots make for a sparser photo. Photo courtesy David Anderson.

This fascinating garden comprises 22 acres of native forest intermingled with numerous other plant species, most notably rhododendrons. Crisscrossed with walking paths, this garden includes attractions like a magnolia grove, an azalea collection, an alpine garden, a stumpery (an area consisting of dead wood covered in mosses and ferns) and a conservatory. This garden also includes a Pacific Bonsai Museum showcasing some truly impressive trees.

Note: There is a price for admission here, but discounts for seniors and students are available. Young children and military personnel can get in free.

> Plan your visit to Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden using WTA's Hiking Guide

Snoqualmie Region

Meadowbrook Farm

Location: North Bend

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Elk are a common sight in winter at Meadowbrook. If you see them, be sure to give them plenty of space.

There are several different hiking options at this farm in the valley outside of Snoqualmie and North Bend. Choose a quarter-mile, kid-friendly option or a longer, 2-mile stroll. A boardwalk and paved trail are a good option for those visiting on wheels.

> Plan your visit to Meadowbrook Farm using WTA's Hiking Guide

Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park

Location: Ellensburg

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A monochrome walk at Irene Rhinehart is a wonderful way to experience winter. Photo by mytho-man.

This riverfront walk outside of Ellensburg is a stunner in all seasons, but in winter the trees drop their leaves and the branches outlined against the sky make intricate, arresting silhouettes. The rushing noise of the river accompanies you. Keep an eye out for birds fishing or flitting around. A small parking area with a restroom is a good place to start your walk along the forested riverbank. The trail starts here and parallels the river all the way to the other end of the park in just under 2 miles.

> Plan your visit to Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Northwest Washington

Evergreen Arboretum

Location: Everett

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The Olympic Mountains covered in snow from the arboretum in Everett. Photo by wafflesnfalafel.

This arboretum is located in northern Everett and is free and open to the public. Visitors can wander a series of looping and intersecting paths that go past the different themed areas: a fern garden, a maple grove, a rock garden, and many others. Most of the plants here are cultivated species, but there is a small section of native plants as well.

> Plan your visit to Evergreen Arboretum using WTA's Hiking Guide

Washington Park

Location: Anacortes

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The twisting madrona trees and straight firs make for fascinating scenery at Washington Park. Photo by Marin.

Featuring commanding maritime views, rainforest and open, stony hillsides, Washington Park is a spectacular destination, though it's not quite a true garden. Even so, you'll wonder at the trees in the area, from twisted madronas to tall, straight firs. For the most part, the area is well signed, but a few key trail junctions may lack. This situation is complicated by the many social trails that compete for hikers' attention. Luckily, with a good map (available here) you should be good to go. 

> Plan your visit to Washington Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Four Springs Nature Preserve

Location: Camano Island

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Historic buildings at Four Springs Preserve. Photo by geezerhiker.

This charming little nature preserve on Camano Island offers loops of nature trails; a perfect little place to explore with young kids or simply get outside for a quick leg stretch. The event center is closed right now, but the historic buildings will still provide nice photo opportunities.

> Plan your visit to Four Springs Nature Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide

Sehome Arboretum

Location: Bellingham

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View from the watchtower at the top of Sehome Hill. Photo by Evan Sacker.

Nestled between Western Washington University and a local high school, Sehome Hill is a little pocket of nature in the heart of Bellingham. The 180-acre arboretum offers visitors a network of trails that wind through lush, second-growth forest along with a few interesting human-made features, including interpretive displays. Plus, winter is the best time to visit, since the foliage is off the trees and you have the best chance of good views from the top.

> Plan your visit to Sehome Arboretum using WTA's Hiking Guide

Southwest Washington

Fallen Leaf Lake

Location: Vancouver

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This city park provides an excellent retreat from the busy area of Vancouver and Portland in the small suburb of Camas. There are numerous trails to be explored, including one that encompasses the lake, beginning from the south side. Connect to it using the popular Lacamas Heritage Trail or the Round Lake trail.

> Plan your visit to Fallen Leaf Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Lake Sacajawea

Location: Longview

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This centerpiece of Longview has a variety of small gardens dotting the perimeter that provide somewhere to slow down or sit quietly during your walk or run. There's a small rhododendron and azalea garden on the east side of the lake, Lions' Island, which features a totem pole and a small gazebo, or the Japanese garden on an island in the lake. Stop at all three, or spend some quality time in just one spot.

> Plan your visit to Lake Sacajawea using WTA's Hiking Guide

Olympic Peninsula

Grass Lake

Location: Olympia

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A quiet day at Grass Lake. Photo by Doug H.

A peaceful walk around wetlands, this is perfect for someone who wants to experience a little bit of nature in the middle of Olympia. The tract of wetlands is well-preserved despite being close to town, making the park an attraction for bird-watchers and plant-lovers of the city of Olympia. Stop to watch birds on the lake or have a picnic. There’s a little clearing with a nice sitting-rock in the middle along with the lake view.

> Plan your visit to Grass Lake using WTA's Hiking Guide

Peabody Creek Nature Trail

Location: Port Angeles

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Find nature close to home on the Peabody Creek Trail. Photo by Strider.

Found on the outskirts of Port Angeles, the Peabody Creek Trail starts out from the Olympic National Park Visitors Center and follows Peabody Creek through a quiet wooded ravine for 2.8 miles. It’s an excellent short hike for visitors, locals, and trail runners alike.

> Plan your visit to Peabody Creek Nature Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Eastern Washington

Bennington Lake

Location: Walla Walla

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Big views at Bennington Lake. Photo by Rodney L.

The trail system at Bennington Lake offers views for days, miles of trails, and as a nationally-recognized birding area, wildlife sightings as well! For the most "garden-like" experience, try the Meadowlark or Kingfisher trails, which has more trailside flora. Dramatic views like those above can be had from the parking area, as well as the trails themselves.

> Plan your visit to Bennington Lake using WTA's Hiking Guide

Finch Arboretum

Location: Spokane

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Here's a 65-acre park just minutes southwest of downtown Spokane. The site is an extensive botanical and tree garden with more than 2,000 labeled ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers. Year-round highlights include a rhododendron glen, an array of conifers, and an extensive collection of maple tree, and you can take a 1.25-mile self-guided tour around the perimeter to get the full experience. 

> Plan your visit to Finch Arboretum using WTA's Hiking Guide

Central Washington

Yakima Area Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Location: Yakima

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The Japanese Garden at the Yakima River arboretum is a lovely, quiet garden to visit. Photo by Bob and Barb.

The arboretum is located between the Yakima River and Interstate 82 and contains a multitude of different tree collections, most of which are labelled so visitors can learn as they walk along. In addition to the cultivated gardens, there is also a large natural area along the river and several ponds and wetlands sprinkled throughout the grounds.

> Plan your visit to Yakima Area Arboretum and Botanical Garden using WTA's Hiking Guide

Chamna Natural Preserve

Location: Tri-Cities

Cold winter skies and stark branches at Chamna Natural Preserve. Photo by bookaholicmom.

Chamna Natural Preserve is a 276-acre park hidden in central Richland along the Yakima River. Despite its relatively small size, Chamna has an extensive trail network, with more than 11 miles of named trails maintained by the Tapteal Greenway for hiker, biker, and equestrian use. The riparian nature of the park makes it an oasis for wildlife in a part of the state dominated by dry shrub-steppe habitat.

> Plan your visit to Chamna Natural Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide