It's astonishing to find, in the middle of West Seattle, as many old growth trees as you might see in a whole season of hiking at Tiger Mountain. But Schmitz Preserve Park offers exactly that! The 53.1 acre park was formed from land donated to the city between 1908 and 1912, before the area had been completely logged. The largest parcel was donated by German immigrants Ferdinand and Emma Schmitz, after whom the park is named.
There is no entry fee, and official park hours are daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The park offers 1.7 miles of hiking trails. Since there are no trail signs in the park you may want to print a trail map in advance. Go to www.seattle.gov/parks/search.htm, enter "Schmitz Preserve" in the search window and, when you get to the park page, click on "Hiking Trails."
As you walk the trails be alert for a few exceptionally large conifers, and reflect that trees like these once were common throughout the Puget Sound area. Early in the season you will see the yellow hoods of skunk cabbage, along with blooms of Indian plum, salmon berry, Oregon grape, bleeding heart and trillium. You may hear the loud calls of pileated woodpeckers and flickers, and are likely to see a number of frisky squirrels. Raccoons also are present, but are mostly nocturnal. This is just a hint of the diversity of plants and animals you might see in the park. For more complete lists, check the Ecology page at the website of the Friends of Schmitz Preserve.
Begin your hike at the corner of SW Admiral Way and SW Stevens St, next to a signboard. The first part of your hike is on what appears to be a narrow paved street. Many years ago cars could drive a short way into the park on "Schmitz Boulevard," and that road still appears on some street maps. The route once led to a small parking lot, and to a picnic area graced with a pergola. Unfortunately, those amenities often were vandalized and they were removed in the late 1940s. Today, the street is gated and is part of the park's trail system.
The trails lead generally upstream along Schmitz Preserve Creek and its small tributaries, with some routes reaching higher points on the southern, eastern or western park boundaries. If you like to explore, you can simply meander the trails with a map in hand. Or, for a more structured hike follow the suggestions here.
About 700 feet from the trailhead come to a trail fork and stay left. In another 500 feet come to another trail fork and stay left again. After 350 additional feet, come to a trail crossing. You can explore the left branch if you like. It gains about 150 feet to reach the eastern boundary of the park at SW Hinds St, next to a storm water pumping station. If you elect to do this side trip, afterwards you'll need to backtrack to the trail crossing. To explore this branch, head sharply left upstream.
In 600 feet or so, come to a trail junction. Beyond this point the route becomes steeper and more primitive, and there may be blowdowns. You can explore it if you like, but fortunately there is an easier alternative!
At the trail junction, when you are contemplating that very first blowdown, look off to your right. You will discover another trail heading gently uphill. It's not shown on your map but it does seem to be a well-maintained trail, likely intended as a replacement for the route that has all the obstacles. It climbs steadily through a few switchbacks and arrives at the southern park boundary at the corner of SW Orleans St and 53rd Ave SW, where you will have come up about 220 feet from your trailhead. A neighbor there has erected wood sculptures of creatures both real and mythical that gaze out whimsically on the trail.
Well, it's a small park and already you have hiked from the trailhead up to the southern boundary, and perhaps taken that optional side-trip to the eastern boundary too. Now you need to return to that trail junction by the first log blowdown. There, as you are facing downhill, the trail fork to your right is the one you arrived on. So, to add some variety on your return, take the left fork now.
In about 1,000 feet pass a trail junction and continue on down the canyon. In another 200 feet or so you may notice a good trail heading gently uphill to your left. If you were to explore that route it would climb about 75 feet and take you to the west park boundary at Hanford St. But, perversely, you would find a sign there, facing the street, announcing that the trail is closed and that you should not enter! Of course that's not mentioned at the lower end of the trail.
Back on the main trail, a few feet downstream from the route that leads up to Hanford St, come to another trail junction. The right fork crosses the creek on a rustic set of stones and rejoins the trail you hiked in on, and that will take you back to your trailhead.
If, instead, you were to take the left trail fork it would follow along the creek, pass under the SW Admiral Way Bridge with its profusion of colorful graffiti art, then continue on to reach the Alki Playfield. You can take that side trip if you like although it's less scenic than the rest of the park. If you do, then you'll need to return to the creek crossing to find the route that takes you back to your trailhead.
On the routes mentioned above you will be hiking mostly east of the creek on your hike in, and mostly west of the creek on your return. The map indicates a number of other short trails between these two routes, and they are worth exploring. The entire park includes only 1.7 miles of trails, so you can easily hike them all in a morning or an afternoon.