While Union Bay Natural Area doesn’t seem very big, measuring in at 74 acres, it’s the second largest natural system on Lake Washington. The Waterfront trail is a short loop that will take you by a couple of ponds and also provide sweeping views of Lake Washington. This area is very popular with birders, as you can expect to see numerous kinds of waterfowl and birds. The waterfront trail can be combined with the Yesler Swamp trail, which has a number of raised platforms to take you through the bog.
I was unsure where I was going to park prior to coming, but found a free parking lot with tons of empty spaces right near the Soest Herbaceous Display Garden. I took a dirt road which looped behind the Center for Urban Horticulture, and hooked up with NE Wahkiakum Lane, which was a nice wide open gravel road that took me past a typically lush Northwest forest and then into a more open country with grass and smaller trees.
At the first junction with the Waterfront Trail, I decided to continue on NE Wahkiakum Lane and take the Waterfront Trail loop counterclockwise - no particular reason behind the decision, it’s safe to assume either direction will give you great views of Lake Washington, as well as the ponds. As I walked around Carp Pond, I noticed some ducks as well as a Blue Heron, and I was able to walk up to the edge of Carp Pond and snap a photo of the Blue Heron. Afterwards, I noticed that many of the people walking this loop had either binoculars and or DSLR cameras with huge lenses - this is obviously a good spot to watch birds.
I continued along the Waterfront trail, and noticed a side trail headed up to Central Pond had a number of people on it, so opted to continue along the Waterfront. A lot of the area near the water had fencing around it, and the signs indicated they were trying to rehabilitate the area. There were still a number of places where you could get close to the water and get great views of Lake Washington. And every time I got the near the water I saw ducks or geese or some other bird.
I sat on a bench of a second to take in views of the lake, and then continued along the loop before getting back on NE Wahkiakum Lane. I decided to head towards the buildings and walk around front of the Center for Urban Horticulture, which took me through the Soest Herbaceous Display Garden - it was interesting to see how they had segmented the plants by the the type of soil and amount of sun they like to receive. As I neared the car, I noticed there was another trail through the Yesler Swamp, which I had never heard of. It looked like a quick hike, so I went for it.
The Yesler Swamp trail mostly consists of a raised wooden platform which takes you through the swamp, which is thick with trees. It’s a nice contrast to the Waterfront Trail, and halfway through the loop it opens up and you can see Lake Washington. All along the trail are a number of signs providing information about the area. I was glad I opted to take the short hike through the swamp.
While it's a short hike, even throwing in the Yesler Swamp loop, it's beatiful and defintely worth it, especially if you get to see a Great Heron!