Article by Megan Ewing

Visitors to Bellevue quickly discover a city like nowhere else — a place where a pristine cosmopolitan city center gives way in a mere heartbeat to breathtaking natural surroundings. No place is this easy city-to-nature transition more evident than at Mercer Slough Nature Park, a 320-acre natural area tucked away in the heart of Bellevue. This beautiful oasis is the largest of Lake Washington’s remaining wetlands, holding an incredibly diverse population of plants and animals — and it all lies just six minutes from downtown Bellevue. What are you waiting for? Take a break from the urban excitement to discover this world of natural wonders.

Hike the Trails

The three main trails of Mercer Slough Nature Park provide a little more than 7 miles of pathways for exploration through the wetland.

Bellefields Loop Trail is a 0.8-mile trail composed of wooden boardwalks and dirt paths. Located on the east side of the park, the trailhead lies just a short walk from the park visitor center. Or, if you’d rather, begin with an interactive learning session at the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center prior to stepping out on the trail. Apply your newfound knowledge to recognize plants and wildlife as you hike. Signs are also posted along the trail to help you learn more about the diverse habitat that surrounds you. This is a great hike for families.

Connecting to Bellefields Loop Trail, Heritage Loop Trail is a great stand-alone trek, or can provide a nice 1.1-mile extension for those who start out on the Bellefields Loops and decide they would like to expand their explorations. This loop path consists primarily of wooden boardwalks and dirt pathways, with some gravel patches along the way. The trail is lined by lush vegetation, bushes full of summer berries, and pretty pink hardhack blooms. Need a rest? Make a stop by the Winters House (learn more about this below) along the route to enjoy a picnic on the outdoor benches.

A concrete path that circles the perimeter of the park, the Periphery Trail is the perfect choice for joggers, walkers, and strollers. The full path is approximately 4 miles long, but a number of access points allow you to customize the length to your liking. Whether you choose to start your journey at the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center, Winters House, the blueberry farm, or the South Bellevue Park and Ride, you’ll be immediately transported to another world, wrapped up in the lush vegetation that surrounds your path.

Get Out on the Water

Want a twist on the traditional trail exploration experience? Step into a canoe or kayak and paddle your way along the Water Trail. A float down the slough can provide glimpses of some of the residents of the habitat, including great blue herons, bald eagles, jays, beavers, and otters, as well as wild iris and water lilies.

Only human-powered boats are allowed in the slough, preserving the serene experience. Bring your own kayak or canoe, or rent one at the REI Boathouse at Enatai Beach Park. Put in at the boathouse and paddle through Lake Washington into the slough, or choose to launch your boat from the Sweyolocken Boat Launch located inside Mercer Slough Nature Park. Whether you choose to paddle the 2.6-mile lollipop loop or venture out to carve your own path, the experience will be unlike any other, and the views will never disappoint.

Looking for a more educational experience? Join a park-ranger-led group paddle tour along the slough. On Saturdays and Sundays, from Memorial to Labor Day, enjoy a guided exploration of the park via canoe. Tours leave from Enatai Beach Park between 8:30 a.m. and noon.

Follow along as Bellevue Ambassador Kara Patajo spends a morning exploring Mercer Slough to get a first-hand look at all this incredible wetland oasis has to offer.

Learn More About the Slough

The programs at Mercer Slough Nature Park excel in educating the public about the beauty of Washington’s great outdoors. Through a partnership with the Pacific Science Center, the City of Bellevue has created the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center. The center’s buildings, including a wheelchair-accessible visitor center, classrooms, and a community building, all elevated into the tree canopy to preserve the forest floor below. The goal of the center is to provide access to information about the beauty of this diverse landscape and wetland, while also protecting it and the creatures that call it home.

The Environmental Education Center hosts art in nature classes, as well as nature walks on Saturday afternoons. Check out different displays detailing the park’s history and a library full of field guides, books and other park information. As an added bonus, be sure to take a moment to admire the city skyline views from the elevated boardwalk.

Bonus: Berry & More at the Blueberry Farm

The Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm offers fresh produce, flowers and other agricultural products for purchase from April to October. Operating hours are from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. In the warmer months, the farm opens up to visitors in another fun way, offering a U-pick blueberry experience. Enjoy a day of picking ripe, delicious blueberries right from the bush.

Bonus: A Visit to the Winters House

Head north from the Blueberry Farm to take a look at the Winters House. Originally owned by early Bellevue residents Frederick and Cecilia Winters, the 1920s Spanish-style villa became the first and only house in Bellevue to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Take a break from your nature park hike to get a glimpse of the lovely Spanish Eclectic style home, set to reopen to visitors in 2025.