Washington Park Arboretum

The northwestern entrance of the WPA.

[Editor’s Note: “A breath of fresh air” is a twice-a-month column that unearths local nature-escapes embedded in our metropolitan environment and is specifically concerned with highlighting the benefits that spending time in the great outdoors can have on our holistic well-being.]

As the leaves transition from cool greens to warm shades of red, orange, and yellow, rainy Washington days will become the norm for the next few months. 

With autumn quarter under way, the focus usually shifts to books and screens. Instead of hitting the beach, climbing mountains, or chasing waterfalls, we find ourselves confined by four walls, whether that be in a dorm room, a classroom, or a library. 

While checking items off your to-do list, remember that no priority is as significant as your well-being. The foundation for a successful academic, personal, and work life rests upon a healthy body, mind, and spirit. A simple technique to heighten mental and physical health is green exercise, which is physical activity that occurs al fresco. 

According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, green exercise combines the health benefits of physical exercise and spending time in nature. It has been found to positively affect mood and self-esteem as well as decrease blood pressure.

Although it is situated in the 20th largest city in America, the UW campus is in close proximity to a variety of nature escapes ranging from city parks to the Cascade Mountain range. To experience rich forestry firsthand, one needs only to venture slightly over a mile from the south end of campus to the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA).

On city-owned land, the UW College of the Environment’s Botanic Gardens nurtures plant life at the WPA, with the exception of the city-managed Japanese Garden. The park’s 230 acres are home to an array of trees, flowers, and plants with origins across the globe.

Due to the immense collection of towering trees, stepping into the park immediately feels like you are far from the city without ever leaving the Montlake area. Extensive walking and running trails run the periphery of the area and pass by the duck pond, rhododendron garden, lookout gazebo, and visitor center. Wildlife, such as the mallard duck, blue heron, and Canadian geese can be spotted throughout the park. Eastern gray squirrels, the same type that are commonly seen on the UW campus, are very prevalent. Due to the diversity of the plant and animal life, the view changes constantly as you walk along any path in the park.

For those searching for a new, refreshing spot to study, read, or just relax, there are numerous benches and grassy areas along the trails to choose from. The visitor center, located in the southeastern area, offers free park maps and information. The area also has public restrooms, drinking fountains, and a bookstore with environmentally-focused merchandise. Outdoor tables and seating are located outside of the center. Tours, including a self-guided audio tour, are available according to the online schedule. 

Admission to the WPA is free; however, the city-operated Japanese Garden inside of the WPA charges an entrance fee. The WPA is accessible via bus, car, or by foot. Due to a construction project, detours from the southern portion of Arboretum Drive East are in place until Oct. 16. For those with a green thumb, volunteer position applications with the UW Botanic Gardens are available online.

The WPA’s spaciousness, diverse plant collections, and close proximity to campus make it an ideal park for those looking to adventure without leaving the city, to escape the hustle and bustle of campus, or to enjoy the vividly warm touch that autumn brings upon the trees. 

Reach writer Kara Patajo at wellness@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @karapatajo

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