For a long time, I’d been curious about Saint Edward State Park, the largest undeveloped area on Lake Washington. Visiting it recently, I discovered a wonderful day-use park with sprawling lawns, picnic areas and forested trails that loop and lead to a small shore with a view across the lake.
A surprise was the park’s immediate neighbor, Bastyr University, which offers degrees in natural health sciences. Its many gardens, reflexology foot path, ethnobotanical walking trail, bookstore and Dining Commons are all open to the public. I meandered past fascinating medicinal and culinary herbs in the garden and then enjoyed delicious, healthy cuisine at a student-oriented price.
Located on the east side of Lake Washington south of Kenmore, Saint Edward State Park occupies 326 acres of a former Catholic seminary. The Romanesque Revival-style brick building remains and is currently being renovated for public use.
Saint Edward Seminary was founded by Seattle’s first bishop, Edward O’Dea, who contributed much of his personal wealth to its establishment. It was the first successful Catholic seminary in the Pacific Northwest and the first accredited Catholic seminary university in the United States. Constructed in 1931, it served students until 1976.
Today you’ll find grassy fields surrounding the seminary building, perfect for kids’ romping and games. First-come, first-served picnic tables are close by, plus an area of picnic tables that large groups can reserve. There are also ball fields and a big toy playground popular with kids.
From the seminary area, you can hike forested trails down to the lakefront — approximately a 400-foot descent, depending on the trail you choose. There is no vehicle access. The main — and easiest — trail is 2/3-mile each way. Check the kiosk for trail maps and information, as you may want to opt for one of the loop trails that can be up to three miles round trip. Be aware that some trails are designated for mountain biking, a popular activity here.
You’ll hike through a dense canopy of Douglas fir, western red cedar, western hemlock, bigleaf maple and Pacific madrone. One trail goes past the Grotto, a serene, river-rock alcove once used by seminary priests. It can be reserved for weddings, memorial services and special events.
At the lakeshore, you’ll find a small, rocky beach area where you can wade, swim if you’re brave, or simply enjoy the tranquil setting and view west across Lake Washington. Toilet facilities are there, as they are near the seminary building before you begin your hike.
Because Saint Edward is a state park, visitors must have an annual Discover Pass or purchase a one-day pass ($10) at the automated pay station in the 140-car parking lot. And as in all state parks, dogs are welcome on leash with scoop law in effect. Park hours are from 8 a.m. to dusk year-round.
Just down the road within the park area is the 51-acre Bastyr University campus. Its original building was constructed in 1959 as part of the Catholic seminary, and it has been used by Bastyr University since 1996 with several expansions.
Visitors need to register at the office to get a parking voucher and then can explore many areas. Walk through the gardens behind the main building to see medicinal herbs such as black cohash and those used in traditional Chinese medicine. The botanical medicine students grow and harvest these herbs to create medicinal tinctures and salves. Other garden areas feature culinary herbs and organic vegetables, grown for the university’s whole-food kitchen lab.
Then walk the first public reflexology foot path in North America. Bastyr’s 65-foot-long, river-rock path is based on ancient concepts from Egypt, India and China. It is designed to massage and stimulate acupressure points in the soles of the feet that connect to energy meridians of the body. A detailed sign illustrates all the pressure points — which I was surprised to learn are different in the right and left feet.
You can also explore the Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail, created in 2012 as part of an international project to connect communities to native plants. The one-mile trail includes native plant meadows, forest and wetland.
From fall to spring, one-hour guided tours are offered for groups (10 -25 people) of the medicinal herb garden and Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail for $10 per person. For more information, call 425-602-3195.
Combine your explorations of Bastyr with a meal in its award-winning Dining Commons. I sampled an intriguing lunch of turkey-bean croquettes in tomatillo sauce, BBQ tofu with red and green peppers, coconut mashed yams and Brazilian “cheesy poofs.” Everything was incredibly tasty – especially the mashed yams, to my surprise. And everything uses fresh ingredients, many harvested from Bastyr’s organic vegetable and herb gardens. The hot menu changes daily. A great salad bar, fresh baked goods, vegan and gluten-free items are also offered.
The Dining Commons is cafeteria-style, so you dish up what you choose onto a plate or bowl, then pay by weight: $10 per pound. It is open daily; hours vary by quarter, so check the website.
And before you leave Bastyr, pop into its bookstore to peruse books ranging from healing to healthful cooking and travel, plus natural health products, apparel and gifts. Also peek into the Bastyr Chapel, known for its rich European décor and acoustics, if it’s not in use. Here concerts are performed, especially during the holiday season.
Saint Edward State Park
14445 Juanita Dr. N.E.
Kenmore, WA 98028
14500 Juanita Dr. NE
Kenmore, WA 98028
— By Julie Gangler
Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.