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The Washington Park Arboretum is full of unique and beautiful plants. (Rebecca Mongrain/Seattle Refined)

Discover magic in the Washington Park Arboretum

Nestled along the shores of Lake Washington, the Washington Park Arboretum is a magical place for an afternoon exploration. The 230+ acres of lush and diverse greenery along with miles of bike paths, hiking and running trails offer a tranquil and magical respite from busy Seattle. A joint effort between the City of Seattle and the University of Washington horticultural department, the Washington Park Arboretum offers something for everyone from recreation and research to exercise and exhibition.

The Arboretum has some of the best running paths in town. You'll race past tens of thousands of trees while taking in the beauty of the park. Head north along the Arboretum Waterfront Trail toward the Union Bay Natural Area along a boardwalk for a beautiful view. Looping past Husky Stadium might enable you to catch a glimpse of turtles sunning themselves on logs.

The hiking trails are perfect for an afternoon amble. One of the most popular thoroughfares is Azalea Way which is wildly popular in the springtime due to its' unique tapestry of azaleas in a variety of colors. From Azalea Way, a network of trails branch off past mirrored ponds full of lily pads, dense forests of pine trees and open meadows. The Witt Winter Garden shines at this time of year with tall cedars and firs circling a central lawn. The smaller trees and shrubs provide a burst of color. Photographers and Nature-lovers alike should take some time to explore the flora of Pacific Rim countries ranging from China to Chile in the Pacific Connections section. The Latin names for each tree species can be found inconspicuously along the park walkways.

Stop by the Graham Visitors Center to find out more about the Arboretum at the information desk or to pick up a few books in the gift shop which is managed by the Arboretum Foundation. The visitor's center is located at the northeast corner of the park with some of the best places to park and head out on your adventure. Free tours are available from January through November along with audio tour guides if you'd rather go at your own pace. Players can be rented at the visitor's center or audio files can be downloaded off the Arboretum website. They've also recently updated the arboretum maps for better use on smartphones.

The Arboretum offers a mountain of educational opportunities for the life-long learner and serious researcher.

No visit to the Arboretum is complete without a stop at the Japanese Garden, located at the south end of the Arboretum. The Japanese Gardens do have an entrance fee but the small cost is well worth it. This 3 1/2 acre formal gardens was designed by world-renowned Japanese garden designer Juki Iida in 1960. The gardens are closed for the winter but will re-open in March. The Official Garden Opening on March 6th is a beautiful way to experience the gardens.

An afternoon or morning in the Washington Park Arboretum can lead to magical discoveries. Venture along the trails to find your own secret spots, full of delight and discovery. Every visit to the arboretum leads to new adventures and memories.