If you’re seeking a quirky half-day adventure near Seattle, look no further than the Maple Valley Gnome Trail in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains about an hour east of downtown Seattle.
The gnome trail is a collective art project, collaboratively in a state of constant creation and change thanks to visitors who participate in this hiking trail turned art project.
How to find the Maple Valley Gnome Trail:
The Gnome trail was moved in 2021- all gnomes were “humanely trapped” and “released” at a newly cleared trail located at the Legacy Site in Maple Valley. Find the new Gnome Trail via this google maps link, or use these via GPS coordinates for a more precise route to the trailhead.
As of January 2020, the Maple Valley Gnome Trail Gnomes are thriving. While some portions of the trail and, sadly, some gnome statues have been impacted by the torrential rains of winter 2021/2022, the trail is still fun and easily navigated (though not stroller friendly).
Regular visitors have reported a lot of car break-ins in the Gnome trail parking area, due to the relatively hidden parking area that’s easily accessible from populated areas, so be sure to empty your car of anything that might attract the eye of a thief before setting out down the trail.
What is the Maple Valley Gnome Trail?
The gnome trail is an easy hike for most age groups (although not stroller friendly). It has a good amount of incline, just enough for a nice stroll with slight exertion. The trail is well-maintained, with no particular parts difficult to traverse due to standing water, excessive mud, fallen trees, etc.
Throughout the woods, in this particular section, people have placed garden gnomes (with the occasional fairy garden decorations and genre-skipping Santa Claus). Delightfully, the gnomes aren’t just dropped in place but often artfully arranged in humorous situations.
Backstory: Gnomes Rehomed
The gnome trail became so popular in 2020 that trespassing on the private property surrounding the trail became a community concern. In response, all of the gnomes and their accessories were relocated to a new trail in late 2020.
Although the photos in this article are from the original Maple Valley Gnome Trail, you’ll find many of these gnomes in their new home on the new gnome hiking trail nearby.
In August 2020 a new trail was cleared at a Maple Valley-owned wilderness area called The Legacy Site. The city of Maple Valley has graciously created a new permanent home for all of the gnomes from the Maple Valley gnome trail at this new trail that was cleared specifically to create a home for the gnomes and all of their kin.
In September of 2020, Gnome trail fans gathered at the site of the old hiking trail to “capture and re-home all gnomes.” Gnomes were gathered up and relocated to the new site, although trail reports indicate a rouge gnome appears on the old trail now and then.
Official Facebook Page’s Announcement of New Maple Valley Gnome Trail Location
The Gnome’s Homes are now, officially, at the Maple Valley ‘Legacy Site’. This is situated across Hwy 169 from Rock Creek Elementary School. There is on-site parking, with access generally open daily from about 9:30 AM to dusk. There is a covered picnic area and there are porta poties on site. To get to the trail itself from the parking area, look up high for signs mounted in the trees.Maple Valley Gnome Trail Facebook Group
Unlike many other hiking trails, it’s easy to know when you have found the gnome trail, the evidence of gnomes peeking out from trees, rocks, and roots are a dead giveaway! – Though at certain points you will also find signage such as the sign pictured below.
Tips for Enjoying your Hike on this Unique Trail:
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I also enjoy this trail because it feels like a quintessential Pacific Northwest hike: Large trees, uneven terrain, and monstrous ferns turn this into what always feels to me to be a prehistoric setting. If you’re looking for a fun and easy hike to introduce “non-hikers” or out of town visitors to hiking in the Pacific Northwest, this hike is an excellent choice for all ages and family groups.
Participate in the Art
- Just like visiting the gum wall in Seattle, participation in a communal art project always makes an experience more memorable. Before your trip to the gnome trail, pick up a couple gnomes and/or fairy garden accessories to add your own contribution to the project.
- Gnomes sometimes perish (break) due to windstorms, fallen limbs, or the selfishness of vandals. If you encounter a broken gnome, pick up the pieces (if they aren’t sharp!) and carry them along with you on your hike – you’ll soon reach the gnome graveyard where broken gnomes are laid to rest in a communal home.
The Maple Valley Gnome trail is a perfect afternoon adventure for solo hikers, couples, and families. While this trail is most popular with young families due to the delightful trail decor, this is an excellent trail for novice solo hikers.
Solo hiking in the Cascades or on the Olympic Peninsula can be extremely dangerous (hikers go missing or get lost each year) but the Maple Valley gnome trail is rural enough to feel like you’re really hiking in the Pacific Northwest without the risk of losing the trail and becoming lost in the wilderness. In Maple Valley, even if you found yourself off-trail it wouldn’t be long before you ended up in a suburban backyard.
What are the gnome rules (rules for enjoying this trail)?
According to the signage at the official start of the gnome trail, here are the rules: “
We are shy, so you know.
You may look, or say “hello.”
But please don’t touch us,
or we might run into the woods and end the fun.”
How long is the New Maple Valley Gnome Trail?
The gnome loop in its new location in Maple Valley is exactly .5 miles long. Depending n which access point you enter the trail from, the walk from the parking lot to the hiking trail might be up to an additional quarter-mile.
Making the Trail a day trip
I adore this collaborative art project that combines physical movement, art, recycling, and community collaboration. To turn this into a fun day trip, and experience something else that the surrounding area has to offer, check out the Alaskan Dumpling Restaraunt in nearby Maple Valley, which offers Russian dumplings and Russian tea service in a casual setting.
Although this is the only collaborative art/hiking hybrid I know of, I hope that more will spring up. Do you know of any hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest or elsewhere that offer the opportunity to create art while exploring outdoors? If so, leave a comment in the comment section below.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com