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. Located just an hour east of downtown Seattle, the gnome trail is a collective art project.
This gnome filled .5 mile trail is in a state of constant change thanks to visitors who participate in this hiking trail turned art project.
About the Maple Valley Gnome Trail
The gnome trail is an easy hike for most age groups (although, note that it’s not stroller friendly). It has a good amount of incline, just enough for a nice stroll with slight exertion. The trail is well-maintained and unless there has been a recent storm, there is no standing water, excessive mud, fallen trees, etc.
Throughout Seattle’s Gnome Trail, visitors have placed garden gnomes in hollows, on branches, under outcroppings, and sometimes in plain sight. You’ll even find the occasional garden-fairy and genre-skipping Santa Claus! Delightfully, the gnomes aren’t just dropped in place but often artfully arranged in humorous situations.
The total gnome trail distance is about .5 miles, however the trail is interconnected with a larger trail system. Thanks to these nearby trails, you can include the gnome trail with a mile, 2 mile, or even 3 mile hike.
How to find the Maple Valley Gnome Trail:
In 2023, the Gnome Trail is located at the Legacy Site in Maple Valley. The trail was relocated there in 2020 – so watch out for online sources referencing the old location a few miles away!
Find the new Maple Valley Gnome Trail via this google maps link,
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! If you look up, 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 love this trail because it feels like a quintessential Pacific Northwest hike. Large trees, uneven terrain, and monstrous ferns create what feels to me like 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
- Contribute. 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.
- Be a Caretaker. Gnomes sometimes 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, it is also an excellent trail for novice solo hikers.
Solo hiking in the Cascades or on the Olympic Peninsula can be 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 much risk of 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!
Making the Trail a day trip
This collaborative art project combines physical movement, art, recycling, and community! It’s the perfect family activity. To turn this hike into a full day trip, consider also visiting:
- The Alaskan Dumpling Restaurant in nearby Maple Valley, which offers Russian dumplings and Russian tea service in a casual setting.
- On Saturdays, visit the Maple Valley Farmer’s Market from 9am to 2pm
- With a quick detour to Klay Crazy Ceramics in Auburn, WA you can paint your own garden gnome to rehome at the trail or bring home as a souvenir. (Handicrafts are one of the best souvenirs to bring back from any destination)
As of January 2023, the Maple Valley Gnome Trail Gnomes are thriving. Some portions of the trail have been affected by heavy rain and are in various states of being rebuilt. Regularly, some gnome statues meet their fate at the hands of vandals and are removed from the trail by volunteers. Despite challenges, this locally beloved trail continues to be maintained, and 2023 may be the best season yet!
💡 Insider tip: Regular visitors have warn me that there are frequent car break-ins in the Gnome trail parking area. When you visit, empty your car of anything that might attract the eye of a thief before setting out down the trail.
Maple Valley’s Gnome Trail’s Backstory: Gnomes Rehomed
The gnome trail began in 2019, however it became so popular during the shutdowns of 2020 that the original location became a problem. The trail was difficult to access without a long hike into the area. Soon, shortcut-takers 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, where they remain (and thrive!) in 2023.
The Trail Move
In response to these complaints, the community decide to move the gnome trail in late 2020. A new trail was cleared at a Maple Valley-owned wilderness area called The Legacy Site. The city of Maple Valley cleared a new trail specifically to rehome the beloved gnomes. In September of 2020, the gnomes were gathered up and relocated to the new site. However, 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-potties 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
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.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.