Hamlin Park, the largest and oldest park in the city of Shoreline, is named for the pioneering Hamlin family who had a homestead in the area in the late 19th century. During their tenure, the Hamlins logged much of the area, but the forest gradually returned. Today many second-growth trees here are over 100 years old. Mostly you will see cedars and firs, along with a few madrones and a variety of other deciduous trees.
As in any urban park, you are free to explore trails on your own. Or, if you prefer a more structured approach that gets to the most interesting parts of the park, here is a suggested route.
Begin at the parking lot and picnic area near the restroom and head west past the children's playground and, somewhat incongruously, past a pair of large cannons mounted in concrete bases (for an explanation, see the Historical Note at the bottom of this page.)
Continue on to the next parking lot and find an ongoing trail at its northern end. There are no trail signs in the park, and apparently no official trail names. To ease navigation on this route, we refer to the trail that begins here and follows a former stream bed north as the "Main Trail."
Begin by hiking north on the Main Trail. It starts out wide and graveled with log borders. Farther along, it narrows and becomes somewhat grassy. But it has a steady, gentle uphill slope and it's accessible to wheelchairs to within a few feet of its northern end. There, about a half-mile from the parking lot, a few stairs lead out to the northern park boundary at NE 168th St. As you hike this trail you will see a number of side trails on both sides of the route, some with impressive, rustic staircases.
When you reach NE 168th St turn around and head back, and be prepared to explore some of those side trails. In about 400 feet, head up the stairs to your right. They lead to a turn-around at the dead end of NE 166th St. Look around, then return back down the stairs. As you descend note the picturesque madrone tree overhanging the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, just a few feet to your right, seek out a small, easily overlooked, ground-level stone plaque. You might expect a memorial to a person, or perhaps to a pet. But it's neither. It's a public art project titled "Pacifying the Dragon" inspired by a Hakka Chinese tradition.
Continue back down the Main Trail another 400 feet or so and be alert for a side trail on the right. If you look closely in the shrubs to the right of the trail you will see a sign post labeled "B16." Posts such as this one with red and white triangles at the top, and others that are all white, were placed in the park by the Cascade Orienteering Club (the club sometimes sponsors routefinding events here.)
The white posts with what, at the top, appears to be a letter "V" turned on its side or upside down serve as route indicators. Think of them as abbreviated arrowheads, indicating the direction of the ongoing trail. These are particularly helpful here, where there are multiple intersecting paths. For the next few turns your route will follow them.
The white posts will take you on a route that leads past the dead end of NE 165th St, meanders a bit, then bends around to the left and leads back down to the Main Trail. (From there, the ongoing white posts would return you to the parking lot. Our suggested route will go the other way.)
Head back north on the Main Trail for about 400 feet, then turn right on the obvious side trail. In 100 feet, turn left onto a trail that heads up the slope and has a short staircase visible at its upper end. At the top of those stairs take the trail branch to the right (the more prominent branch to the left leads out to NE 165th St.)
Your ongoing trail then follows an arc around to the left, and it will lead you to the head of a very impressive staircase. Descend (and admire) those stairs. Cross a gully at the bottom, and follow the ongoing trail to the right. Soon, the trail heads left, then bends around right and becomes approximately parallel to NE 165th St. Short side trails lead out to intersections with 21st Ave NE and 22nd Ave NE. You can check them out if you like.
When you come to a prominent trail branch to the right, take it. It leads to another impressive set of stairs that head downhill. At the very bottom of the stairs there is a usually-locked gate that, if open, would take you out onto a runners' track that surrounds an athletic field. To avoid this dead end - or being trampled by runners - take the side trail that heads right about 100 feet before the bottom of the stairs. Continue on it and look ahead for the trail that initially leads slightly uphill to the left. Take it, and when that trail forks, take the left branch that leads back downhill.
Follow this trail all the way to the paved sidewalk at the bottom. Head right on the sidewalk for a short while. When you see a side trail to the right that parallels the sidewalk, take that trail as far as it goes. It will lead you back out to the paved sidewalk. Follow the sidewalk around past a sculptural installation that looks like a series of large colored spheres, then bend right a bit and return to your starting point at the picnic area next to the restroom.
Extending your hike
Hamlin Park has many additional trails, and more stairs. The route described above will give you a good introduction to the terrain and vegetation. You could easily spend an afternoon exploring other trails and staircases on your own. To begin, retrace your steps to any staircases that you saw but did NOT ascend and see where they lead. Then, explore trails both to the west and to the southeast of what is described here. It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a little-used official trail and a well-used social trail so, during your explorations, use your best judgement to stay on official trails.
Historical Note: The two cannons offer an unexpected link between Hamlin Park and Seattle's Discovery Park. Formerly, they were associated with a US Navy Hospital, built in the 1920s, that was located just south of the present Hamlin Park. But originally the cannons were mounted on the cruiser USS Boston, launched in 1884 as one of the first steel-hulled warships in the US Navy. The Boston saw action at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War of 1898, when the Philippines were seized from Spanish colonial control. The Filipinos already had proclaimed a Philippine Republic and, after 333 years of Spanish rule, they hoped to be independent. But instead, the American forces stayed on, eventually taking military control of most of the islands after the 3-year Philippine-American War (formerly referred to as the "Philippine Insurrection.") General Henry Lawton, who as a young Lieutenant many years earlier had been instrumental in the capture of Apache chief Geronimo, was killed in the Philippine conflict. Seattle's Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park) was named in his honor. Philippine independence did not come for another 44 years, at the end of the Second World War.