Buckley Gulch is the kind of place a lot of people drive past and think, “Hmm… I wonder what’s down there.” but never actually take the time to find out. It’s so densely forested that even driving over it on the N. 21st St. bridge, you may not even realize you’re on a bridge. The N. Yakima Ave. bridge just north of there allows a deeper view into the gulch but to get the full experience, you have to see it from the bottom.
There are two ways to enter the gulch. One is from the north end by way of Catherine Ursich Park in Old Town. The other is by way of a skinny and steep trail off the east end of the N. Yakima Ave. bridge. The gravel path leading into the north end of the gulch is buzzing with Great Golden Digger Wasps and the underside of the bridge is littered with the detritus of homeless camps and illegal dumping. If you’re not particularly bothered by any of that, you’ll still have to get over the pervasive funk of raw sewage.
It’s unclear how much of the smell comes from the heavily polluted creek running through the gulch and how much of it is simply wafting out from the dozen or so manholes marking the low points of the gulch. Every gulch in the north end except Mason has sewer lines running through it but this one seems to make it particularly obvious. Oh, and in 1972 a teenager was stabbed to death with a pitchfork right near the southern trailhead.
Still interested? Good. Buckley Gulch is like an untamed version of Puget Creek Natural Area, a half mile to the northwest. The canopy is so thick, sunlight only reaches the bottom of the gulch in dappled spots despite the wide openness of space between the trees and the undergrowth. The understory is overflowing with enormous sword ferns, horsetails, skunk cabbage, and watercress. The gulch is not very long but the trail winds side to side and you can easily spend a long time exploring all its details.