The South Sound is filled with trails, both rural and urban, paved and rough, but few offer as much flexibility and trail nirvana as the Foothills Trail, which spans 25 miles between the very eastern end of Puyallup, Orting, Buckley and all the way out to Carbonado. With a number of trailheads, South Sound residents can hop on the trail at a variety of entry points and enjoy a bike ride, hike, or even a berry picking session during mid-summer.
The trail is also popular with equestrians as there’s a soft shoulder suitable for horses. And since many sections of the trail are paved, it’s also great for families with young children. Some even use the trail to get to work or run errands as it parallels major thoroughfares in some spots. There are a number of events along the trail throughout the year, too, including 5Ks, relay races, bike rides and marathons.
Like many other trails in the region, the Foothills Trail is a result of Rails-to-Trails. After Burlington Northern abandoned the rail bed that traces along the trail’s current path, locals teamed up with Pierce County Parks to purchase or gain donations of the former rail bed and turn it into a trail. Today, the project is ongoing with parts of the trail still unpaved and expansion plans for the future. The plans include connecting the trail to Puyallup’s Riverwalk Trail and eventually to trails in Tacoma and Sumner — and even expanding into King County to Enumclaw along the White River.
“The trail is significant to the City of Orting to the extent that the city police and fire department have the logo of the trail on their shoulder patches,” saysFoothills Rails to Trails Coalition President, Buzz Grant. “That is very significant given that back in the 1990s, the city fathers were very much against the concept of the trail. The Foothills Trail also has the distinct honor to be awarded as a National Recreation Trail by the Department of the Interior and National Park Service.”
The Foothills Trail is so long and varied that trail-goers can customize their experience by selecting the trailhead that’s closest or has the type of scenery they seek — or, if you’re in for the long-haul, start at the beginning and go all the way through.
“Most people know about the paved portion of the trail from the East Puyallup Trailhead through Orting and South Prairie with a gap that should be completed sometime in late 2017, then paved through Buckley to the White River,” adds Grant. “There is a section of the Foothills Trail in King County and up to and through Enumclaw. My personal favorite portion of the paved portion is east of Orting and along the Carbon River and Voight Creek Bridge.”
Choosing a Trailhead
The closest trailhead to Tacoma starts in East Puyallup. This four-mile section of trail is popular enough that you’ll see others, but not so popular that it’s crowded. You’ll pass by farms and enjoy beautiful views of Mount Rainier. In mid-summer, this is also possibly the most blackberry-dense trail you’ll find anywhere, as blackberry bushes line much of the pathway and are popping with fruit. Bring along a container and you’ll go home with a nice snack. The trail also parallels and crosses an active train track. This connects to the next part of the trail at the McMillan Trailhead, which leads to a 2.3-mile section that goes through Orting and is known for its scenery as well as the playground along the way.
“It’s such a long and wide trail that we can walk or bike for a long distance. It’s also nice and safe and flat, which is great for strollers. Orting Playground, a river and some cows are along the way too, so my kids love it,” says Julie Chisholm, a mother of three from Puyallup who has taken her family out on the trail a few times.
The longest section of the trail starts at the Orting Trailhead, and this section also has some special perks along it, including three rest stops, two salmon-bearing streams and eight bridges along the way.
“This is a great bike trail for the novice rider as it is free of pesky hills,” says Beth Davis, a Puyallup resident who enjoys bike riding on the trail. “You still get a great amount of cardio riding among the cow pastures, along the Carbon River with spectacular Mount Rainier views, while being entertained by lots of cows, deer and other critters. The little town of Orting offers a great place to take a break with many restaurants if you work up an appetite and also a nice park for the kiddos. There are many places to start and stop if you can’t make the full distance.”
The South Prairie Trailhead leads to Buckley and, as of summer 2016, is closed as part of the section gets paved. The next section of trail starts at the Buckley Trailhead, which is a 2.4-mile paved trail that ends at Cascade Junction.
The wildest part of the Foothills Trail starts at Wilkeson. This section of the trail goes out to Carbonado and is unpaved. Traditional bikes might not cut the mustard, but mountain bikes should be okay. Hikers can enjoy a wooded and shadier trail than parts of the trail closer into the cities.