Swan Creek Park is located on Tacoma’s Eastside. It’s a park that’s been around quite a while, yet has often not gotten much buzz despite the fact that it’s one of T-Town’s finest forested places. However, that’s changing.
The past few years have brought some pretty awesome improvements to the park’s 290 acres, and there are more improvements to come. Whether you love to hike, garden or mountain bike, Swan Creek is an exceptional place to play outdoors all year round.
Since the very beginning, Swan Creek Park has been a place for hikers. There are trailheads located throughout the Eastside that offer different hiking experiences. The main trail through the park stretches between two of the trailheads—one just off 56th and Portland, and the other at 2820 Pioneer Way—and measures almost 2.5 miles. Unlike other trails right in Tacoma’s city limits, this one will give you a work out with a 350-foot elevation gain between the entrance off Pioneer Way and the end point at 56th Street. Walk the entire trail, turn around and walk all the way back to your car, or go with a friend and park cars at both entrances.
Along the way, you’ll follow Swan Creek, located at the bottom of a ravine. At times, you’ll cross right over the creek, and other parts of the trail take you far above it. Also unlike other trails in the city limits, you may or may not see anyone else once you get deeper into the park, or you might cross with another person or two at most. The trails are quiet, serene and will make you feel in touch with why you live in the Northwest.
The 2.5-mile Swan Creek Trail is sometimes narrow and almost always uneven, so it requires a good level of fitness to take on if you go all the way through or enter at 56th Street. But for families, enter at Pioneer Way and you can enjoy flat, dirt trails around a small pond and picnic areas just off the parking lot.
You can also join up with the main trail right at its center via the 42nd and Roosevelt trailhead. This trailhead has a nice, paved parking lot, a picnic area and is much more groomed than the other two. The Lister Overlook Trail leaves from this trailhead, and has very little elevation change. It connects to the Canyon Overlook Trail, which also goes through the heart of the park, but doesn’t have the heady elevation gains of the main Swan Creek Trail. Entering at 42nd and Roosevelt is also the best way to go if you prefer paved trails.
Mountain Bike Trails
While Swan Creek’s hiking trails have been around a long time, some newer trails are making the park a standout in the region—mountain biking trails. Beyond Swan Creek, the nearest mountain bike trails require driving 45 minutes out of town, which can be tough for younger riders, casual or beginner riders, families or people who want to hit the trails after work.
“Swan Creek Mountain Bike Trails are the only official mountain bike trails in the city,” says Brian Tustison, one of the main trail builders. “They provide an opportunity to get out and ride your bike on dirt trails in an environment that feels remote while being only 15 minutes from downtown Tacoma. The trails serve to provide a positive opportunity for the local and surrounding community with progressive features for everyone, from beginners and families to experienced riders.”
The mountain bike trails are located just off of the 56th Street trailhead. There’s curbside parking and you only have to take a few steps from the street before you find the bike trails. Venture in deeper and you’ll find jumps and other features. Trails are labeled on the map posted at the entrance as well as on the MetroParks website. Skill levels and types include easy trails, freeride trails, cross-country trails, and drop zones and pump tracks. For beginners, look to the trail that starts just off 56th Street—Hustle and Flow, which is also the trail that all the others branch off from.
“Personally I really like the trail, ‘Major Tom.’ It incorporates a mix of speed and technical challenges such as a log jump between trees, and semi blind jumps that require commitment to ride successfully. The most popular trail feature is the road gap on Ground Control,” says Tustison. “We also have practice skinnies (narrow logs to ride along), the Drop Zone where you can practice different sized drops, and an easy jump trail called Jumpin’ Zac Flash for skill building.”
The bike trails are also open to pedestrians and hikers, but those on foot must yield to those on bikes. Tustison recommends hikers and walkers take a good look at a trail map and walk the trails backwards. This helps bikes see walkers, and walkers see bikes.
The trails rely on volunteers. If you’re interested in helping maintain the trails, visit Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance for volunteer events and other details or keep up with the Swan Creek Mountain Bike Trails page on Facebook.
Swan Creek Park is also home to Tacoma’s largest community garden and a budding food forest, both at the 42nd Street entrance. To join in the community garden, neighbors must register for one of the plots, but with just over an acre total, gardening plots are larger than average community garden plots.
Even for people who don’t have a plot in the garden, this is by far the prettiest place to sit and enjoy a picnic in the park.