The South Puget Sound region is full of amazing natural wonders and scenic beauty. Granting unrivaled access to mountains, islands, beaches and forests, residents of Pierce County have a lifetime’s worth of outdoor recreation waiting for them. Whether you only stay in town and explore the local parks, or head out on a road trip to Washington’s national parks, we want to make sure you get outside as often as possible this coming year.

Make 2018 your year for outdoorsy adventures, with our handy list of 18 outdoor adventures for 2018 in or within a short drive of Tacoma.

Celebrate Olympic National Park’s 80th birthday

This year, the Olympic National Park is celebrating its 80th birthday. Not that an excuse is needed to celebrate this wilderness wonderland. While the park itself has 611 miles of trails, you can hike a new one each week in 2018 and constantly connect with this incredible region. Need some hiking ideas? Check out this book and be inspired.

Go Sledding at Mount Rainier

Each winter, Mount Rainier’s Paradise area opens up for families to go sledding on the slopes of this iconic volcano. The sledding area, located just a short walk up from the visitor center, is run by rangers and is safe and fun for kids of all ages and kids at heart. The visitor center also has ranger-led snowshoe walks available, with snowshoes provided. If you haven’t experienced the winter wonderland at Mount Rainier, do it in 2018.

Whale Watching Point Defiance
Watch whales and seals at Point Defiance. Photo credit: Douglas Scott

Whale Watch at Point Defiance

Did you know that you can go whale watching at Point Defiance? While not something that occurs every day, whales are frequently seen from Owen Beach or the Dalco Passage overlook. Seeing a whale at Point Defiance isn’t a guarantee, even if there is a whale in the area, as they are wild and unpredictable animals. A good place to see if whales are in the area is the Orca Network, which provides detailed, daily sighting reports on their social media pages.

Hike to the Summit of Mount Ellinor

If you need a jaw-dropping panoramic view this year, or a stunningly beautiful hike to the top of a mountain, Mount Ellinor offers both. Once the snow melts, a hike to the summit is fun for those used to the trails of the Olympic mountains. Parking at the upper trailhead, this popular hike is less than five miles roundtrip, but does gain a few thousand feet in the process. Be prepared before hiking this mountain.

Storm Watch on the Coast

For those who don’t know, Grays Harbor is one of the best places to watch coastal storms, giving you a unique opportunity to experience the awesome power of the sea. Usually starting in October and going through April, these storms are yet another way to enjoy the wild beauty of our county. If you haven’t witnessed first-hand the power of a storm along the coast, make plans to do it next time the wind and rain return.

Walk or Ride Across the Narrows Bridge

Narrows Bridge
Walking across the Narrows Bridge is a perfectly level hike, but also exciting for the amazing views. Photo credit: Douglas Scott

If you haven’t yet walked across the Narrows Bridge, you are missing out on an awesome experience! Starting at War Memorial Park located along the Scott Pierson Trail in Tacoma, bikers, walkers, runners and skaters can get an up-close and personal experience with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The Scott Pierson Trail is a five-mile trail that crosses the Puget Sound on the newer Tacoma Narrows Bridge, giving stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier and the waters below.

Watch the Great Migration of Gray Whales

In March, April and early May, the Washington Coast becomes a highway for 20,000+ gray whales migrating back to the cool waters of Alaska with babies in tow. Swimming just a half mile or less from the crashing waves on the rugged beaches of the Pacific Coast, the gray whales partake in not just an amazing migration, but also a chance for the millions who live with a few hours of the ocean to see these massive sea dwelling mammals. Head to Westport or Kalaloch for the best viewing.

Stargaze at Mount Rainier’s Sunrise

Few experiences will be etched in your mind like a night of stargazing at Mount Rainier. Far from the lights of society, a trip up to Sunrise will show off the universe in a way that most people never get to experience. If you want to see the Milky Way, head here this summer.

Watch for Owls and Eagles at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

The wildlife refuge in the Nisqually River Delta is one of the best places to bird and walk in the region. Offering more than five miles of trails and chances to see owls in the spring and eagles year round, exploring Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is best done with repeat visits. Each season brings different birds, making this the perfect year-round destination.

Run or Walk the Trails at Five Mile Drive

Offering more than 14 miles of trails to walk, run and explore, Tacoma’s Five Mile Drive in Point Defiance Park is one of the most scenic parks in the entire nation. Offering stunning water views and walks through tall trees, a run or walk along Five Mile Drive or one of the many trails crisscrossing through the forest is one of the most easily accessible outdoor adventures any time of year.

Explore the Tacoma Nature Center at Snake Lake

Easy to explore and incredibly family friendly, Tacoma’s Nature Center at Snake Lake is a classic destination for walking in Pierce County. Offering nearly two miles of soft surfaced and mostly level trails, you’ll be able to see turtles, eagles, blue herons and numerous other bird species while wandering this fun urban trail.

Chambers Bay
Chambers Bay has places to sit at the “top” of the park, or trek down to the beach at the far side of the park if you don’t want anything between you and the water. Photo credit: Kristin Kendle

Sunset at Chambers Bay

Ending your day with a gorgeous sunset is one of the best things you can do. While anywhere around Tacoma and Pierce County can be beautiful at the end of the clear day, one of the best views is found down at Chambers Bay. Parking down near the driving range, walk the trails and pass over the railroad tracks for a stunning view of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains.

Walk Fort Steilacoom Park

Located in Lakewood, Fort Steilacoom Park is a fantastic and family-friendly place to explore. Full of beauty, history, animals and plants, the 340-acre park has something for everyone. Offering seven miles of trails, including a chance to wander around a lake or the old grounds of Hill Ward – part of the old Western State Hospital – you will be sure to find something interesting while exploring this destination.

Wander Northwest Trek

Want to see wildlife up close? Head out to Northwest Trek this year and see the bears, bison, elk, eagles and more. Located near Eatonville, Northwest Trek has been the go-to destination for animal lovers around the Pacific Northwest. Make sure you take the tram tour to see non-predatory animals in their natural habitat, and then wander the trails to see bears and other animals in their enclosures. There is nowhere else in the country quite like Northwest Trek!

See the Sights at Crystal Mountain

If you have ever wanted to get an amazing view of Mount Rainier, the vista that expands from the top of the gondola at Crystal Mountain is breathtaking. From the top of Crystal Mountain, after a gain of 2,000 feet in the gondola, you have a myriad of adventures, depending on the season. In the winter, this is one of the best skiing and snowboarding regions in the Pacific Northwest. In the summer, endless trails await your hiking adventures.

Look for Wildflowers along Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail

Around the end of July and start of August, the usually snowy slopes of Mount Rainier erupt in a wildflower display unlike anywhere else in Washington. Your best bets to find fields of wildflowers will be at Paradise, Spray Park near Mowich Lake and Sunrise. Seeing wildflowers at Mount Rainier is one of the quintessential experiences for Pierce County and Washington State residents.

Bike Vashon Island

Vashon Island
This summer, take your bike across to Vashon Island and explore. Photo credit: Douglas Scott

There is nothing quite as unique as hopping on a ferry with your bike and then riding it around Vashon Island. Full of hills and water views, as well as beautiful forests and quirky shops, touring Vashon by bicycle is the ideal activity for a sunny day. At just 13 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point, all of Vashon can be seen by experienced bikers. Make sure you get to Point Robinson and the lighthouse!

Camp and Explore at Dash Point State Park

In any other state, Dash Point State Park would be one of the most visited natural destinations around. Instead, this 400-acre state park is busy, but often-overlooked unless it is a sunny summer day. Known for incredible trails, unrivaled beach access and great camping, this state park deserves to be frequented often. If you love beaches and forests, Dash Point will be perfect for your next outdoor adventure.

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