“… Each one makes his own Canyon before he comes; each brings and carries away his own canyon.” Granted, this 1928 quote by American poet Carl Sandburg may have been written with the Grand Canyon in mind, but I like to think he may just as well have written it while envisioning the Chambers Creek Canyon.
Chambers Creek Canyon is a tranquil and pristine 200+ acre canyon that follows the swiftly meandering Chambers Creek, starting at Kobayashi Park in University Park and flowing westerly to the Chambers Creek Reservoir in Lakewood. Chambers Creek is not terribly deep, but it is fairly wide and moves rapidly down the canyon. There are trails on each side of the canyon, but they don’t currently connect. The trails are well suited for pedestrians, dogs and children (no bicycles, horses or motorized vehicles allowed), however, keep in mind that the trails can get quite muddy and are moderately difficult, especially for younger trekkers. As it stands, there is no direct way to traverse from Kobayashi to the Chambers Creek Reservoir and see all that this stunning canyon has to offer…yet.
Fortunately, for those of us who have hoped to stroll the length of the Chambers Creek Canyon along an established trail, as well as those who are just now finding out about this hidden local gem, that dream will one day soon become a reality.
Officials for Lakewood, University Place and Pierce County have taken the initial steps to plan a two and a half mile trail through the Chambers Creek Canyon, complete with multiple footbridges, as well as boardwalks through sensitive areas, in order to help reduce any environmental impact.
“The completed trail will have three footbridges, including two that cross over Chambers Creek, so you will be able to make the beautiful two and a half mile walk crossing over both sides of the creek,” says Pierce County Parks and Recreation Land Stewart Jessica Stone. According to Stone, the trail is slated to be completed by the end of 2021 and has all of the necessary approval and funding in place. The hope is that by creating an established trail system through this outlying lush couloir, it will not only open up the canyon for outdoor enthusiasts, but will help protect the fragile wetlands and ecosystem by encouraging visitors to venture along the as-yet established trail rather than make their own. The completed trail will be a combination of natural earth, boardwalks, footbridges and gravel, depending on the needs along the trail.
The end of 2021 may seem like a long way off, but according to Stone, “I’ve been working on this project for about four years now, and the project has been in the planning stages since the ‘90s. The most beautiful parts of the canyon aren’t currently accessible, but will be accessible upon completion of the trail”.
Fortunately, you needn’t wait for completion to enjoy many parts of the canyon today. Starting at Kobayashi Park, near the confluence of Leach Creek, Flett Creek and Chambers Creek, there is a paved parking area with a small building that includes signage, restrooms and picnic benches, as well as multiple small dirt trails that follow the pristine Chambers Creek. Parking is free. The property was originally a modest family home built in 1964 and was donated to the city of University Place by the Kobayashi family in 2000 before they returned home to Japan.
After your visit to Kobayashi Park, you’ll likely be interested in seeing more of this incredible canyon. As fortune has it, the access to the other end of the canyon is only a few minutes’ drive away at the lower Chambers Creek Canyon trailhead.
Parking at the lower Chambers Creek Canyon trailhead is not as plentiful or established as at Kobayashi Park, but there is still plenty of space for multiple cars along the side of the road, and there is even a regularly maintained port-a-potty at the trailhead. Walking under the heavy canopy of towering cedar and Douglas fir on a wet and gray afternoon, I have the trail mostly to myself, meeting only two other adventurers on my journey.
“I’ve been hiking Chambers Creek Canyon for over 60 years now,” says Charlie, a long-time resident and frequent guest of the canyon, who started exploring this area as a teenager. “I’ve only ever traveled the length of the canyon once, long ago, and got very wet and muddy doing so,” he says, pausing to throw a soggy and well-loved tennis ball for his dog Pepper. “I’ll be interested to check it out once the trail is complete.” According to Charlie, Pepper has only been coming to the canyon with him for about a month now, but judging by the way Pepper enthusiastically saunters down the trail chasing the beloved fuzzy orb, I’m confident he will be interested in coming back for many moons to come.
One day in the not-to-distant future, Charlie, Pepper and the rest of us will be able to amble the length of this local treasure, taking in the sights, sounds and scents along the way. Until then, we are fortunate enough to be able to walk the multitude of existing half-trails. Kobayashi Park (Upper Chambers Creek Canyon Trailhead) is located at 6420 Chambers Creek Road W., University Place. Lower Chambers Creek Canyon Trailhead is located along Chambers Creek Road, with parking across the street from the Chambers Creek Wastewater Plant, located at 10311 Chambers Creek Road W. The Chambers Creek Canyon Trail Preliminary Design Report can be accessed online.