One of the benefits of living in Pierce County is that nature is never more than a few miles away from even the densest urban areas. Just short drives from the streetlights and traffic jams of city life can yield quiet walks through woods and sand-covered beaches if you know where to look.

Point Defiance Park’s Outer Loop Trail

oly orthoFor a walk in Tacoma, visitors cannot go wrong with Point Defiance Park’s Outer Loop Trail any time of year. The 700-acre park offers 12 miles of networked, forested trails that include beach access and views of Puget Sound and Commencement Bay. The various trails lead to the marina and boathouse, through the rhododendron garden or up to Fort Nisqually, the relocated historical site of the former Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post, which once operated what is now DuPont. It now functions as a living history museum. Of course, the most dramatic feature of the park is the zoo and aquarium, which obviously provide several walking opportunities and views of wildlife.

Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge,
The Nisqually Refuge offers views of delta wildlife and wetlands along a boardwalk. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located just a short drive to the south of Tacoma and offers level and pleasant hiking opportunities. Trails as well as a long stretch of boardwalk meandering through the wetlands make this hike unique. Plus, you may not have a better chance to spot birds and other wildlife while you walk.

Sequalitchew Creek Trail

Sequalitchew Creek Trail
A tunnel under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks provides visitors of the Sequalitchew Creek Trail with access to Puget Sound.

For a nature walk even closer to Tacoma, DuPont’s Sequalitchew Creek Trail offers dense forests, industrial relics from the area’s bygone gravel operations and unobstructed views of Puget Sound. Visitors simply start at the Civic Center and head west along the ravine. The trail follows the long-decommissioned, narrow-gauge railroad line, the DuPont Company, used in the manufacturing of explosives. Eagle-eyed trail walkers can spot handfuls of relics from the trail’s industrial uses, including sections of track, wooden drainage systems, electrical hubs and building foundations. The anchor feature of the trail is a pedestrian tunnel under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe that leads to the beach and views of Puget Sound and Anderson Island. Low tides also reveal a derelict gravel barge that got snagged on a sand bar decades ago and was left to rust. The 2.5-mile trail itself is open year round and free to the public. Sections of it are paved although much of it consists of dirt paths with slight dips and rises, but the trail is still relatively easy for young walkers and stroller pushers.

Fort Steilacoom Park

Fort Steilacoom Park
Signs around Fort Steilacoom Park provide strollers with information about the wildlife and history of the area.

Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood is the go-to spot for groups with mixed interests and abilities since it offers a combination of nature, sports fields, play areas, walking paths and historical sites. Visitors at the 340-acre park can see ducks, water fowl and fish in the central Waughop Lake or pedal their mountain bikes through the ten miles of trails and hillside paths that run past the former Hill Ward site, which has been redeveloped into an informational hub explaining all the former uses of the property. It started as Native American hunting grounds, progressed to a farm, then to the first American military post in the region and eventually ended up as a public mental health hospital.

The park also offers children’s play areas and picnic shelters as well as off-leash dog amenities. Visitors can view the former hospital farm’s barns and planting equipment as well as stroll through the hospital’s historic patient cemetery, maintained by a group called Grave Concerns. They also raise money to replace the numbered headstones with the names of the dearly departed. Across the street four of the original Fort Steilacoom buildings are preserved and presented by the Historic Fort Steilacoom Museum Association.

Chambers Creek Properties

Chambers Creek Propertie
Chambers Properties offers trails that snake through the golf course and show its former life as a gravel mine. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

Chambers Creek Properties spans 930 acres of University Place’s waterfront that is anchored by the Chambers Bay Golf Course and winds through the former gravel mine. One of the features of the park is a fully paved – but steep – loop from the Grandview Drive entrances to the course overlooking Puget Sound and a forested ravine. The route passes the remnants of the gravel operations, forests and undulating hills of wild grasses and golf greens. A pedestrian bridge also provides beach access for shoreline strolls that reveal McNeil, Anderson and Fox Islands in the distance, framed by the Olympics in the background.

Two gems to enjoy at the park are a stone labyrinth located on the southern edge of the sports fields across from Pierce County’s Environmental Services Building and two off-leash areas for pets found in the Central Meadow.