The dog days of summer have given way to the fall days of foliage at hikes around Pierce County, and there are a few great ones not far from home. Just be prepared in case the weather turns bad, but even rain can add to a walk through the woods since puddles make for great reflection photos, and low clouds make for soft lighting conditions for a whole mystical vibe in snaps.
One of the top hidden-gem hikes hides in plain sight along Puget Sound. The Chambers Creek Canyon trail starts at the mouth of Chamber Bay, where Steilacoom, Lakewood and University Place share borders. Hikers can park in the gravel patches along the roadside around the former Abitibi Consolidated paper plant. The trailhead is located on the Steilacoom side of the bridge that spans Chambers Creek. The dirt path runs about 2.5 miles along the ravine, almost entirely covered by the dense forest canopy of Douglas firs, cedars, hemlocks and pines.
Side trails allow access to the creek for visual escapes from the otherwise urban world around it. It’s a trail that is a work in progress, but the nearby Chambers Bay Loop runs another three miles along the perimeter of the Chambers Creek Regional Park and golf course just up the hill from the bay trail. The paved trail snakes from the roadway along Grandview Drive, through the course and back up in the hillside to provide some of the most breath-taking views of the Narrows and the Olympics in the distance. While the hike is by no means backcountry trail walking, it is accessible and provides strolls along the beach, great views and a host of open spaces for park activities, including an off-leash area and playgrounds. An increasing number of people make the walk their after-work ritual to see unfettered views of sunsets.
For a quick walk for families with Energizer Bunny-level kiddos, visit Tacoma Nature Center just down the street from Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium. The 70-acre nature preserve loops around Snake Lake and provides excellent lookout points for waterfowl, turtles and woodland creatures. Just remember to not feed them as doing so affects their health and feeding habits. Since the two-mile path is right outside the nature center, there are often staff-led discussions, walks and mini field trips for young children to learn more about woodland ecosystems at little or no cost. The path forbids pets and cyclists so that strolls can be more relaxed than in other urban trails.
Thea Foss Waterway
One of the best urban walks doesn’t involve many trees and foliage, but it packs a punch with water views of sailboats and cargo vessels along the working waterfront that is Commencement Bay. Thea Foss Waterway Esplanade begins near the mouth of the Puyallup River and runs the length of the waterway to Ruston and Dune Peninsula Park. The walk offers a bit of everything, from marinas and the Museum of Glass to harbor seals and ducks along the stroller-friendly paved sidewalk pathway. Toss in a few side routes through downtown like the Japantown or Prairie Line Trail for splashes of history to round out the jaunt around T-town for added measure.
Billy Frank Jr. Refuge
For walkers looking for more nature and less urban views but still want to stay close to civilization, there is Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at the border between Pierce and Thurston counties. While the stroll from the parking lot at the visitor center to the end of the boardwalk pier is about a mile, the walk provides new views with every turn of the head as it snakes through the marshlands and creek beds and opens to Puget Sound. Blinds along the trail allow photographers and walkers to sit for hours under partial shelters and blend into nature so they can watch waterfowl unnoticed. The refuge trails are open every day for wildlife viewing and nature photography from sunrise to sunset. Please note that all pets, including dogs, are not allowed at the refuge, as are jogging, bicycling and other similar activities. Feeding the wildlife is likewise prohibited.
An alternative to this trail is the Sequalitchew Creek trail in DuPont, which runs from Civic Center straight west for 1.7 miles along the creek bed. The walk is pretty much a straight line from the parking lot to Puget Sound, which allows for children to run ahead a bit without getting out of the line of sight of watchful parents.
Waughop Lake at Fort Steilacoom Park
At the center of Lakewood’s Fort Steilacoom Park sits Waughop Lake, a spring-fed patch of freshwater that is a favorite stop-off for migrating ducks and geese and the walkers who observe them. The one-mile, paved trail around the lake includes not only views of lake life but historic barns from the days when the land was a farm for nearby Western State Hospital. Another few miles of side trails lead to lines of apple trees and a former patient ward that has been repurposed into a contemplative monument flanked by historical signs. Walkers can make it a full-day event by tying their walk into a stop at Pierce College’s Science Dome.
While these hikes are mostly urban, if you plan to go into the woods, you should remember to pack the 10 essentials of hiking. It is best to always bring these items on every hike to get in the habit and test out tools and packs before they are required for longer hikes. Be prepared, always in all ways, as hikers are oft to say. A garbage bag for post-walk muddy clothes and a fresh set of sweatpants for a drive home should be added to any packing list as well. A quick check for hours of operations and social distancing requirements is also advised for any hike.