Exploring Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park

Now that we live in the South Sound, we’ve been building lists of things to do in Tacoma and beyond that we simply didn’t prioritize when we lived north of Seattle.

I used to roll my eyes at Clevelanders who stuck to their east side or west side – as if it was such a chore to drive from one neighborhood to the other. However, we quickly adopted a similar mindset after a few journeys through both Seattle and Bellevue to access places in the South Sound from where we lived in Lynnwood. I don’t know how many times we sat in traffic asking each other, “where are all of these people going?!” before focusing on activities that took us north, east, and west – anywhere but south. (Confession: Cleveland traffic doesn’t hold a candle to Seattle traffic, so I’m still lovingly rolling my eyes at you Clevelanders!)

Now that we’re South Sounders, fully vaccinated, and seeing things slowly trying to open back up, we’re gearing up to visit new cities on our list. We were somewhat embarrassed to admit to a family member recently that we had only been to Tacoma once in the six years we’ve lived in Washington. Yikes! The recent 80 degree weather was the perfect excuse to head out early and check out an area we’ve been wanting to explore – Point Defiance Park.

After a brief swing by Dockside Donuts for a couple angel cream bars – the closest thing we’ve found to a cream stick in a Pacific Northwest donut shop! – we parked at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and set off on the 4.3-mile Outside Loop Trail around the park.

We had barely set out when Brian spotted two deer right along the trail! They were clearly familiar with people, going about their breakfast unconcerned as we continued on to find a spot for our own morning snack. We stopped at the picnic facilities outside Fort Nisqually to enjoy our doughnuts (they were delicious!) before walking them off on the trail.

There were a lot of people walking, jogging, and biking the Five Mile Drive road, but thankfully the trail was less crowded and we could wind our way through the woods at our own pace. We stopped at the Bridges viewpoint and Narrows viewpoint before arriving at the Gig Harbor viewpoint, which has facilities, picnic areas and beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains.

A little beyond we came to the Dalco Passage viewpoint where we took the selfie below. The Gig Harbor and Dalco Passage viewpoint areas were much busier, in part because it was later in the morning but also because the 3.6-mile Inside Loop Trail and 2.6-mile Spine Trail also converge in this area. I mention this because these shorter/more direct primary trails get you to the viewpoint if you don’t want to take the longer or secondary trails around the park.

After brief stops at the Mountaineers Tree, a 218-foot tall, 450+-year-old Douglas fir, and the Vashon viewpoint, we made a slight jog to explore the Rhododendron Garden.

As it turns out, we were a smidge early in the season and only one and a half of the many Rhododendrons were actually blooming. We could see the buds on many of them, but they just weren’t quite ready to open – Brian was not impressed! Below is my best effort to capture the one that was in full swing. I’m sure it’s beautiful when they are all in bloom!

After the Rhododendron Garden experience Brian was not super excited for the final two gardens on our list but ended up enjoying the Japanese Garden and pagoda.

The Japanese Garden had some beautiful blooms but the pools were low and in some cases dry so we didn’t get the full effect. And while we enjoyed wandering the paths and reading the background about the trolley that used to drop people off in front of the pagoda, it was getting pretty warm and we were ready to wrap up our morning in the park.

Our final stop was the Botanical Gardens where we found a medley of flowers in bloom. Alas, not the dahlias – another reason to return another time!

We noticed one family picnicking and pointing to a particular group of trees. When we looked up, two giant racoons were crawling up the trunk toward leaf cover. One kept pausing and looking at us, which we assumed meant he was ready for a picture!

It was a lovely morning walk in the park, and I hope we can visit again when more of the amenities are open, more of the flowers are in bloom, and we have a better idea of all the secondary trails we can explore!

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