Date of Hike: October 2008
Hike Route: Loop - Start at Rhododendron Garden, follow the Square-marked posts counter clockwise.
This popular trail in Point Defiance Park has some of the best things of Northwest hiking - forest walks, well maintained trail, wildlife and some great views. However, you are often reminded you are in the middle of an urban area.
This book has a good description of the hike on page 64 -- it rates it as easy and taking about 2 hours. Most will find its a bit longer than 2 hours since there are a couple places to take a break, eat lunch or visit some the park amenities.
You can park right after entering the Park and visit the Gardens and then walk to the trail starting point -- or proceed up Five Mile Drive and park near the Rhododendron Garden. There is a small parking lot before this point, or people do park on the drive next to the Garden.
Note - there is no true trailhead for this hike -- you can join this loop trail at many points including the Rhododendron Garden or a very unmarked trail on the northside of the Zoo parking lot.
At the Rhododendron Garden you have the choice to go either way on the loop trail. We decided to make the loop with counter clock-wise so we followed the trail markings to the RIGHT. This trail is marked with Squares on the trailposts. The trail is well-marked but not in every junction. It really helped to have this map during this hike.
The trail is single-file but very wide and well maintained. You get into the forest quickly with the typical Northwest greenery. The first part of the hike stays mostly away from the water and goes into the middle of Point Definance.
The trail crosses the Five Mile Drive in a couple places. I would suggest doing this hike when the Five Mile Drive is either Closed on weekend mornings or early in the morning when traffic is very light.
We rarely saw anyone on this hike -- but this was on a very cool fall morning. I think during the summer these trails would be packed with hikers, joggers and other folks.
Soon you will reach the first Viewpoint of Vashon Island. The trail dumps in to a parking lot, but starts again at the end of the lot -- providing one of the best views on the hike. After this point, there are peek-a-boo views of Puget Sound, Gig Harbour and Vashon Island off of the trail. There is no access to the beach since the trail is basically on the edge of a high and very steep cliff.
After the viewpoint the trail turns away from the water. The trail gets a bit confusing with a few missing signposts. Dont forget to print this map.
The Mountaineer Tree is right along the trail. It has a nice display showing the age and growth rings of the tree.
The trail gets a bit narrow at this point, but its still very well maintained.
Soon the trail ends at another parking lot/view point.
Look for the trailposts again and follow those away from the road.
The third Viewpoint is the best, with the Narrows bridge in the distance.
The trail continues along the cliff with more nice water views and wide trails. You are fairly close the road at this point. When you reach Fort Nisqually, you cross the road and head through the picnic area (ahead of the Fort itself). It is fairly confusing at this point, but look for the trailpost next to the fenced in area.
Before heading back, you could stop and visit the Fort and its museum, which is open Wednesday - Sunday during this time of the year.
From the Fort back to the Rhododendron Garden, there are no views -- just nice level forest trails.
The trail comes the a very odd T intersection -- with no trail markings. At this point, turn Left if you parked by the Rod. Garden. If you turn right, it will take you to the Point Defiance Zoo main parking lot.
The hike is a nice one with some much wanted water views along the way. But this is a well travelled trail and has some not-so-nice elements (Parking lots, grafetii, missing trailposts, etc). But those issues are minimal -- especially if you can do this hike early or on a Winter or Fall morning.
There are other shorter trails in this park -- a triangle and a circle hike. But those trails dont have the water views that this hike does. Be sure to carry a map of the area to avoid losing the main trail.
View Larger Map
Area - Point Defiance (Near Tacoma, Washington)
Trails - Point Defiance Outside Perimeter Trail (Square Markings) - Map
Elevation - Gain of 100 feet
Length - 4 miles loop
Trail - Dirt trail - crosses a couple roads/parking lots.
Bikes - Not allowed on this hike
View - Yes - some great views of Narrows Bridge, Vashon Island and Puget Sound
Getting There - Take I-5 to Highway 16 in Tacoma. Follow signs to Point Definance Park on Pearl Ave.
Fee- None, free parking
Other Trails - A couple other main trails, many unmarked intersecting trails.