Urban Hiking Adventure: Point Defiance

A great place to hike with your dog in Tacoma, WAA moment of honesty: sometimes I yearn for an outdoor adventure with Moo, but just don’t feel up for driving to the nearest mountain range to find the perfect place. I really can’t complain, as Snoqualmie Pass is only about forty-five minutes away from my house. Still, some days even that amount of time can keep me and Moo inside waiting for a day when I have more availability, when the weather is more pleasant, or simply just when I’m feeling a bit more adventure-ambitious.

Hey, I’m human. And it’s days like these that make me really thankful for cities that allot space for Mother Nature within their urban sprawl. Luckily, Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park is only about 15 minutes away from me (or 45 minutes from Seattle), and is a pretty darn good solution for getting outdoors while remaining local.

Point Defiance is a 702 acre dog-friendly park in Tacoma, WA and is located along the Puget Sound, so there’s a lot to see and quite a bit to do. To give you an idea of just what the park has to offer, here’s a list of some of their main attractions: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (not do, Rhododendron Garden, Rose Garden, beaches, trails, old-growth forest, an off-leash dog park, ferry rides and the Ruston Way Boardwalk. The park is definitely not lacking in activities, and pretty much has something that almost everyone can enjoy.

Our Adventure

Both Jessica and I had never visited Point Defiance and we were curious to explore, so despite the rainy weather, we rallied our pups and met up in the parking lot at the zoo. It should be noted that Point Defiance offers free parking, which in and of itself is a huge win. It should ALSO be noted that there’s quite a bit of construction going on in the park right now (March 2017) due to a long-term project recently taken on by the city called Destination Point Defiance, which resulted in both Jessica and I taking some detours and driving in circles a few times before we got our bearings. If you’re interested in learning more about this project or are thinking about visiting and want to know what type of construction to expect, read more about it HERE.

As I mentioned before, there’s a lot to do and see in the park, however it’s the northern part of the park—the area reserved for old growth forest with 450-year old Douglas Fir trees and 250-foot vertical bluffs overlooking the Puget Sound—that made the trip well worth it for me.

Old growth forest found in the Northern portion of Point Defiance.

Within the forested area of the park with a network of trails is a five mile scenic driving route that takes you along the outer loop of the peninsula for some pretty incredible views, so Jess and I drove this road until we decided to pull over to the Vashon Beach lookout and hike down to the actual beach.

Jessica, Gretel and Moo along the 5 mile scenic route.

The hike down isn’t long—maybe half a mile—but the forested area on the way has that classic Washington rainforest-y feel that comes with old growth trees, and somehow always makes me feel like I’m walking in enchanted woods from a fairy tale.

Views along the trail down to Vashon Beach.

Being from Texas, the layers of moss and ferns coating the rocks and climbing their way up trees still gets me giddy and amazed, whereas Jessica was comparatively a little more level-headed, yet still appreciative, of the views she’s grown up with her entire life. All this to say, maybe my opinion of “enchanting” is a little skewed, or at least different than someone who’s grown up in Washington. To get a Washingtonian’s opinion, here’s what Jessica had to say about her time spent in Point Defiance:

“I tend to take this kind scenery for granted since I grew up here. However, the electric-green moss gets me every time. Sure, we have to put up with a lot of rain in Western Washington but without, it wouldn’t me so green here. I sometimes forget that Tacoma is on the fringe of the largest temperate rain forest ecoregion on the planet (as defined by the World Wildlife Fund) and that’s pretty special.” – Jessica

Vashon Beach itself is a beautiful area, with sandy beaches, steep cliffs and large pieces of driftwood along the coastline. The beach is next to Tacoma’s more popular Owens Beach (which are all connected and can be walked to and fro, depending on tide levels). Jess and I only saw one other person while we were down there but it was probably because of the rain. Still, the privacy was refreshing and made for a peaceful walk along the water’s edge.

Driftwood found scattered across the beach.
Gretel and Moo explore the driftwood.

Highlight of our adventure? Definitely when five or so seals popped their heads out of the water about 100 feet away from us and watched us walk the dogs along the beach. They didn’t come close enough to be concerning and showed no signs of aggression, but they were definitely inquisitive. Moo lost her marbles every time she’d see a head pop up, and spent the next ten minutes barking her brains out (and thus brought the quiet tranquility of the beach to a rearing halt). Overall, it was pretty darn awesome to see the wildlife so interactive and close, which apparently is something that Point Defiance is well known for.

Moo inspects her unexpected visitors (those black dots in the water are seal heads watching us).

All in all, I was really excited about my trip to Point Defiance and my experience exploring one of its multiple trails. It’s a great place for a novice hiker to get a taste of trail hiking, or for the experienced outdoorsman to simply get away and enjoy an evening lost in the trees without having to drive to the mountains. Perhaps it’s because I’m still a newbie to the PNW scenery (Those ferns! That tree! This beach!), but I genuinely do think that Point Defiance does a great job of preserving some of Washington’s most beautiful views right in the heart of the city of Tacoma.

Trail Stats

Trail Name: Point Defiance Trails (many trails with different names there)
Distance: Spint Trail: 2.6 miles; Outside Loop Trail: 4.3 miles; endless distance combinations
Elevation Gain: approximately 200 feet
Highest Point:  300 feet
Permits and Passes: None
Directions: Drive north or south on I-5, depending on where you are coming from. Take Exit 132 (Highway 16 West). Exit at 6th Avenue (exit #3) and turn left. Take the next right on to Pearl Street. Follow Pearl Street into Point Defiance Park.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


  1. I love Point Defiance park! I am from Tacoma so it is a regular excursion for my dachshund and myself. On the Saturdays and Sundays till 1pm they close off the 5 mile loop to cars so you can walk, run, bike, or skate along the road without worrying about getting hit by a car.

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