The Path Less Beaten Part 1: Exploring Tacoma’s Hidden Trails

[UPDATE: A lot has changed since this series of articles was first published in 2017. Access and trail conditions may differ from what is described here. If anything notable has changed, please leave a comment below.]

To be perfectly honest, most of these trails are not going to appeal to most people. Almost all of them are overgrown, hard to navigate, and at least a little bit dangerous. Tacoma has a number of well maintained trails that are perfectly good for an afternoon stroll with the family. If you’re the kind of person, though, who would rather see something unique than something popular, get your boots ready and read on.

Tacoma is a largely urbanized and built up area, bearing little resemblance to its naturally forested original state. It’s often in places like this, though, that you can find the most intriguing and secretive oases of nature. If there’s a green space bigger than a backyard that’s not completely fenced in, there’s a pretty good chance there’s a trail running through it. There are a number of other low-key trails around the city not included on this list.

You’ll notice that most of these are quite short compared to typical hiking trails. The lack of maintenance and heavy overgrowth in some of the less trafficked spots can slow you down considerably though. This is more about the experience of exploration rather than hiking a predetermined distance. The quality, access, and scenery of these trails will vary depending on the time of year so take all this advice with a grain of salt and expect a certain amount of improvising along the way.

If you get to explore some of these spots and feel inspired to make some positive change, you can contact the designated natural area steward for the given trail. Some are in need of garbage cleanup or invasive plant control while others may need support for becoming proper trails recognized by the city.

Check them all out here:

Descriptions and ratings:

  • Difficulty- This takes elevation change and overall distance into account. Objectivity is difficult though so err on the side of caution and don’t bring your grandma until you’ve at least checked it out first.
  • Overgrowth- This gives you an idea of how hard it is to move along the trail, regardless of distance or elevation change. 1 is clear and unobstructed, 5 is Mother Nature trying to pull you back into the earth.
  • Distance- Since a lot of these trails are not on any maps and I wasn’t using GPS, the distances are mostly approximate. Also, some trails don’t have definite beginnings and ends in which case its up to you to decide how far you want to go.
  • Trailhead- A few of these trails have more than one access point. The one I chose is not necessarily the best one. Do some research and exploring ahead of time and you might find something that suits you better.

General tips for exploring:

  • Get used to waving a stick in front of you while you walk or get used to the feeling of spider webs on your face. If you do take one to the head, don’t worry, it most likely belongs to a Cross Orbweaver, a brightly colored but mostly harmless critter.
  • Wear shoes suitable for tromping through water. Even if you don’t plan to cross a stream, there are no guarantees that these trails are navigable on dry land throughout the year.
  • Don’t trespass on private property. Some of these trails occupy gray areas in terms of public access and some people may be less welcoming than others if they see you strolling by.
  • Leave the place in better condition than you found it. Don’t step on plants when you can avoid it and try not to contribute to erosion. If you find garbage lying around, take some of it with you.
    1. This reply is way overdue. Sorry about that. To be blunt, you can’t really tell. That’s all part of the adventure. None of them are so far out in the wilderness that you’re going to get proper lost but if you’re afraid of that, these probably aren’t the trails for you.

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