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Visiting Point Defiance Park - Tacoma, Washington

Point Defiance Park is an incredible park in Tacoma, Washington, that's over 760 acres. The park includes trails, beaches, and a zoo.


The Washington park is incredibly popular and is seen by many as a refuge from the large cities that surround it. The park was signed into being by U.S. President Grover Cleveland in 1888.


It used to be used as a federal military base and was first used, by the public, as a seasonal camping area. In 1890, a streetcar line was developed in the park. It continued developing throughout the 1900s and is still growing today.

One of the first things that visitors ask when they visit the park is where the name comes from. It was named when it was a military reservation after it was mapped in the mid-1840s. The position was so important that it was said one could "defy" the world from that spot.


Visiting Point Defiance Park

Tacoma's Point Defiance Park is a huge, 760-acre park that's located near N. Pearl Street in Tacoma, Washington. The park has a great deal to offer, including beautiful views of the old-growth forest and an off-leash dog park. Keep reading to find out how many things you can do in Point Defiance Park in Tacoma.

  • Opening Hours: Just before sunrise to sunset

  • Parking: Free

  • Operated By: Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma

  • Dogs? Dogs are allowed in the park and should only be off-leash in the designated off-leash areas.


Drone image of Point Defiance Park
An incredible drone image of Point Defiance Park


What to Do at Point Defiance Park?

At the park, you can explore a great deal. There are trails, a boardwalk, a dog park, gardens, options for boating, a zoo & aquarium, and more.


Walking in the gardens in Point Defiance Park
Walking in the gardens in Point Defiance Park

Zoo & Aquarium

The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium are located within the park as well! It's a historic place, having opened first in 1905, and is the only combined zoo and aquarium in Washington state. It's spread out over 29 acres and includes over 9,000 different marine species and 367 animal species! It's one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tacoma and brings in over 700,000 visitors a year.


The zoo is also well-known for its Zoolights exhibit, which occurs during winter and allows visitors to walk through displays of lights shaped into animals.


The zoo parking area is right in the central part of the park. Take Highway 163 into the park and go around the roundabout to the Five Mile Dr. exit. Follow this towards the zoo parking signs and a large parking lot just a few steps from the entrance. It's very closely located to the Asian Forest Sanctuary as well!



Off-Leash Dog Park

There is a much-loved off-leash dog park that you can bring your furry friend to run around in and enjoy! It's very well-maintained and in a nice setting that will make you want to visit again and again. The Point Defiance dog park is on the west side of the park.

Fountains in Point Defiance Park
Fountains in Point Defiance Park

Mountaineer Tree

The much-photographed Mountaineer Tree is on the north end of Point Defiance Park. It's a large tree with a nearly 8-foot diameter and standing 218 feet tall.



Owens Beach

The long stretch of coastline that's known as Owen's Beach and is decided into northern and southern sections is another major draw for visitors. You can hike along the shoreline and enjoy the beautiful forest on one side and views of Vashon Island and the mainland on the other. It's also on this side of the park (the east side) that you can take a ferry to Vashon Island.

Sunset at Point Defiance Park
Sunset at Point Defiance Park

If you love Point Defiance, check out some other great adventures near Tacoma:


Gardens

Within the park, you can also visit a Rose Garden and Rhododendron Garden. These are both incredibly beautiful and well worth taking the time to walk through if you're in the area. They are also a wonderful spot to take photos or enjoy a peaceful lunch away from the bustle of the city.


Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

The museum is located at the site of what used to be a fur trading and farming station. It's open year-round and includes seven historical buildings that still resemble what life was like in the 1850s. There, you'll see people in historic clothing practicing crafts and work from the same period. The grounds are also open to rent!



Dune Peninsula Point Defiance Park

The Dune Peninsula is an offshoot of Point Defiance that's accessible via a single road that loops around the Tacoma Yacht Club with a huge parking lot. In this part of the park, you can enjoy walking and water views. It's a great place to watch wildlife and sea life.


Other Options

In the park, you'll also find:

  • A tennis court

  • A duck pond

  • The Wilson Way Pedestrian Bridge

  • Science and Math Institute



Hiking in Point Defiance Park

Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Point Defiance Park! It's also filled with trails that are great for runners.

View from Point Defiance Park
View from Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park Outer Loop

One of the most popular trails in the park and also the longest (if you want to stay on one specific trail!). It runs along the outside of the park on a paved trail for 4.4 miles. It also gains around 350 feet in elevation gain.


Distance

Elevation Gain

Time Required

Difficulty

2.1 miles

100 feet

1 hour

1/10

This is an ideal trail if you want to see as much of the exterior of the park as you can. This includes views across the water and towards Vashon Island. It starts just off of Animal Loop Road and finishes in the same place. There are bathrooms at the far end of the trail, about 2.2 miles from the start.




Point Defiance Park Inner Loop

This is a shorter version of the Outer Loop trail. It's 3.8 miles long and makes a loop around the park. You can start the trail anywhere along the road.

Distance

Elevation Gain

Time Required

Difficulty

2.1 miles

100 feet

1 hour

1/10

This trail, and the previous, are a popular combination of paths that take you around the park. But there are so many more that cut across the park and through the old-growth forest that this area is so well-known for.

Flowers in Point Defiance Park
Flowers in Point Defiance Park



Five Mile Drive

The very easy Five Mile Drive trail is also a longer 4.4-mile trail that gains around 300 feet. This is yet another variation of the many trails in the park. It passes by the Mountaineer Tree.

Distance

Elevation Gain

Time Required

Difficulty

4.4 miles

300 feet

1.5 hour

2/10



Owens Beach Trail

The beautiful Owens Beach Trail takes you along the northeast side of Point Defiance Park.

Distance

Elevation Gain

Time Required

Difficulty

2.1 miles

100 feet

1 hour

1/10

Keep in mind the trails all start around the same area, so the parking lots can get quite busy on the weekend.


Forests in Point Defiance Park
The forests at Point Defiance Parks are incredible.


Viewpoints in Point Defiance Park

There are several different viewpoints that you might want to visit along Five Mile Drive in Point Defiance Park. The primary spots are at the north end of the park and are well-marked as:

  • Dalco Passage Viewpoint

  • Gig Harbor Viewpoint

  • Vashon Viewpoint

  • Narrows Viewpoint

  • Bridges Viewpoint

All of these viewpoints are accessible via the Outer Loop Trail. If you want to spend more time near Owens Beach, we highly recommend taking the Owens Beach Trail from the end of Owen Beach Road.

Point Defiance Park View
A large open space in Point Defiance Park



Point Defiance Park History

After being signed over to the city in 1888, the park developed steadily over the next decades. A streetcar line was developed in 1890 that made it easier for visitors to access the point. A lodge was built in the park in 1898 for the park's superintendent. It remained in use until 1980.


The zoo construction began with a bear pit. later, deer, elk, and bison were included. The first greenhouse was built in 1901 and was there for the next 20 or so years.


The Pavillion on the waterfront was constructed around the same period of time and outlasted the greenhouse by about 10 years. The waterfront developed in the 1920s, and the park further developed throughout the 30s with federal work relief programs. The zoo continued to grow throughout the 1950s and 60s and included a children's section with farm animals.



FAQs

Does Point Defiance have sharks?

Yes, Point Defiance has sharks! The aquarium includes nurse sharks, blacktip reef sharks, zebra sharks, and more.


Does Point Defiance have elephants?

Yes, the Point Defiance zoo does have elephants. Specifically, their well-known elderly elephant, Suki.


What happened to the beluga whale at Point Defiance Zoo?

Unfortuantly, the beluga whale at the Point Defiance Zoo died of an infection. He was named Qannik and was eight years old.


Do you have to pay for Point Defiance Park?

No, there is no entrance fee for Point Defiance Park. It's free to enter the public gardens and enjoy the shoreline. But, there are several other areas of the park that do require fees, like the zoo and the historical museum.


Which is better, Woodland Park or Point Defiance Park?

It depends on who you ask but most people perfect Point Defiance park, especially if you're interested in visiting the zoo. They have far more animals and an aquarium.


Is Point Defiance Park the biggest park?

It is the largest park in Pierce County. It's around 760 acres.



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