Fort Steilacoom Park — Hike historic grounds to a scenic lake and stellar views of Mount Rainier

 

Quick Facts:

Location: Lakewood, Pierce County

Land Agency: City of Lakewood Parks and Recreation

Distance: more than 7.0 miles of trails

Elevation Gain: up to 200 feet

Contact: City of Lakewood Parks and Recreation

Notes: Off-leash dog area and dogs permitted on leash elsewhere in park; park opened 7:30 to 9:00 or Sunset (whichever comes first)

Access: From Tacoma follow I-5 south to Exit 124. Then turn right onto S 74th Street and continue straight onto Custer Road W. Bear right onto 88th Street S and merge onto Steilacoom Boulevard S. Then turn left onto 87th Ave SW and shortly afterward turn right on Dresden Lane SW and enter Fort Steilacoom Park. Proceed to large trailhead parking lot near dog park entrance and historic barns.

 Good to Know: dog-friendly (on-leash), kid-friendly, historic, snow-free winter hikes, practice Leave No Trace principles

One of the finest urban parks in the South Sound, Fort Steilacoom Park was once a US army fort and mental health hospital farm. Explore more than 7.0 miles of trails traversing woodlands, prairie, rolling hills, and lakeshore. Check out relics from the park’s farm days, too. Dog owners will love the park’s large off-leash dog park. A popular park, there is plenty of room to roam in in its 340 acres.

Follow the park’s Discovery Trail to learn about this area’s fascinating past. The area was homesteaded in the 1840s and became part of Fort Steilacoom in 1849. Several of the fort’s original buildings are still standing—located north of Steilacoom Boulevard and west of Western State Hospital. In 1871 the fort was repurposed as an insane asylum ultimately becoming Western State Hospital. A good portion of the original fort grounds south of Steilacoom Boulevard were operated until 1965 as a farm for the hospital. Patients worked on the farm alongside staff. Several farm buildings are still standing as well as the orchard.

Definitely check out the park’s  near-level 1.2 mile paved lollipop loop around Waughop Lake. Named for Doctor JohnWaughop, a former superintendent of the hospital, the lake is lined with stately ornamental trees, brought to the grounds courtesy of Waughop’s wife Elizabeth. Admire them along the lake and elsewhere on the grounds. Lombardy poplars, sequoias, black locusts, sycamores, horse chestnuts, redwoods and other species.

From the lake loop, a paved path leads to the Hill Ward historic area. Here a large hospital ward once stood overlooking the lake. Beyond Hill Ward follow trails to an open hillside in the park’s southwestern corner. Here enjoy a breathtaking view of Mount Rainier rising above the grounds. Enjoy too views of the Cascades, Olympics and McNeil and Fox islands.

North of this hill, trails lead to the adjacent Pierce Community College and then to forested and grassy slopes along the park’s southern reaches. In the park’s eastern reaches find a series of trails traversing patches of remnant prairie and oak groves. Unfortunately invasive Scotch Broom is choking out prairie plants in parts of the park. Hopefully volunteers can eradicate this pox on the land in this beautiful culturally and naturally significant park.

Fort Steilacoom Park is one of 44 featured destinations in my brand new Urban Trails Tacoma (Mountaineers Book). For more details on this park and others throughout Tacoma, Puyallup, Federal Way, Maple Valley, Auburn, Black Diamond and Anderson Island, pick up a copy of this wonderful book——today!

 

For information on where to stay and on other things to do in Lakewood, check out Northwest TripFinder

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