Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park

Today we want to dive into an overview of Point Defiance Park in Tacoma.

This large public park is nestled at the end of the scenic Ruston Way “Waterwalk” in the north end of Tacoma and is home to three of the city’s most popular destinations for families and large groups.

History of Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park began as a military reservation after the Wilkes Expedition visited Puget Sound in the 1840s to map the bays and estuaries.

Point Defiance Park

Grover Cleveland authorized Point Defiance Park in 1888.

Although the high cliffs and prominent location offered military advantage, the area wasn’t actually used for operations. In 1888, President Grover Cleveland authorized the use of the location as a public park, and over time the area was developed into the park we see now.

This park is 760 acres in size and is best known for the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium which is the only combined zoo and aquarium in the Northwest.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

The main attraction of Point Defiance Park is the zoo and aquarium combo. This is an especially ideal setup for the wet Northwest climate, because visitors can still enjoy the indoor aquarium on rainy days.

The North Pacific Aquarium showcases the marine life that inhabits the Puget Sound, including but not limited to sea horses, various tropical fish, a giant rockfish tank and sharks.

(A video of the shark tank at the Point Defiance Zoo)

The zoo is separated into distinct areas with animals from similar areas of the world grouped together. Although the majority of the zoo’s animal residents are native to the Pacific Rim, there is good selection of animals from other parts of the world to enjoy as well.

The zoo also features local art and interactive stations throughout the grounds, which are a great way for kids and adults to learn more about  the Pacific Northwest and the various habitats of the animals on display.

Tiger at the Point Defiance Zoo

Tiger at the Point Defiance Zoo

The 5-acre Asian Forest Sanctuary is a lush habitat for Sumatran tigers, clouded leopards, siamangs and Asian elephants.

The Rocky Shores habitat is home to seals, walruses, otters and puffins.

The Arctic Tundra exhibit features such cold weather-loving mammals as polar bears, reindeer and musk oxen; there are also sheep and goat species that are native to the cold Arctic areas of Canada and Greenland.

(A video of Polar bears playing at the Point Defiance Zoo)

You can find out more about the zoo by visiting their website here.

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

This is your opportunity to brush up on the history of the Tacoma area as well as other Washington State history. This museum offers a glimpse into the life in the Washington Territory during the 1850s fur trade era.

Located on the western side of Point Defiance Park, the Fort is a restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Puget Sound. Nine buildings are open to the public, including the Granary and the Factors House (both National Historic Landmarks) and a Visitor Center with a Museum Store. You can plan your visit by going here.

Point Defiance 5 Mile Drive

Although it’s name implies that most people drive through Point Defiance Park, this five mile drive is closed to cars on the weekends which allows the pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy the area unhindered. This makes for a great balance between those who want to see more of the Point as a group in their cars, and those who use it for regular exercise or nature walks. Either way of exploring the park is worth doing, especially on a sunny day.

Make sure to make plans to stop at Owen Beach and Vashon Viewpoint. Vashon Island lies to the north and is accessible by ferry ride at the south end of the park. The views from the Dlaco Passage Viewpoint are worth stopping for as well.

Other Things To Do At Point Defiance Park

These three attractions aren’t the only things the park offers.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy formal gardens, forested hiking trails, a marina with boat rentals and launch facitlties, a waterfront promenade, saltwater beaches and countless other recreational opportunities that you can explore at the park.

The park also has 450 year old Douglas fir trees and there are also 250 foot vertical bluffs that provide a scenic backdrop to an afternoon walk. The park is a regular destination for picnics, weddings, organized runs and other such events.

Ruston Way in Tacoma Washington

The view from the Ruston Way waterfront, which lies just to the south of Point Defiance Park.

Please feel free to leave comments below if you have more to add to this article. We know we’ve only touched the “tip of the iceberg” on Point Defiance Park!


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