Point Defiance Park in 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.
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.
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.
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.
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
This is your opportunity to brush up on the history of the Tacoma area along with Washington state history. The Fort Nisqually Living History 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.
Point Defiance 5 Mile Drive
Although its name implies that most people drive through Point Defiance Park, this 5-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 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 Dalco 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 facilities, 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 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.
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!