There's a ton of buzz lately about trails in Pierce County and Tacoma. Evergreen Mountain Bike has partnered with Metroparks Tacoma to expand and improve mountain bike trails at Swan Creek Park, the Puyallup Watershed Initiative is looking at how we can build a trail network to reach Mount Rainier from Tacoma, and long-time advocates are helping to find funds to finish the missing links..
One piece of the trail puzzle is the Pipeline Trail corridor, which connects East Tacoma to South Hill in Puyallup. The land is owned by Tacoma Public Utilities and Pierce County, but the water pipeline right-of-way is open to the public for non-motorized use. You can add the trail to your Pierce County Bike Map by connecting the dots of Pipeline Road.
TWBC member and trail guru Bob Myrick offered to show me the Pipeline Trail corridor and some of the other trails that can connect Tacoma to Puyallup. We were joined by another rider, Kent, who had also never been on this route. Bob was vague on details, but suggested we bring water and fat tires. "I'll get you back to the salt water at the end." Bob leads a mean boondoggle and Kent and I were game for an adventure. (There's a rough map of our route at the bottom with points of interest.)
The Pipeline Trail starts out as barricaded doubletrack segments from E 40th Street in the McKinley Hill neighborhood and heads southeast. Kent had no idea what Bob had meant by "the gates," but we both found out very quickly. You'll have to lift your bike over many of these barricades for the first few miles, though there are a few places where you can walk around. There's lots of broken glass in places, but we managed to complete the whole day without any flats.
As you reach the more rural edge of the Tacoma city limits, there are many places where Pipeline Road doubles as access for residential properties along the right-of-way, so the road is well maintained. The scenery is stunning and it's surprising how quickly we had entered the countryside.
Part of the corridor is marked and maintained by Pierce County as Orange-gate Park. We saw a bunch of well worn trails splitting off into the woods from the main Pipeline Trail as we passed through. A local resident heading for the trails stopped to explain that they are great for mountain biking and that he rides there 3-4 times a week. I can't wait to come back and check these out!
We left the trail at Fruitland Avenue and headed north on the road towards Puyallup. (To continue on the trail you have to jog down Fruitland Ave for about 200 feet to rejoin the trail, but it continues all the way to Meridian Ave in South Hill.) We could have taken Fruitland all the way to Puyallup, but Bob showed us a trailhead into Clark's Creek Park (also referred to as De Coursey Park) and we rode singletrack trail, instead. This gravel and dirt route from Tacoma to Puyallup is all kinds of fun!
The trail ended next the the hatchery. There's some parking next to a gate and this extremely informative sign (see map below for location.)
I figured we would be on the road for a while through Puyallup, but Bob showed us a few cut-throughs on the Meeker Creek Trail and then the Silver Creek Trail. These are just short sections of public green space, but at this point I was amazed how little of our ride had been paved.
After a stop to fill water bottles at the new Playback Sports location in downtown Puyallup, we headed for Tacoma along Levee Road. Both Levee Road and River Road are the primary thoroughfares along the Puyallup River and neither of them are friendly places to ride bikes. Rider beware.
We stuck to the river as much as we could and after some round-about navigation, we ended up at another public green space right in the middle of the Port of Tacoma. There was even a parking lot and a welcome sign! At this point I was really scratching my head and wondering, Why don't we already have a trail to Puyallup along this corridor? We crossed the Puyallup River on the Lincoln Ave bridge and continued along the dike to S 11th Street.
Not shown to the left of the photo above is a section of encampments. The homeless population in Pierce County is on the rise and this is one of the few places where folks camp relatively out in the open, mostly because there's no signage telling them not to. We only saw a face or two, and a pile of battered bicycles likely salvaged from other camps and used for spare parts. Each little makeshift tent had a bike parked out front. Bikes truly are the vehicle of the people.
This route was a great showcase of how a trail system in Pierce County could be easily built, connecting users to the Foothills Trail and destinations closer to Mount Rainier. Such a loop like this would be used for all types of recreation as well as a Commuter Connector for residents in the rural areas between Tacoma and South Hill. It won't take much improvement of the current trail infrastructure to get more people exploring Tacoma and Pierce County on bikes.
Note: Depending on when you read this, parts of this route may be under construction. Some of the areas along the Puyallup River are inhabited with campsites and you may need or want to find an alternate route.