Weekender: Bicycling Point Defiance Park, Tacoma

Point Defiance’s Five Mile Drive is bicycling nirvana

Story and photos by Carolyn Price

Photo at right: The viewpoints along Five Mile Drive are scenic and abundant.

Point Defiance Park sticks out from the north end of Tacoma like a big green thumb. At 702 acres and bordered on three sides by water, the peninsula is, well, very green with abundant old growth forests, gardens and luscious green grass. No wonder it has become a well-known urban playground for over two million visitors a year.

The Silver Cloud Inn is built on a pier jutting out into Commencement Bay.

Even so, on our bike ride through the spacious park along the meandering Five Mile Drive loop, it seems we saw more raccoons than people.

My partner and I left our daughter and cats at home in Seattle, packed up our bikes and traveled 35 minutes south for a weekend getaway, checking into the Silver Cloud Inn on Ruston Way in Old Town Tacoma. Interestingly, the Silver Cloud is built on a pier on Commencement Bay and lucky for us conveniently borders a lovely 2.5-mile paved flat trail along the waterfront.

With its tree-lined boulevard, a number of small city parks and a bounty of restaurants along the Ruston Way trail, this would make an all-day excursion in itself.

However, we were here to bike and we rode north along Ruston Way until it ended at the beginning of a large waterfront development. From here, we chugged uphill on city side streets until we reached the entrance of Point Defiance. We later found out that there will be an easier interim connection between Ruston Way and Point Defiance as early as next summer and the long-term plan is to provide a spectacular waterside experience from Ruston Way to Point Defiance.

Loop trail closed to traffic

Riding into the park, we felt like we had entered nirvana: the lushness of sloping green grass, a backdrop of a well-maintained rose garden and a huge bowl of a pond made us want to crack open the wine and cheese and kick back for the day.

But there was bicycling to be done and we happily discovered that Five Mile Drive is closed to motor vehicles every weekend until 1 p.m. As it was already 11:30 a.m., we quickly got on our way.

Around the first mile, we saw the sheer downhill road that led to popular Owens Beach.  This is Tacoma’s version of Malibu Beach where you can play all day long: rent kayaks, picnic, watch the Vashon ferry, people watch or walk along the paved trail.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge from Point Defiance Park.

Being smart bikers, we declined the steep hill and kept going as we bicycled along old growth forests on the low-elevation roadway. The waterfront vistas from the sheer cliffs were plentiful and we stopped at nearly all of them gulping in sights of Puget Sound, the Olympics and Cascades, Vashon Island and Gig Harbor. Our favorite was that of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge off in the distance that was eerily silhouetted against the sparkling water.

On our way back to the Silver Cloud, we took another route back through the Ruston neighborhood. To our surprise, we discovered Don’s Ruston Market and Deli on the corner of 51st and North Winnifred. Billing itself as “Home of the 1940s Soda Fountain,” this place truly is a throw-back in time complete with counter bar stools and mom and pop owners who crafted our chocolate shake and hamburger all from scratch. A must-stop.

Wind down with a burger and shake at Don’s Ruston Market and Deli.

For cyclists, the Five Mile Drive is also a must-stop – just don’t feed the raccoons!

(Editor’s Note: Point Defiance Park is part of Tacoma’s Metro Parks system. In addition to great biking, visitors can also enjoy numerous trails for running, walking and hiking, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Go-Karts, picnicking, salt water beaches and eight public gardens; most notably a Japanese Garden which surrounds the Point Defiance Pagoda. Inspired by Japanese architecture, this striking historic structure will celebrate its centennial in 2014.

Carolyn Price is publisher of Outdoors NW.


Point Defiance: www.metroparkstacoma.org/point-defiance-park

Silver Cloud Inn: www.silvercloud.com/tacoma

Don’s Ruston Market and Deli: 5102 North Winnifred Street, Ruston, Wash., 98407
(253) 759-8151

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