A hidden oasis of green in Tacoma’s urban core, the Tacoma Nature Center offers refuge to those hoping to escape the city without actually leaving town.
Though the park totals just 71 acres, its long contours and well-developed trail system provide a patchwork of loops. The main trail, a flat 1-mile loop, circumnavigates the narrow lake and is wheelchair accessible on the west side.
Two sturdy bridges cross Snake Lake — a 17-acre serpentine-shaped lake and wetland area in the preserve. It's home to the spectacularly colored wood duck, which is frequently seen at the first bridge. The lake also hosts mallards and Canada geese, common year-round residents. The plants and animals that live here are representative of those that share life with us in an urban environment. For the health of our ducks and geese, please do not feed them.
Find the bridges in the middle and at the south end of the lake. Above the east side of the lake, a forested ridgeline and grassy meadow beckon. Feel free to explore. You’re never more than a mile from the parking lot. Snake Lake is a 17-acre serpentine-shaped lake and wetland area in the preserve.
Noble firs and red-trunked madrones tower over an understory of ferns and creeping salal. Chipmunks and squirrels compete for the forest’s bounty, while waterfowl and western painted turtles patrol the lake and wetlands. Keep your eyes peeled for more exotic critters, from red foxes to blue herons.
And hold on to your hat in autumn, when territorial barred owls sometimes dive-bomb trail users. As for the lake’s namesake, garter snakes sun themselves on the trail on warm days, so tread lightly.
While you won’t see bikers or dogs here, do make room for bird-watchers and trail runners. Cheney Stadium, Highway 16, Bellarmine High and busy South 19th Street bound the park, so traffic noise can’t be escaped, but the air is fresh and the trail is soft.
The best time to visit is early or late in the day. Weekends can be surprisingly quiet, particularly in winter. A visitor center (closed Sundays) provides maps and other information. There are three self guided walks at the nature center: the Wetland Walk, History Walk, and Forest Walk. Try incorporating all three trails by doing the hike as a figure-eight loop.
As you begin the Forest Walk there is a slight elevation gain described in the trail guide as "climbing a small hill". Aside from this instance, the area is mostly flat, winding through forest made up mainly of Douglas Fir with Pacific Madrone, Black Cottonwood, Sitka alder, and two Garry Oak.