Tacoma’s Wapato Park

Follow enough locals on Instagram and you are bound to see photos of Wapato Park. Some are of the Wapato Lake, some are of the historic pergola and some are of the long, narrow bridge running through a marsh.

Needless to say, Wapato Park had been on my Tacoma bucket list for awhile, but between it not being that close to our house to reading about someone getting shot there in broad daylight, we had never bothered to actually visit.

 

That changed recently when we were hunting for fall color and decided we were bored of going to Wright Park every year.

The lake was a swimming hole dating back to the earliest mentions of people in the Tacoma region, and was long a highlight for visitors. It was accessed initially by a spur trail from the Indian Henry Trail, which ran from Commencement Bay to Mount Rainier. You can read more about the history of the park here.

The main trail around the lake, which is just under a mile, is paved and is ADA accessible. It gives access to the beach, docks (which are great for bird viewing) and a historical boathouse.

Wapato Park has lots of fall colors.
Wapato Park has lots of fall colors.

There is also a pergola which was built in 1938. The crescent-shaped arbor’s columns were rebuilt in 2005 with concrete and fiberglass, but the top of it is still made out of wood. It provides a beautiful setting at the southeast entrance, as there are lots of flowers, views of the lake and a waterfall nearby.

Some fall colors at Wapato Lake Park in Tacoma.

A post shared by Craig Craker (@craig_craker) on

 

From the pergola, we took a path into the woods looking for the long bridge described above. First we came upon a stone bridge which easily transports one back into time. On this foggy Sunday, it was shrouded by trees and with no one else around it gave the hint of the early 20th century.

Large parts of the park were built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, including the paths and roads, and a lot of the trees were planted at that time as well.

We then wound through the woods and eventually came upon the bridge I was in search of. It wasn’t quite as glorious looking as the Instagram photos I’d seen, but part of that was the time of year. Lots of trees had lost their leaves, but the bridge was still pretty cool. It sits on top of a pipeline and runs the width of the park.

Wapato Lake in South Tacoma has been used as a swimming hole since at least the 1870s.
Wapato Lake in South Tacoma has been used as a swimming hole since at least the 1870s.

You bounce along on the wooden floor of the bridge, a good 10 feet or more above the marsh and woodlands below.

It’s a pretty unique bridge and I look forward to returning to visit in the summer to try and capture some cool shots with all of the flora at its peak.

From there we returned to the lake trail and enjoyed the glorious fall color in the trees.

Wapato Park is certainly worth a visit, and to answer the safety question from above I never felt ill at ease, after all there is a police precinct in the park. On the flip side, I wouldn’t recommend my wife to go running there by herself.

– Craig Craker

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