It was the day I realized we were on a first-name basis with practically every duck and goose living along our local recreation path that I knew my toddler and I needed to find some new running routes. Winter cabin fever always takes hold this time of year, and this year it's worse. Here's what we found when we went in search of new vistas and playgrounds.
For Seattle- and Eastside-area families, check out our guide to the best places to run with a stroller around Seattle and the Eastside.
What I look for in a trail or path
My trail wish list includes convenient (and preferably free) parking and restrooms — two must-haves for any parent out and about with a young one. My young son demands play space, whether a fully equipped playground or simply a wide-open field for chasing a ball or playing tag with Mommy.
Here are the great South Sound-area paths we found. We hope to see you out on the trail!
8 favorite stroller-friendly trails for South Sound-area families
1. Point Defiance Park, Tacoma
In Tacoma’s answer to Vancouver’s Stanley Park, runners and walkers have access to a dizzying array of trails, both paved and unpaved, through the stunning old-growth forest (blessedly shady on sunny summer days). Drive around first to get acquainted and clock mileages for your run if you like. Toddler diversions include the top-notch zoo, rocky Owen Beach, a playground plus an adorable duck pond with a toddler-size bridge and island in the middle (a hit with fans of "Make Way for Ducklings"). And don't miss the newer Dune Peninsula area with its epic slides!
2. Tacoma Nature Center, Tacoma
Always popular with kids, boardwalks feature in Tacoma Nature Center's terrific, unpaved trail network. While paths are not paved, they are mostly hard-packed and most strollers will navigate them fine. The Discovery Pond themed playground will delight the tots and you may spy a turtle or two in Snake Lake from your trailside vantage point. You can also sign up for a private nature experience here, or, with older kids, try out the Agents of Discovery app.
3. Nathan Chapman Memorial Trail, Puyallup
This wide, paved trail connects South Hill Community Park and Heritage Recreation Center. It's named for Sergeant Nathan Chapman, a Green Beret and Puyallup resident who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002. Covering the loop around South Hill Park plus out-and-back on the connector yields a run of about three miles. Find free parking, a play area and handy restrooms at South Hill Park.
4. Foothills Trail, Orting
Park in downtown Orting or at the McMillin trailhead, about 2.5 miles away (this makes a great out-and-back 5-miler). The paved, level recreation trail follows State Route 162, past elementary schools and playgrounds, ice cream shops and coffee shops. Stop in downtown Orting for a picnic and toddler time on the shady, colorful playground. Restrooms and parking are available.
5. Capitol Lake Trails, Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater
Park at Heritage Park, adjacent to the State Capitol campus, or Marathon Park and complete a loop of Capitol Lake. Combine this with a visit to Tumwater Historical Park, just down Deschutes Way (there’s a shortcut to the park at the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center). Historical Park boasts a huge playground, riverfront picnic area, parking and restrooms. The trails are paved and level. After your jog, head over to the East Bay for a bite to eat or a visit to the Hands On Children’s Museum (temporarily closed).
6. Percival Landing boardwalk, Olympia
Take a short but picturesque route along the Budd Bay wooden boardwalk (about .9 mile one way). Climb the viewing tower at Port Plaza, visit the Farmers Market and stop halfway to run around at the playground or on the wide expanse of lawn. Toddlers love to gawk at the boats, some gargantuan and some more modest, parked in the marina. Clean restrooms (complete with a changing table) and ample parking are available.
7. Pioneer Park in Tumwater
Beyond its expansive playground, this lovely park offers a .5-mile unimproved trail and 1.2 miles of mixed-surface trails for running or walking. There’s also access to the Deschutes River and a beach area, both nice areas for exploring with little ones.
8. Tolmie State Park, Olympia
Take your pick of distances: 1.25-mile, .75-mile and .25-mile loops, all unpaved and best for sturdy jogging strollers during brisk walks or runs. Forest and water views abound. Stop at the beach to explore tidal pools and have a picnic. Note that the park is open Wednesday through Sunday outside of summer, and that a day or annual Discover Pass is required to park.
My tips and tricks for running with babies and tots
- Vary the timing of your play stop: On some days, hit the playground first; on others, visit after your run, or — if your route permits — take a breather in the middle to allow your child to stretch their legs, too.
- Encourage toddlers to point out the sights: Have them call out objects and colors they see, anything from ducks to dogs, blue strollers to red cars.
- Do some interval training: Go faster or slower between points on the trail: Sprint to the next telephone pole, then take it down a notch to the next one, for example.
- Keep it varied: Walk some days, run some, take short runs, long runs, make a day of hill walking. Stop and do some sit-ups and lunges with your baby on a blanket beside you. Think of it as a custom workout — and you’re your own trainer.
- Keep a selection of running stroller-only toys: Stash select toys in your car and pull them out for your exercise sessions.
- Be ready for action: Keep the jogger and a pair of running shoes in the trunk of your car. You never know when you might pass a beautiful park or trail, just as your child needs a stroller nap or a change of scenery.
An around-town stroller might not cut it when it comes to running some real miles. Enter the larger, sturdier jogging stroller. There are countless options on the market these days, ranging from basic to über-deluxe. For me, the most important must-haves are a swiveling front wheel that also locks (the swivel enables one-handed pushing and steering), a generously sized basket under the seat for carrying toys and snacks, a water bottle holder and an ample sun/rain visor. I also invested in a universal rain shield for those less-than-pleasant Northwest days; my son just thinks he’s riding in a “space bubble” — whatever works, right?
Editor's note: This article has been updated several times, most recently in January 2021.