The two spans of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Credit: Kevin Madden via Flickr CC
I love a good mountain stomp as much as the next girl — I grew up hiking on Mount Rainier. But last month, we were up for an adventure a little closer to home. A runner friend and fellow mom who regularly runs the Narrows Bridge between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula came up with the idea of a family hike across the bridge.
The distance seemed doable, about two miles round-trip, and the potential for breathtaking views proved irresistible. So we strapped on our walking shoes, rounded up a few friends and set off for a morning bridge walk — after fueling up on doughnuts at Pao’s, of course, our favorite local spot.
Runners and bikers traverse the bridge every day — the highly popular path was created with pedestrians in mind — but many would-be bridge walkers don't know where to begin the hike, since you can't park on busy Jackson Avenue.
The best place to access the bridge path is via War Memorial Park, a wedge-shaped stretch of grass at Sixth and Jackson Streets in Tacoma that looks out over the bridge.
After walking through the park, we ambled onto the bridge path, the kids stopping to point out wild rose bushes and Queen Anne’s lace along the way.
Room and a view
The walk from Tacoma to Gig Harbor and back was breezy, relaxed and downright enjoyable. Thanks to the bridge’s extremely wide pedestrian path (I estimated about 10 feet, though I didn’t have a tape measure handy) we had a cushy berth separating us from traffic, along with a thick cement barrier, so the walk felt safer than one on a suburban sidewalk.
The guard rails are taller and sturdier than those on Washington state ferries. On our hike, we shared the bridge with about a half-dozen bikers, runners and a few folks out for a stroll — clearly, this is a pedestrian path that lives up to its purpose.
Like so many other things in life, it's about the journey, not the destination: After touching down on the Gig Harbor side, like most bridge hikers, we turned around and walked back, since there's no easy pathway to a park or beach.
All in all, we nabbed some great photos, an awesome calf workout, an ample dose of vitamin D and a new family tradition. I can’t wait to take our kids back as grade-schoolers and teens, and my kids can’t wait to spill a new adventure story to their friends. How many kids can say they’ve walked across an iconic landmark spanning two cities? And we’ve got the pictures to prove it.
Tips for families
- This is an outing that kids of all ages will enjoy, from the stroller crowd to teens, who will surely treat friends to loads of spectacular bridge selfies.
- If you're accessing the bridge via War Memorial Park, park in the spacious lot on North Skyline Drive directly across from Swasey Library, and walk down through the small, narrow park to the crosswalk that will put you on the bridge path.
- The bridge walk is one mile each way, but starting and finishing at War Memorial Park (your best option) puts the total distance closer to three miles.
- There is no bathroom and very little shade on the bridge, so plan accordingly. Bring water and possibly a snack for very young kids. The entire walk took us about an hour and a half.
- Plan to walk over and back on the same side, as there is no place to cross over.
- We walked in the morning, though a sunset walk could be spectacular, too. But the bridge gets strong side winds in stormy weather, so I don’t recommend walking in the rain.
- A thick cement barrier forms a wide pedestrian path. But use common sense about safety. Babies and young toddlers should be worn in a carrier or put in a stroller, and preschoolers should have a hand to hold. Older children should be instructed about safety.
- Plan to encounter plenty of bikers and runners — instruct kids to keep right on the path and heed calls of “Biker up!”
- For an extra special treat, start with a pre-hike carbo load, as we did, at Pao’s Donut and Coffee Shop (6919 Sixth Ave.), a family-owned shop that’s a local favorite and just a minute or two on foot from the park. (Bring cash, as credit and debit cards are not accepted.)
Editor's note: This article was first published in 2014 and updated for 2019.