Explore the new Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park
Dune Peninsula rises from the ashes of industry. This former Superfund cleanup site is now a must-experience Tacoma public park.
Photo Courtesy Metro Parks Tacoma
Update: Saturday, Sept. 7, is the official Dune Peninsula Opening Celebration. It's free to attend, and there will be family activities, food trucks, a beer garden and a free concert by popular alt-rock band Vertical Horizon. 1 to 4 p.m.
On a spit of land in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay sits a brand new park with serene green space and spectacular marine and mountain vistas. Not that long ago, this was the site of a toxic wasteland.
It’s hard to believe that this beautiful, 11-acre park with 180-degree Puget Sound views was, for much of the 20th century, a dumping ground for slag from the former ASARCO copper smelter.
After a remarkable three-year, $75M cleanup and redevelopment effort, the Superfund site has been rehabilitated into a safe, super-fun park.
Real-life chutes and ladders
“Bummer. I thought this was going to be one, giant slide. So you could really pick up speed!”
During the park’s opening celebration on Saturday, one teen boy expressed mild disappointment about the slide feature, which takes people down a 60-foot slope from the new Wilson Way Bridge to the marina complex below.
My preschool-aged kids disagreed. The series of six slides – some long, some short – were plenty fast. After my two-and-a-half-year-old witnessed another preschooler shoot down one of the longer slides, fly off the end and skid across the cushy landing pad, she opted to play on the shorter slides at the bottom of the hill.
The structure really is a fun experience for all ages. I saw a toddler, a teen, a dad and a grandma all line up together for a turn down the slides. Five-year-olds and 50-year-olds alike were screaming “Whee! Let’s do that again!”
The slides are fun. The stairs that parallel them are exhausting. My quads were burning after 15 minutes of following kids up and down, up and down. Most kids opted to skip the stairs and use the slope’s flagstone landscaping to rock climb their way back to the top.
Tips: Save your tired legs from a long walk back to the car by parking in the nearby marina parking lot. Bring water bottles, and test the metal slides’ temperature – they get hot under the midday sun – before sending down any barelegged little ones.
Photo: Metro Parks Tacoma
Dune Peninsula is the park’s centerpiece, which is named for science fiction writer Frank Herbert’s famous novel. Herbert was born in Tacoma, and his experience living near the ASARCO plant during the city’s industrial heyday influenced his bestselling story about the destruction of the natural world through human folly.
Herbert’s tale and the peninsula’s polluted history stand in stark contrast to what you’ll see at Dune Peninsula today. 400,000 cubic yards of dirt have been replaced, and a geotextile cap makes the landscape safe.
Now there are grassy green hills for rolling, rocky outcroppings for climbing, expansive lawns for kite flying, and benches and tables for picnicking. On clear days you can see the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, the Cascades, and Mount Rainier. Plop down at one of the many viewpoints and watch the sailboats, container ships, Vashon Island ferry, and resident seals skimming Commencement Bay’s calm waters. You might even spy a blue heron, or if you’re really lucky, a whale.
There’s no playground at the park, but with all the natural features to climb and hop along, the kids won’t miss it.
Tip: Don’t miss the outdoor sculpture Alluvion, which harks back to the site’s origins through the use of smokestack pipe. You’ll see the sculptures near the parking lot.
Frank Herbert Trail
Frank Herbert Trail, the paved pathway that loops around the peninsula and connects to Ruston Way, draws all manner of wheeled fun: We saw families riding bikes, scooters and skateboards in both electric form and the old-fashioned human-powered form. With so many electric scooters zipping by, I appreciated that the path is wide enough to share with walkers, joggers, double strollers and meandering toddlers.
Wilson Way Bridge
The 605-foot-long bridge is the missing link between Point Defiance Park and Tacoma’s Ruston Way waterfront path. The bridge, which towers above a new parking lot for park users and boat trailers, includes a section in the middle to rest and take in the expansive views.
There’s a pavilion on Dune Peninsula with clean restrooms and water fountains. (You can also rent the pavilion for private events.) The pavilion is the only place in the park that provides a bit of shade, so bring your own sun protection. If you need food, follow the Frank Herbert Trail east toward Point Ruston where you’ll find plenty of kid-friendly restaurants.
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If you go
Dune Peninsula Park
5361 Yacht Club Rd, Tacoma, WA 98407
Take I-5 south to exit 133 for I-705 north, and follow the signs for Schuster Parkway. Stay to the left and follow Schuster Parkway toward Ruston Way. The parking lot for Dune Peninsula is at the west end of Ruston Way, just past Point Ruston.
The park and parking lots are free! Bring your wallet if you want to rent an electric scooter or one of the ride-on pedal toys at Point Ruston.
Just east of the slides near Wilson Way Bridge is a giant boulder and a small maze of thoughtfully placed logs. They’re fun for climbing and balancing.
More to explore nearby