Kayaking Adventures in Tacoma: Discover Urban Waterways Like Never Before

Kayaker under bridge.

When you think of kayaking, do you picture serene lakes or secluded rivers? What about urban waterways surrounded by towering skyscrapers and picturesque bridges? Kayaking in Tacoma offers a unique experience right in your own backyard.

Tacoma, a stunning peninsula enveloped by the waters of Puget Sound, provides easy access to numerous waterfront parks. As I strolled along the shoreline, I often wondered what the city looked like from the water. This summer, I finally had the chance to find out, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Not only is kayaking a fantastic way to enjoy fresh air and exercise while practicing social distancing, but it also serves as a reminder to preserve our precious ecosystems, like the Salish Sea.

Now, let me take you on a journey through some of my favorite kayaking spots in Tacoma.

Ruston Way: A Scenic Waterfront Wonderland

Ruston Way quickly became our go-to kayaking spot. This two-mile stretch of scenic waterfront is adorned with parks and gentle sloping beaches, just waiting for you to launch your kayak. Although parking may require a bit of maneuvering, it’s a small price to pay for the incredible experience that awaits. Dickman Mill Park and Cummings Park are excellent options for launching, and once you’re on the water, the city’s hustle and bustle fades away. The calm waters and passing wakes from boats create a tranquil setting, allowing you to feel miles away from the urban excitement.

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As you navigate Ruston Way’s waters, explore remnants of its industrial past. Scattered along the shoreline are the remains of 38 piers that were once bustling with Tacoma’s lumber mills, warehouses, and copper smelters. Today, these structures have transformed into a haven for seagulls, loons, and cormorants, while playful seals frolic in the surf.

Thea Foss Waterway: Where Urban Marvels Meet Nature’s Beauty

Thea Foss Waterway, a 1.5-mile inlet nestled between downtown Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma, offers a feast for the senses. Imagine towering bridges, sailboats gracefully gliding in and out of the marina, and the captivating downtown Tacoma skyline. Launching your kayak at Thea’s Park on Dock Street is a breeze, thanks to the public dock. Despite the boat traffic, the waterway presents a bounty of sights to explore. Stay aware of your surroundings and steer clear of larger vessels, and you’ll be treated to an unforgettable adventure.

Titlow Beach: Challenging yet Rewarding

If you’re up for a challenge, make your way to Titlow Beach in Tacoma’s West End. This scenic spot boasts stunning views of the iconic Tacoma Narrows Bridge. While parking is ample at the park, reaching the beach requires crossing train tracks and descending a flight of stairs that can be slippery during low tide. Unlike the tranquil waters of Commencement Bay, the Tacoma Narrows is known for its strong currents, which can be perilous if you venture too far from the shore. Weather conditions can also play a role, as we discovered on our visit, battling brisk winds and significant swells. However, the awe-inspiring views of Gig Harbor, Fox Island, and even the majestic Olympic Mountains on a clear day make it all worthwhile. Our wet and windy adventure reminded us of the Pacific Northwest’s natural beauty, just minutes away from the urban landscape.

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Tips for Urban Kayakers


For those new to urban kayaking, here are a few essential tips:

  • Renting kayaks is a great way to test the waters before investing in your own gear.
  • Start early on weekends and holidays to find the best launch spots and be prepared with backup options if your first choice is crowded.
  • Always wear a properly fitting personal flotation device for safety.
  • Check weather conditions and tide tables in advance to avoid unexpected challenges.
  • Stay away from ferry routes and shipping lanes, and keep an eye out for larger vessels.
  • Lastly, remember to respect wildlife by keeping a safe distance from orcas and seal pups if you encounter them on your adventures.

Kayaking enthusiasts, have I missed any marvelous spots in the Tacoma area? Let me know in the comments, and remember to visit East Coast Paddle Sports for all your kayaking needs. Thank you for joining me on this extraordinary journey!

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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and avid kayaker based in Tacoma, WA. His work has been featured in Creative Colloquy and Grit City Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his mailing list for more thrilling adventures.

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