Walking across the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma is one of many urban hikes or walks you can take right in the city limits of Tacoma, but it's one of the best. No other walk will get you such amazing views from 200 feet above the Puget Sound. You'll see everything from wildlife to mountains to open sky (it's not much fun to take this walk on a rainy day so wait for blue or mildly cloudy skies for best results), all while enjoying a level, paved path along with the newer of the two bridges that traverse this span.
The "newer" bridge was built in 2007 to alleviate the crazy traffic that used to clog the formerly single bridge between Tacoma and Gig Harbor. It's this newer bridge that has a pedestrian and bike path. The older bridge does not allow foot traffic.
How to Get Onto the Bridge
If you’ve never walked the Narrows Bridge before, where to park and begin your walk may not be as intuitive as you expect. The bridge path starts on Jackson Avenue, but there’s no parking there as the street is pretty busy. You can park in any of the neighborhoods around the bridge, but the best place to start your walk is War Memorial Park, one of the biggest collections of memorials in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
You enter the park off of 6th Avenue and N. Skyline Drive, right next to the Swasey branch of the Tacoma Public Library and Pao’s Doughnuts. Parking is free there and you get to enjoy a stroll through the park on your way. On the far side of the park, you’ll see the bridge rising up in front of you before you reach the other side. Cross Jackson and the bridge path begins on the other side.
On the Approach
Once you exit the park and cross Jackson Avenue, there’s a walking path leading up to the bridge. You’ll be walking alongside Highway 16, a freeway, with high-speed traffic beside you the entire way. There are barriers, but the walk is not exactly a quiet walk in the country.
The path on the bridge is wide enough for foot and bike traffic going both directions. There’s a thick cement barrier between car traffic and the pedestrian path.
Views of the Mountains
Heading toward Gig Harbor, you’ll catch glimpses of the Olympic Mountains. Closer to the Gig Harbor side of the bridge (and especially if you're walking from Gig Harbor and toward Tacoma), you can spot great views of Mt. Rainier on clear days.
Seals and Boats
Take a moment somewhere in the middle of the bridge to pause and look down over the edge. Plenty of boats pass under the bridge, often fighting the strong currents that flow below. You’ll also see some wildlife, most commonly seagulls and seals hanging out. They’re pretty small from your lofty viewpoint about 200 feet above the water, but visible and still fun to check for. Seals look like long ovals just under the surface of the water.
Views of the Puget Sound and Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
Along the way, you can see amazing views of the Puget Sound below you. Far off in the distance to the south is the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. You can’t really pinpoint Nisqually from the bridge, but from the Refuge on a clear day, you can spot the bridge.
Bad Weather and Sun Exposure
It’s not uncommon for Northwestern natives to take a walk in the rain or bad weather, but be advised that heading across the Narrows Bridge during heavier rain, snow or wind is downright unpleasant. The bridge offers no shelter whatsoever and is known for getting strong side winds. If the day is windy and rainy, chances are rain will be coming at you sideways the entire time. Sure, you can still walk it, but by the time you get back, you will probably wish you didn't.
Likewise, on sunny days, there is no shade on the bridge. Wear sunscreen.
No, there are no bathrooms on the entire walk, which measures somewhere between two and four miles round trip, depending on where you start and if you go the entire way across the bridge before you turn around. There are also no restrooms at War Memorial Park or on the far side of the bridge. Prepare accordingly.