Tacoma Road Bike Rides
It can be hard to find good riding on the Tacoma peninsula. Our poor roads and sketchy drivers can discourage road riding. However, over the last couple of years I’ve put together a few go-to rides originating in Proctor that work well for anyone in North Tacoma. These rides minimize exposure to traffic and use established bike lanes and routes when possible.
- Airport Ride - 13 miles
- Gig Harbor Path - 23 miles
- Vashon Island Loop - 37 miles
- Get to the Point - 14 miles
- Be Industrious - 12 miles
- Really? You road to Puyallup?
- What I’ve left out
If I’ve left out a good ride, please let me know at email!
Airport Ride (13 miles)
A quick ride across the bridge and along the airport
This ride is an out and back and has three separate legs. Because this ride is not particularly exposed to traffic, it’s a great ride for afternoons. Just be alert where it crosses busier roads.
This ride begins at the Field House of University of Puget Sound. The first leg is a warmup along North 11th Street. This is fairly bike friendly with two way stops protecting side traffic. Keep your eyes open cross Proctor. During high traffic times, I usually dodge through the McLendon Hardware store parking lot and the use the sidewalk to go under the overpass and access the bike path. The second leg goes along the Scott Pierson Trail along Highway 16. You’ll jog left at the apparent end of the trail onto Skyline Dr, and then turn right back onto the trail and you’ll go through the War Memorial Park. Cross N Jackson Ave and continue on the trail where you’ll ride over the Narrows Bridge. This is a great climb and a wonderful part of the ride. Be courteous to the walkers and runners, there will always be some foot traffic.
You can now explore the Gig Harbor side of the bay, and for this quick ride we make an out and back along the airport access road. This road isn’t particularly smooth, but it gets very little traffic and is a nice couple of miles to roll along. As a bonus, you could stop at The Hub for pizza and watch some airplanes take off.
Gig Harbor Path (23 miles)
This ride is an extension of the previous ride. Instead of turning left and riding to the airport, it continues into Gig Harbor to join the Cushman Trail. You’ll ride a short section of 14th Avenue to access the trail. In this section 14th has an adequate shoulder that seems to stay clear of debris. There are a couple of breaks in the trail, and you’ll need to navigate. There is some signage in place, but it’s not great. Remember that the trail sticks close to Highway 16 and you find your way. The last few miles of this out and back ride have some nice 8-10% climbs that will make you happy for the flat sections of riding back through Gig Harbor.
Vashon Island Big Loop (37 miles)
Any ride with a ferry seems like an adventure
This loop includes a crossing on the ferry. Pay attention to the schedule when you ride, and the cross should only cost a dollar for you and your bike. You’ll get priority loading and you can read more information on their bicycle information page. The map above shows the full route, but because of waypoint limitations at Google Maps, the final leg to return home is not included. This is a long ride, and it could take a fair bit of time if you end up having to wait for the ferry both directions. Take some snacks and extra water. There are some cute shops in town on this loop including both a small cafe and an espresso stand. The roads on this loop in many places have no shoulders at all. However, the locals seem to deal with riders fairly well. I do recommend blinking bike lights and brightly colored jersey. If there is inclement weather, the wait for the ferry can be bad as there is no shelter.
You can shorten this loop by cross the island at any of the cross roads, just check the map and choose your own adventure. If you’re a mountain biker, check out the Dockton Forest riding area for some fun little flow trails. It’s a great place to roll around.
Get to the Point (14 miles)
A quick ride to Point Ruston
This is a popular route and once you get to Point Defiance Park it’s quite a nice ride. Because of the road and the cross traffic between Proctor and the park, I rarely ride this route. The park itself can be crowded on the weekend and the traffic can be quite busy. But on a Tuesday morning, this can be a nice ride to take. If you’ve got a few extra minutes, roll out to the Dune Peninsula at Pt Defiance Park. It has a great view of the water. Again, because of a Google Maps limitation, you’ll need to ride back following your own route.
Be Industrious (12 miles)
A loop through downtown and the industrial roads. Kinda sketchy
This ride is nice on a weekend when the port traffic is gone and the roads by the docks are quiet. The roads in the industrial area aren’t very clean. Make sure that you’ve got tires that don’t flat easily. There are certainly people living in cars and there are some hidden homeless camps along the rail lines. Be careful on this ride.
With that said, from campus you’ll head out Union, make a right onto 30th, and go down the large hill to Old Town. This hill is dangerous, and it forces you to make a choice between a bad bike lane and parked cars, or moving into traffic for a 35mph downhill. The safe move it to move over one block and descend on 29th St. After you cross through Old Town, you’ll move to the sidewalk and ride along Schuster Parkway. If you stay in the road as you leave Old Town, be alert for sewer grates that have their grate in the wrong direction. This area may also have homeless camps above you on the hill and watch for glass and debris on the sidewalk/trail. The traffic through here often moves 20+mph over the posted speed limit, and I do not recommend riding the road through this stretch.
You’ll turn off the sidewalk and onto 4th St/Dock Street and begin moving towards the port. Once you’ve cross over the railway tracks you can make a quick stop at Thea’s Park. Next, you can find one of Tacoma’s hopeful futures - a waterfront ride along the Foss Waterway. If you hop the curb and ride behind the building called “The Dock” you’ll find a wooden waterfront walkway that you can ride along. From there you can continue along the waterfront by riding down docks, walkways, and occasionally having to ride through a gravel lot to link together several sections of waterfront walkway. There is even a small path to go under the 11th St bridge without using the road. Watch for glass and debris and know that this can be a dangerous area. Move briskly.
Eventually you’ll pass the Glass Museum and Marina and you’ll move back out to Dock St. Ride over the end of the waterway and turn left into the industrial district. There’s a loop out here that will be quiet on the weekends and feel a little post-apocalyptic. You’ll return over the 11th St Bridge with a nice view of downtown. Turn right and continue through town to get to Fireman’s Park. This park has a nice overlook of the port, and the bridge nicely frames Mt. Ranier. From here you make your way past the Elks Lodge and up S. Stadium Way. You can choose to run up the Spanish Steps for a view and different ride past (or through) Wright Park. N. Tacoma Ave has lots of parked cars, but is generally wide enough that you can ride safely, and then you’ll work your way through neighborhoods to get back to campus.
If you choose, you can extend the industrial area part of this ride. You can ride across the Lincoln Ave bridge and make a loop on that side of the port to make this a longer ride. During the week these roads have heavy truck traffic and can be busy. It’s a nice ride if you’re comfortable with it. This ride might be best with a friend.
Really? You road to Puyallup?
A cyclocross ride of adventure. Definitely sketchy.
What I’ve left out
I don’t generally ride on Ruston Way Road, and I never ride on the Ruston Way Path. The Ruston Way Road is a horrible road with no shoulders, a close curb, and narrow lanes that prevent a car from being able to overtake a rider safely. It’s a very poor road for riding and Tacoma should be ashamed. The multi-use path is not appropriate for road bikes. The speed differential and poor sight lines and the frequent driveway intersections make it unsafe for both rider and pedestrian. I find it best to steer clear of the entire waterfront in that area as part of training rides. I do occasionally time trial it down the road, but it’s not safe for general riding.
I also will not ride on the Scott Pierson trail between the start at the end of 25th St through S. Tyler St. It’s simply not safe. There are numerous homeless camps below Allenmore Golf Course, and the area near Office Depot is usually strewn with garbage and debris. I have seen glass purposefully strewn across the trail - either from malice or vandalism. I narrowly avoided a very bad situation on this trail near Snake Lake Park. I would not risk riding in this area.