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China Lake

Puget Sound and Islands > Seattle-Tacoma Area
47.2430, -122.5103 Map & Directions
0.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
30 feet
Highest Point
295 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
Box steps built by WTA volunteers at China Lake. Photo by Bob Zimmerman Full-size image
  • Dogs allowed on leash
  • Wildlife
  • Good for kids
  • Lakes

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Saved to My Backpack

China Lake is a small forest escape with a trail that takes you around a quiet lake on a green nature walk. Perfect on a sunny day for a stroll and a picnic or for hiding from the rain under a tree canopy, this trail is just a step away from the bustle of city life nearby. Continue reading

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Hiking China Lake

China Lake is a small forest escape with a trail that takes you around a quiet lake on a green nature walk. Perfect on a sunny day for a stroll and a picnic or for hiding from the rain under a tree canopy, this trail is just a step away from the bustle of city life nearby.

The trail begins to the right of the parking lot as you face the lake. You'll see a small trail followed by some stairs headed down. (There is also a trail to the left; this connects to the loop on the other end.) Walk down the steps to see the lake on your left, leaving behind the sounds of cars on the road as you walk into a quiet forested area. On a clear day, you may see ducks feeding and floating in the lake.

A junction appears shortly after the lake comes into view. Head left, following the edge of the lake on a wide dirt trail. Continue along the relatively flat trail for 0.1 miles to find a flat shady spot on the left that may be good for lunch to the sounds of birds chirping. There are a couple of similarly-shaded flat spots just a few hundred feet further along the trail. 

About 0.1 miles further down from the first lunch spot, it can get confusing at a junction where the trail gets very close to a chain-link fence on the right. (You may see a yellow "caution: gas pipeline" marker on the left; the junction is shortly past this.) Take a 90-degree left turn here and continue straight until you see a small trail headed back toward the lake. Continue forward and soon the lake will come back into view on the left.

Be aware that the trail on the north side of the lake has more roots, is muddier, and is not as flat as the trail closer to the south side of the lake. In a couple hundred feet, the trail opens up completely, and a beautiful viewpoint of the lake will be on your left. Spend a moment taking in the views of the lake, the trees reflecting in the water on a calm day. 

Just 50 feet ahead of the viewpoint, encounter another junction and turn left to enter a short section of trail covered by a low mossy tree canopy before reaching another good flat snack spot next to the water about 200 feet forward. Here is another junction; to stay on the trail, continue straight from where you came. If you take the right uphill, you’ll end up at another small parking lot where you can also park to hike this loop.

The trail is narrow here, with some mild elevation loss and gain. Common ivy blankets the forest floor around the trail, climbing some of the nearby trees. In under 100 feet, approach your last junction and turn to the right. Here, the trail widens and flattens, a few sections of wooden fencing appearing on the right, and some trail stairs coming into view ahead. These are not the trail stairs you took to begin your hike, but they will take you back up to the parking lot to complete your loop.

History Note

China Lake's name comes from an underground tunnel system rumored to be dug by Chinese immigrants back in the 1880s when they were legally not allowed in the Tacoma area. Much gossip surrounded the tunnels, and it was said the tunnels allegedly could be accessed near the park at one point.

WTA worked here in 2021!

Hike Description Written by
Tiffany Chou, WTA Correspondent

China Lake

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 47.2430, -122.5103 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee


WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

Getting There

From I-5 in Tacoma, head south. Take exit 132B, following signs for Highway 16 West by keeping right at the fork. In 0.5 miles, keep left to merge onto Highway 16 West. Take exit 2B in 2 miles, and follow the road for 0.7 miles to exit the highway. At the end of the off-ramp, turn right onto S Orchard Street, heading south for 0.2 miles. At S 19th Street, turn right and continue for 0.3 miles. Look for a sign for China Lake Nature Area on your right, and turn into the parking lot.

The paved parking lot is right off the main road, just past the intersection of S 19th Street and Farallone Avenue to the west, which has parking spots for 6 cars. There are no restrooms at the trailhead. There is a single picnic table shaded by a tree and a garbage can. The park is open half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sunset.

There is additional parking about a block away north of the intersection of S 19th Street and S Winnifred Street (the next right turn past the main parking lot), where 3 or 4 cars can park. This parking lot also leads to the trail loop via a small trail that begins to the right of the parking lot. There are no amenities at this trailhead.

More Hike Details


Puget Sound and Islands > Seattle-Tacoma Area

China Lake (#0)

Metro Parks Tacoma

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China Lake

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