It’s springtime in Seattle. And as far as the weather’s concerned that could mean just about anything. The good news? Those schizophrenic rain-again, shine-again days don’t have to put a damper on your family’s outdoor adventures. Pack up your little rangers and head to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park for some close encounters of the animal kind, rain or shine.

Rainy day Northwest Trek kidsphoto: Allison Sutcliffe 

Where the Wild Things Are
Just 60 miles south of Seattle lies Northwest Trek, a 725-acre animal park that puts a whole new spin on the way families “zoo.” Officially it’s part of the Tacoma Metro Parks, but it’s a far cry from the city and probably doesn’t resemble any city park you’ve seen before. Here, over two hundred native Northwest spices call Trek home, and many roam freely around the property. The park has a serious focus on conservation, protecting endangered species and restoring wild places in and around Pierce County. Many of their efforts are reflected in the types and numbers of animals roaming around the property.

Bison next to tram with kids on it-M

photo: Northwest Trek

Admission to the park comes with a ride-along perk on the Discovery Tram. Climb aboard for an hour-long journey through forests, meadows and wetlands, where you’ll get up close and personal with the free-range residents who call Trek their home. Along the trail have your sidekick keep an eye out for bison, elk, big horn sheep, and moose, if you’re one of the lucky riders of the day. The tram operators know who the stars of this show are, so they slow down when the animals are at close range. That means there’s plenty of time to snap post-worthy pics and learn a little about what you’re seeing too. Plus, just like you and your little webfooters, these native Northwesterners are comfy in the rain. In fact, some of the best times to catch these big guys and gals at close range are when its overcast with a little drizzle. Just the way we like it here!

Northwest Trek boy in tram

photo: Northwest Trek

Riding the tram takes a little planning for the tot lot. Remember to hit the potty ahead of time (although if you have an emergency, you can ring the bell), and eat a snack before hitting the road. Food and drinks are only allowed for kiddos younger than 3 on the tour. And if your Little just can’t get enough of the tram, they can ride again (and again and again). Multiple rides (as available) are included with the price of admission. Just grab another ticket at the front gates after your first trip ends. Let the good times roll!

Boy and bison Northwest Trek

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Walk on the Wild Side
Hop off the tram and make your way around the peaceful walking trails in the park. These lightly wooded trails feel oddly wild, as the muffled silence of the forest settles in around you. And the tree canopy provides just enough protection that the elements (rain or shine) don’t have to dictate your day. Along the trail, little rangers and their grown ups can view some ferocious creatures living in natural habitats from a safe distance. Get your I-spy lens out to spot cougars, lynx, bobcats, wolverines and bears as you meander through the trees. One of our favorite spots to hit is the Baker Research Cabin, a small building that backs to the wolf habitat. Inside there’s a sweet little “den” where your kidlets can hole up to watch out for wolves. It’s soundproof and right at eye level, so when the wolves come lumbering by it equals total squeal-worthy excitement for everyone!

Wolves Northwest trek

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Trailside Encounters are scheduled throughout the day along the trail, too. The talks are a grab-a-stump and listen-up deal where the keepers bring out surprise animals from the walk-around habitats for some face time with visitors. While the animals do their thing, curious cuties can ask questions and snap pics with beavers, turtles, owls and other furry or feathered friends. Check the board when you enter the park for the day’s Encounters times and locations.

Keeper and beaver Northwest Trek

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

All these outdoor adventures work up an appetite. Pack in your own goodies and enjoy them in the covered picnic plaza just inside the entrance, or just pack some cash (or plastic) so you can partake in the delish eats dished up at the Forest Café. They’ve got a nice big fireplace in there and plenty of seating, so if you need to dry off or warm up, this is a good place to do it.

Wild Encounters
In an effort to help people connect with the wild world around them, Northwest Trek has some thrilling experiences with mega family-appeal. We love the Keeper Tours ($55 members, $60 non-members) that meet in the early morning hours (from 8 a.m.-10 a.m.). Mini Dr. Doolittles (ages 5 & up) and their grown-ups join a keeper on a morning ride to dole out some breakfast eats to the resident wildlife. This is about as up close as it gets!

Boy and northwest trek water

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The zip line adventure courses are another exciting add-on to your day at the Trek. And any one of the three kid-friendly challenges they’ve got will get your mini me giggling and flying through the air in no time. Younger adventurers (ages 5 & up) should check out the Super Kid Course ($19.95). Here, little daredevils will fly over the tree canopy in two zip line sections and work their way through nine different challenge elements, climbing, crawling, even jumping through and over obstacles. The bigger bunch (ages 8 & up) should try their hand on the Discovery Course ($29.95) or the Aerial Runway ($18.95). Both offer thrills and challenges that will make for some great stories out on the playground come Monday. Register online before you zip to add this adrenaline rush to your park visit.

Party Animals
This summer, Northwest Trek turns 40! And in true party animal fashion, they’re hosting a blowout you won’t want to miss. Mark your calendars for this three-day celebration, July 17-19. Expect lots of over the hill signs and animals wearing party hats and bugling through blowers at this family-friendly affair.

Silly Kids at Northwest Trek

photo: Northwest Trek

If overnights are more your thing, there are two phenomenal ways to experience the Northwest Trek at night. Sign up for Bear Camp (ages 5 & up), May 16-17 to experience every bear-y thing imaginable. Chat with the keepers who care for the bears, learn how to protect your campsite from hungry bears who think your toothpaste smells extra yummy, even watch as black bears rummage through a mock campsite. Beary cool! Or check out the Family Camps that run in July and August for campers age 5 and up and their parents. It’s a chance to take the tram around the park at night (what do animals do then anyway?) and chat with naturalists who lead crafts and other games to tire out those wiggle worms before they hunker down in the tent for a good night’s sleep. It’s a wildly good time!

Boy and dad with ice cream northwest trekphoto: Northwest Trek

Northwest Trek
11610 Trek Dr. E.
Eatonville, Wa 98328
360-832-6117
Online: nwtrek.org

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: $19.75/adults; $12.25/youth (5-12); $9.25/tots (3 & 4); under 2 Free

Have you visited Northwest Trek? Are you planning a trip this spring? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below.

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— Allison Sutcliffe