Believe it or not, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park will be turning 45 next year, but don’t wait until then to celebrate. If its been a while since your last visit, you will be surprised by how much the park has changed. And with the addition of the brand-new Eagle Passage exhibit, now is the perfect time to plan a visit. Scroll down to learn more!

photo: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Where the Wild Things Are

Located in Eatonville, just 60 miles south of Seattle, lies Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. The 725-acre park is full of wonders. Over 200 native Northwest species live here with many of them roaming freely around the property. The park has a serious focus on conservation, protecting endangered animals 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. Psst! Many other zoos around the country have followed Northwest Trek’s lead in providing a more suitable way to see animals up close and personal without subjecting them to live behind bars.

photo: Katie Cotterill

Eagle Passage Just Opened!

You might’ve heard the news, but now it’s official. The bald eagles have landed in an all-new Eagle Passage exhibit, giving visitors the opportunity to experience them in a whole new way. A walk-through, open-air tunnel will not only allow you to immerse yourself in the forested understory of vine maple, red alder, sword ferns and other native Northwest plants, but will allow you to gaze up into the piercing yellow eyes of the eagles through a protective mesh. You’ll see the big birds above and on either side perched on branches. And guess what? There are just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them. In the exhibit, your kids will also have the chance to crawl into a human-sized “nest” and spread their arms against an eagle’s wingspan. The entire exhibit is pretty incredible and it doesn’t cost a dime more to experience.

photo: Jeffrey Totey

The Tram Tour

Northwest Trek’s best feature is its 40-minute Discovery Tram Tour taking families through forests, meadows and wetlands with plenty of stops along the way to witness the free-range residents who call the park their home. Tram tours are included with your general admission and every tour is different dependent on the animals’ plans for the day. However, chances are good that you’ll see bison, Roosevelt elk, big horn sheep, moose, caribou, mountain goats and trumpeter swans. The best part? Even when it’s raining, there’s a lot to see. 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.

Good to Know: The tour guides are knowledgeable, funny and understand how badly you’ll want to snap that post-worthy pic of the adorable black-tailed deer, so they’ll linger a bit longer if you need them to. Riding the tram takes a little planning for the tot lot. Remember to visit the bathroom 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. Most kids will be so engaged with their surroundings that they won’t have time to get bored.

Bear at Northwest Trek

photo: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Walk on the Wild Side

During your tour, you’ll want to 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.

Good to Know: 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 kids 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!

Raccoons at Northwest Trek

photo: Jeffrey Totey

Another great place you’ll want to hang out for a while is the forest and wetland creatures section where you’ll find beavers, skunks, otters and more with viewing areas above and below ground. Each home features a den area just beyond the glass. Psst! The otters alone will keep your family entertained for a long time.

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.

You’ll also want to stop at the Cheney Discovery Center, an indoor, education spot with lots of hands-on activities to try. Kids can work puppets, touch animal pelts and chat with naturalists. The space is also home to various red-legged frogs, gopher snakes, Western toads, banana slugs, newts and rubber boas. 

Zip Wild at Northwest Trek

photo: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Getting Wild

If your family is in need of even more adventure, plan to experience the Zip Wild Deep Forest Challenge. From May through September, you and your little daredevils can try out five different zip line and challenge rope courses that range from mild to wild. Choose between:

1. Super Kid Course: a low-to-the-ground adventure with two sections of zip lines and nine challenges.

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2. Discover Course: a course with a 14-foot tall climbing wall, ten obstacles and two zip lines.

3. Sensation Course: a course with a dozen challenges 80 feet in the air and five zip lines.

4. Adventure Course: a course with a 30-foot climbing wall, suspended bridges, cargo nets, a high-wire tightrope 55 feet in the air and six zip lines.

5. Aerial Runway: a course with a Trapper Climbing Ladder, two Andes bridges and a 512-foot-long zip line.

photo: Kristina Moy

Other Can’t-Miss Attractions

Near Zip Wild, you’ll find a paved walking trail which is the neighborhood of 21 different “fairy homes” that you kids will probably be able to spot quicker than you. They were put there to help kids really notice their surroundings. See if you can spot them all!

In addition to tram tours (which are included with your admission), Northwest Trek offers a few different Premiere Tours which take you through the park’s free-roaming area. For families, we especially love the Keeper Adventure Tours aboard a specially equipped four-wheel-drive jeep. This intimate experience, which takes you on the paved roads rarely traveled, on gravel tracks and occasionally even off-road, is where you and your Dr. Doolittles (ages 5 & up) can get some of the best views of the resident wildlife during a 90-minute journey. Trust us, it doesn’t get any closer than this! Tickets for the Keeper Adventure Tours (10:30 a.m. & 1 p.m.) can be purchased at the front gate on the day of you visit (first-come, first-served). Keeper Adventure Tours also include admission into Northwest Trek along with the standard tram tour.

Kids Trek at Northwest Trek

photo: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

A Refreshing Pause

Perhaps Northwest Trek’s most clever section is the Kids’ Trek play area which lets children burn off energy and create adventures of their own with giant spider webs to climb, tree trunks to climb up, creeks to splash in, forts to build and more. Psst! While it’s expected that parents watch their children in this area, a few of the park’s employees also monitor the area to make sure everyone is playing nice and staying safe.

Good to Know: Kid’s Trek is conveniently located right across from the Forest Café which serves up delicious (no, really delicious!) hamburgers, pizza, sandwiches, salads, ice cream and more freshly made with local ingredients and prices that won’t break the bank. If the weather is not cooperating, dine inside and enjoy the nice big fireplace.

Slug Fest at Northwest Trek

photo: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Party Animals

As if all this wasn’t enough, Northwest Trek also plans a variety of special activities throughout the year. Past events have included Kids ‘n’ Critters Discount Days, Super Girl Scout Day, Bear Tracks, Slug Fest, Zookeeper Academy, Feeding Frenzy, Senior Month, Hoot ‘n’ Howl, Pumpkin Chomp ‘n’ Stomp, Veteran’s Appreciation Days and Winter Wildland. Click here to see what’s coming up next.

Tickets

$22/Adults (13-64)
$20/Seniors (65+)
$14/Kids (5-12); $10/Kids (3-4)
Free for 2 & under

Pierce County residents and military families receive $2 off per ticket at the gate and everyone can save $3 per ticket when you order your tickets online. Parking is free.

Zip Wild Tours run an extra $35-$85 depending on the course you choose.
Premier Tours run $65-$90 depending on the tour you choose and include general admission and tram tours.

Optional Costs:
Strollers: $10/single; 12/double
Wheelchairs: $12
Electric wheelchairs: $35
Umbrellas: $6
Small Lockers: $1

Hours

Jan.—mid-March: Fri.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Mon-Thurs.
Mid-March—end of June: Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
July—Aug.: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sep.: Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Oct.—Dec.: Fri.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Mon-Thurs.

Note: Operating times may vary. Visit Northwest Trek’s website before you head out.

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

—Jeffrey Totey, Allison Sutcliffe & Kristina Moy

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