Prior to 1830
The valleys of the White and Carbon Rivers (originating at Mount Rainier), serve to house countless indigenous villages. Trails are developed for hunting, trading, fishing and transportation.
1830 - 1864
American and European settlers begin to establish small communities in the river valleys, further enhancing the trail system. The region develops around agriculture and fur trade.
1864 - 1877
Coal is discovered in the Carbon River Valley, near the town of Wilkeson. Mines are developed, and a spur of the Northern Pacific Railroad is completed from Wilkeson to Tacoma.
1877 - early 1900’s
The communities of the Carbon River Valley are booming, and roughly 65,000 residents live in the various towns along the river. The railroad moves timber to Commencement Bay mills, and move tourists from Tacoma to the newly established National Park at Mount Rainier.
Early 1900’s - 1982
As coal mining in the area declines, the traffic on the railway fades. Many communities along the river vanish becoming “ghost towns,” and Burlington Northern Railroad abandons the rail bed in 1982
The Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition is formed to advocate for the construction of a Pierce County park along the abandoned rail bed. Efforts begin to procure rights to the land to begin development of the trail.
The Foothills Trail Today
The Foothills Trail sits atop a historic railroad bed that snakes through river valleys, farmland and beautiful canyons while soaring over low and high bridges southeast of Tacoma about 8 miles and almost directly south of Seattle Washington about 22 miles.
The paved trail section is a popular commuter route and recreational destination for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and equestrians. Many hikers, walkers and equestrians enjoy the unpaved sections that continue almost to Mount Rainier National Park. There are many sections of the trail that have unobstructed views of nearby Mt. Rainier, forestland, and nature in all her beauty.
The paved sections of the Foothills Trail are 12-foot-wide asphalt trails, linear parks suitable for bicycles, walking, runners, in-line skates and wheelchairs. It also has a soft shoulder path for equestrians. All the trails are non-motorized except some e-bikes are allowed.
The overall continuous length is almost 21 miles of completed paved sections from the Meeker (East Puyallup) Trailhead to the north edge of Buckley. Future plans are to link a trail section called the Ernie Bay Connector between the Foothills Trail, and the Riverwalk Trail in Puyallup, and the Sumner Link Trail. The Riverwalk Trail will ultimately connect to Tacoma and the Sumner Link Trail will connect with the Interurban Trail which extends north through Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and on to Seattle. The Foothills Trail in Buckley will continue north over the White River (scheduled for 2022) to a brand-new trail section just completed which connects to the existing Foothills Trail in Enumclaw in King County with future connections to the north.
The unpaved sections of the Foothills Trail continue south near South Prairie along the abandoned railroad bed extending first to Wilkeson, then on to Carbonado and ending near the Mount Rainier National Park. One of these trail sections, between South Prairie and Wilkeson, goes through Gale Canyon, a beautiful canyon which is currently closed due to washouts.
The Foothills Trail has been constructed in sections as finances, environmental permits and the acquiring of ownership have allowed. We are continually working to extend, improve and maintain the paved and unpaved sections of this trail. Your paid membership and/or volunteer time helps us to continue with improving this extraordinary trail for our children, grandchildren, and all future generations to come.