Best off-leash dog parks around the sound

Washington Military Resource Media recently added a new family member: A 10-week-old puppy named Dexter, rescued from Seattle Humane Society. As part of Dexter’s training to be (in our opinion) the best dog in the world, his human takes him to different dog parks to socialize, train and tire him out. With six off-leash dog parks within a reasonable distance from Joint Base Lewis-McCord, we decided to visit each one and rank them so you don’t have to: 

1. Fort Steilacoom

Fort Steilacoom is run by Lakewood Parks and Rec, and has several trails and two fantastically large dog parks. The dog park is tucked into the back, surrounded by neighborhood. The traffic in that part of the park is minimal and if you find the secret parking by the off-leash entrance, you can have your dog running freely within 25 feet of your car.

On top of the great location and easy access, the park has several families that clearly live nearby and see each other there frequently. Some groups meet every afternoon to walk their dogs and welcome newcomers eagerly. They asked about Dexter, his age, how training has been and his breed. This is where I mention nobody batted an eye when told he was part pit bull… phew…. The frequent visitors were quick to share their toys with Dex, and the older dogs let him play without getting aggressive.


Dex wasn’t a fan of the dead grass.

The only downside to this park was the provided water – one woman who walks her dog there frequently explained that the water makes her pup sick every time he drinks from it so she brings her own and would suggest the same to everyone else.

Bad water being what it is, Fort Steilacoom stole mine and Dexter’s heart and we’ll be back frequently to play, run and lay in the grass.

2. Chambers Bay

Chambers Bay is absolutely beautiful. No question. Bringing a pup there is like bringing it to Disneyland with acres of grass to run on and several little kids along the way that will snuggle your puppy free of charge.

The off-leash park at Chambers is underwhelming compared to the beauty of the area. It’s pretty much a patch of dead grass (to be fair, we went in the August heat so I understand WHY it was so dead) surrounded by a chain linked fence. It’s also very small. For a puppy’s first excursion into a dog park, this might be perfect! Not a lot of dogs, not a lot of distraction, but also not a lot of fun past 15 minutes of running around in circles… Not a terrible experience, but not something I’m dying to go back to.

3. Clark’s Creek

This park, again, is beautiful. Clark’s Creek is located in Puyallup, and being the only off-leash park in the area, it gets a lot of attention. There was no shortage of big, small, old and young dogs for Dexter to play with.

Just taking your pup to the park here has plenty of stuff to stay entertained. There are trails, fields and sporting areas with plenty of people on the weekends to give your puppy loves. The dog park itself is small but since it is the only park in the area, the people and their dogs know how to have fun in the park and have made a small community of pet lovers who all frequent the area.

In the summer they bring kiddie pools for the pups to play in and as it gets colder they shift towards throwing around tennis balls until the dogs are exhausted.

Clark’s Creek is a great park, Dexter recommends other pups take their humans to the park and show them how much fun can be had.

4. Wapato

We had high hopes for Wapato Park… it’s across the street from our house and less than 3 miles away from the office. If Dex is being extra rowdy, it’s an easy park to get to and let him work out his energy. And being so close, we could even do some mid-day lunch break walks.


A tuckered out WA Military pup.

The park itself is beautiful and the off-leash zones look great! They have trails within the two off-leash parks (separated, one for big dogs and one for smaller pups).

This was the first issue we ran into – Dexter is a 10-week-old pit bull, he’s definitely not a small dog, but he’s not large… yet. So, where would we go?  We chose the big dog section and regretted it instantly. The big dog park started fine, Dex is a little bit of a diva so he said hi to all the people, got all their loves and then moved onto the dogs. Turns out, Wapato is where people who don’t take their dogs out a lot go. These were full-grown pit bulls, shepherds, labs and other large dogs who were territorial and had too much energy. Dex became a toy for them to play with and needless to say, we bounced quickly.

We went next door to the smaller dog park, which made Dex feel huge. He played with the smaller pups and most were nice, though we ran into the same problem… it was clear these dogs didn’t frequent the park and weren’t used to being played with by other dogs. We left. I didn’t want dexter to pick up bad habits from these dogs.

I will say the owners were pretty nice, even though some didn’t care that their dogs were chewing on my puppy, but they did welcome us in and give Dexter tons of snuggles and kisses. I appreciated that… But we won’t return to the off-leash section any time soon.

5. Point Defiance

Even though it’s a little further than we’d like to drive every day to get to a park, we had to check out Point Defiance’s off-leash zone. The park is gorgeous and one of the staples of Tacoma, so it’s understandable that plenty of families are always there.

The park was great! Really, no complaints. Some of the dogs were well trained, some were less well behaved, some people were nice, some kept to themselves. It was a perfectly average park experience and Dexter had plenty of fun. It’s clear that Point Defiance is a big focus in Tacoma Metro Parks office, it’s well kept and has every amenity you could want.

The only issue we faced was parking and traffic – the park is great but not quite nice enough for me to struggle through parking and that many other people every day.

6. McKinley

McKinley park is right off I-5, at the top of Tacoma. The off-leash zone is only partially fenced to keep the dogs away from I-5 but the rest is open, so inexperienced dogs beware! McKinley is overall pretty great – the dogs are sweet, the owners clearly frequent the park and Dexter had a blast.

The off-leash zone is about 7 acres with beautiful trails and great open areas for fetch and running around. The only downside to this park is the noise from I-5. If you have a skittish dog, it could be hard to focus in on a game when an ambulance or muscle car drive by.

A few more notes….


  • Keep your dog from jumping on or interfering with other people and their dogs.
  • Off-leash does not mean out of control. Aggressive dogs must be removed immediately.
  • Guests must remain with their pets, keeping them within view and under verbal control to remain within the signed boundary markers at all times.
  • Dogs must have up-to-date vaccinations and dog license.
  • Females in heat are not allowed in the park.
  • Pick up and properly dispose of your dog’s waste. It’s the law.
  • Have your dog on a leash when entering and leaving the park. Dogs are required by the Tacoma Municipal Code to be leashed in parks, except in designated off-leash areas.
  • Make sure that only one gate is open at a time.
  • No wheeled items, i.e. strollers, wagons, wheelbarrows, bicycles, etc.
  • Children must be supervised by a parent or guardian.
  • Act responsibly. Use the park at your own risk.

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