The Pacific Northwest is an extremely wet place, but not the way you think! Sure, we’ve been known to have rain, but we’re also an incredible destination for those who love water sports and swimming; hop in the car, and you’ll quickly encounter rivers, glacial lakes, and of course, the Puget Sound. This summer, why not make an entire trip around paddleboarding, kayaking, and/or swimming? Welcome to your ultimate guide to water activities in Pierce County!


anderson island kayak

Anderson Island

If you haven’t visited this haven for outdoor enthusiasts, bump it up to the top of your list! The small island has parks, hiking, two restaurants, and three freshwater lakes. Unless you have a private seaplane, Anderson Island is accessible via the Steilacoom ferry. Make a full trip out of it and stay at the island’s only hotel, Inn at Burg’s Landing, or camp at Andy’s Marine Park

Florence Lake

Lowell Johnson Park on the north side of the lake is locally and affectionately known as “the old swimming hole.” In the summer, the water warms pleasantly, and things can get pretty busy. Great for swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking.


lake tapps bonney lake

Bonney Lake

Ask just about any Washington water sport enthusiast where they like to go, and Lake Tapps usually makes top 3. The town of Bonney Lake is located just south of Lake Tapps, and though there aren’t many hotels to recommend, you’ll find several within a 10-15 minute drive, such as the Best Western Premier Plaza Hotel in Puyallup or the Candlewood Suites in Sumner. 

Lake Tapps

It’s easy to see why Lake Tapps is such a popular destination for paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming: there’s plenty of space for everyone with multiple inlets to explore, and in addition to a large public boat launch at North Lake Tapps Park, there’s a big grassy beach to stretch out in between excursions. 


Alder Lake


The town of Eatonville is a 25-minute drive from Ashford, with the following lakes all in close proximity, making it an excellent stopover on your Mount Rainier trip. Of course, if the water tuckers you out, you can stay at the Mill Village Motel and save your drive to Rainier for the following day.

Alder Lake

This gorgeous turquoise-blue lake has a little island in the middle of the lake to paddle or kayak around, and the mountain looms lovely and large in the distance. Though the water is calm enough for paddleboarding, the alpine lake does run cold, so kayaks may be more comfortable. Make a day of it and stay at the Alder Lake Campground!

Clear Lake

Crystal clear just like its name implies, Clear Lake is a visually stunning destination with calm waters and a larger-than-life view of Mount Rainier. Lavish homes surround the shores, but a public boat launch with bathrooms are available. 

Lake Kapowsin

Thanks to a number of submerged stumps under murky waters with limited visibility, motorized boats shy away from Lake Kapowsin. Paddleboarders will have to keep an eye out for these stumps as well, but beginner kayakers may enjoy the resulting lack of traffic. Things can get windy at times, but compared to Alder and Clear Lakes nearby, Kapowsin is downright secluded!


sunrise beach park gig harbor

Gig Harbor

After you work up an appetite in the water, take a quick walk or drive down to the waterfront restaurants—we love Tides Tavern, Anthony’s, and Net Shed No. 9! When it’s time to call it a night, you have many options in Gig Harbor, including the popular Best Western Wesley Inn, or for something a bit more boutique, The Maritime Inn

Sunrise Beach Park

Access the water on the Gig Harbor Boat Ramp, or paddle from the more than 2,000 feet of shoreline! The park also includes forest, meadows, and a campsite. If you have the opportunity, make sure to catch the sunrise over the water. 


american lake paddle board

Lakewood / JBLM 

Thanks to the military base nearby, you’ll have a number of lodging options in the Lakewood area, all within a very short distance of these stellar lakes. 

American Lake

Welcome to the largest lake in Pierce County! With ample shoreline to explore, you could easily spend hours paddling or kayaking along American Lake. Visit American Lake Park at the north side of the lake for a public boat launch, a beach perfect for swimming, and public restrooms. You can also access boat launches and a swimming becah at the recently-renovated Harry Todd Park

Lake Steilacoom

Don’t get confused—Lake Steilacoom is not located in the town of the same name. Lakewood's Lake Steilacoom may be most popular with fishing enthusiasts, but those seeking a quieter day on the water will appreciate the difference in popularity. Though less than 10 minutes away from American Lake, Lake Steilacoom offers a much more rustic boat launch and a rather undeveloped beachfront with Edgewater Park. This means fewer families and less water traffic. Serious sports people rejoice!


mowich lake mount rainier kayak

Mt. Rainier Area

The following alpine lakes are accessible within the limits of Mount Rainier National Park, which means you’ll need a Timed Entry Reservation! Whether you’d prefer to camp, get a cabin, or stay in a hotel, the park has a number of options for every budget and preference. 

Eunice Lake

This little swimmer’s lake is a secret gem for those willing to brave a 13-mile dirt road drive and a 3 mile hike. Though the nearby meadows produce a sometimes egregious amount of mosquitos, Eunice Lake itself is a clear blue sea of serenity surrounded by nothing but rocks and trees. While it’s true that paddleboarding would be fun at Eunice, most will opt to swim unless you really want to tow your board for 6 miles round-trip.

Mowich Lake

You won’t find a boat launch on Mowich, but don’t let that stop you! You’ll be surrounded by the rich blue-green of old growth nobles, and of course, the mountain. The lake offers access to a number of trails in the area, so you may find the campground parking to be rather full. What the crystal-clear waters lack in warmth, they have in calmness; considering motorized boats are prohibited, this is the perfect place to drift into your most zen state.


steilacoom water view


Located along the Puget Sound, there are plenty of opportunities for water adventures in Steilacoom—including the ferry that can take you to Anderson Island. Check out the nearby Comfort Inn & Suites for a no-brainer hotel. 

Ketron Island

Head out from the Steilacoom Boat Launch, taking care to give right-of-way to the ferries. Due to the proximity of ferries, we recommend the route for experienced kayakers and paddleboarders only. Ketron Island is a mile and a half from the dock up the Cormorant Passage. Circumnavigate the little island, taking care to explore the little currents and points of interest, and keep an eye out for sea lions! 

Sunnyside Beach Park

Unlike Ketron Island, Sunnyside Beach is the perfect place for beginners. With a boat launch a sandy beachfront, and bathrooms, it’s also a great destination for the family. Enjoy views of the Puget Sound and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. 


tacoma puget sound paddle board

Tacoma and University Place

You’ve been warned—the Puget Sound runs pretty cold, even in the summer, so consider a wetsuit if you can’t take the chill! Though there are enough options in Tacoma alone to keep you paddling for a week, take care and do some research to find a comfortable ability level for yourself; the current can run fast in some places, particularly in the Tacoma Narrows. As far as lodging goes, we can’t say enough about the great hotel options in Tacoma! A couple favorites are Hotel Murano with its distinctive glass art, and the Comfort Inn & Suites Downtown for its unbeatable location and great amenities. 

Owen Beach

Located on the northeastern shore of Point Defiance, Owen Beach has a partial view of Mount Rainier and calm waters with plenty of access points. Families often flock to the rocky shores on nice days, so get there early if the sun is out! Word to the wise—don’t let yourself drift too far west from the protected waters, or else you’ll risk catching the volatile currents that eventually head south to the Tacoma Narrows. 

Ruston Way Waterfront

In Tacoma, we’re lucky to have abundant access to the protected waters of the Puget Sound. Take the Ruston Way Waterfront, for example—you have five parks all in a row, each with opportunities for beach access: Judge Jack Tanner Park, Dickman Mill Park, Hamilton Park, Jack Hyde Park, and Chinese Reconciliation Park. In particular, Jack Hyde Park to the east and Les Davis Pier next to Judge Jack Tanner Park to the west are the most popular places to launch. 

Thea Foss Waterway

This calm 1.5 mile inlet is perfect for beginners. You can launch your kayak or paddleboard from Thea’s Park at the top of the waterway, and explore the waters with harbor seals and sea lions.

Titlow Beach

South of the Tacoma Narrows, the water turns calm again thanks to the protection of Hidden Beach jutting out into the Sound. Titlow Beach lies just below Hidden Beach, another popular destination for paddleboarders and kayakers. Use the small ramp to access the water, and enjoy the sandy beach and sweeping views of the Narrows Bridge and Fox Island.

Wapato Lake

In Tacoma’s South Side, you’ll find Wapato Lake—a natural 34-acre body of water with two boat launches. Waters are calm, and only non-motorized boats are allowed, so you’re free to drift as you please. 


seventy48 race


Want to see real watersport prowess at work? The annual SEVENTY48 is a super impressive display of human gumption for those who appreciate that kind of thing. Participants start at Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway and embark on a 70-mile, 48-hour race to Port Townsend. The catch? This wet marathon can only be completed by human power—that is, you must pedal, paddle, or row. The registration deadline was back in April, but you can still attend the race, and maybe get inspired for next year!

Did we forget your favorite paddleboard or kayak destination? Tell us about it by tagging us on Instagram or Facebook @visitpiercecounty!