The Narrows bridge, photo by Will Wade.jpg

Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Tacoma Narrows

Tacoma Narrows paddle from Owen Beach to Titlow Beach, and back.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The bathrooms at Owen Beach, where we launched, are closed.  

    When going with a flood current down the Narrows, you will need to paddle quite a ways out into the middle of the Narrows to avoid the very large back eddy that is formed on the south side of Point Defiance.  It's farther out than you might expect!   Don't try to paddle close to the east coastline on the way to Titlow Beach!

    Also note that during particularly large flood currents, there can be a significant tide rip form at  the tip of Point Defiance.  On today's trip, the tip of Point Defiance was pretty quiet.

    We found it was not necessary to wait for the slack to paddle back to Owen Beach, at least on this day (ME was 3.26 at 9:30 am and slack was at 1:00 pm -- we headed back at noon.)  It was easy to leave Titlow Beach about one hour before slack, at the tail-end of the flood, to paddle in the back eddies back to Owen Beach.  This also allows you to enjoy the scenic Salmon Beach cabins up close!

The wind forecast was a bit breezy, with SSW winds up to 13 kt gusts and the wind would be traveling in the opposite direction than the current through the Tacoma Narrows, potentially causing  some steeper waves than normal.  In addition, when we started our paddle a shower front had just moved in with soft fog that partially obscured visibility on the water.

Where we were launching from, Owen Beach at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, was protected from the wind and we speculated about what kind of conditions we would find once we paddled around the point and into the Narrows.  Fortunately, all of the members of our group were strong paddlers so we had no concerns about our ability to deal with whatever we would face.

As we rounded the tip of Point Defiance, we paddled in a wide arc past a group of sea lions busily fishing and mostly oblivious to our quiet passing.  The soft fog suddenly lifted and we had a clear view of the Narrows.

We had to paddle far out into the middle of the Narrows to avoid the large back eddy that forms to the south of Point Defiance on a flood current.  Much to our surprise, there was little wind in the first portion of the Narrows -- it was blocked by the bluffs of nearby Gig Harbor -- so the water was fairly smooth.  We traveled at an easy 5-6 kt pace down the middle of the waterway, and were on the only boats on the water.

The Narrows bridge, photo by Will Wade.jpg

Once we approached the Tacoma Narrows bridge (still at a brisk pace of 6 kts), smooth swells started to roll our way, gradually getting up to 2.5 feet.  Once we were under the bridge, the swells abruptly turned into three foot confused breaking waves which made for some exciting paddling for the next ten minutes.  After that, peaceful passage the rest of the way into Titlow Beach where we had lunch.  

Lunch time at Titlow Beach.jpg

Instead of waiting the full two hours for slack to develop in the Narrows, we decided to head back north about one hour prior to slack, with the intention of riding the large back eddy back to the tip of Point Defiance.  This ended up working out perfectly.  There was only a short area near the bridge that had some mild current against us and the rest of the way we had current assist from various back eddies.  An easy-peasy 4 kt pace on the way back, even though the main current was still flooding! 

Heading back, photo by Will Wade.jpg

The sun also decided to break out on our way back, illuminating the arts and craftsy homes in the Salmon Beach area as well as the remaining fall foliage as we paddled by.  Paddling around the tip of Point Defiance once more, we again saw the group of sea lions, this time snoozing in the water with their flippers held up in the air (to cool off perhaps?)  We gave them a wide berth but they still gave us a couple of indignant barks after we passed by.

Sea Lion resting, photo by Will Wade.jpg

It ended up being a lovely and interesting paddle!