Roll down your windows and listen close when you’re driving up Northwest Trek’s driveway, as you may be able to hear a couple of wolves howling or elk bugling. This 723-acre zoological park is home to a number of native wildlife and exists in a quiet wooded area an hour’s drive away from Olympia. The park is perfect for any animal lover and for families, as there are different experiences and ways to learn about the wild animals that also call Washington and the Pacific Northwest home.


The park officially opened on July 17th, 1975 after four years of planning and fundraising. The land the park sits on was originally bought by Dr. David and Connie Hellyer, who lived on the land for decades before donating it to Metro Parks Tacoma. The Hellyers were both nature enthusiasts and were passionate about conservation. The two A-frame homes within Northwest Trek were once the Hellyer’s homes and are still used today for guest and intern lodging.

Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Northwest Trek is the largest zoo in Washington state by acreage. The park has two areas the public can see animals – the walking paths where you can see the big cats, canines, bears, and others, and the free-roaming area where you can see elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bison, deer, trumpeter swans, and a moose named Aspen. The free-roaming area alone is 435 acres and offers a wide area for all the animals.

Experience the Park

Right now, there are three consistent ways to explore the park throughout the year: the walking path, wild drive tour, and keeper adventure tour. Both the Wild Drive (where you can drive your car through the free roam area) and Keeper Adventure tours are separate experiences that require online timed tickets and reservations. But they do include general park admission and you can go through the walking path before or after your Wild Drive or Keeper Adventure. There will be another fun way to enjoy the free roam area in the spring of 2023 – electric trams driven by NW Trek staff! 

Walking Path & Kids Trek

The Animal Walking Path area of the park is more of what you’d expect from a zoo and is home to a wider range of animals. While the Walking Path is paved and relatively easy to walk, there are some parts of this area that are a bit of an incline. Additionally, for those with kids, there’s also the Kids Trek area, a fun nature-inspired playground with lots of things to climb, jump, crawl, and run on.

Zip Wild & Nature Trails

In addition to everything mentioned, there’s also an entire section of the park called ‘Zip Wild’ that has several ropes courses among the trees and zip lines, including one that’s 512 feet long. In addition to all that, there are 5 additional miles of nature trails in the park, including a mini walking path called the “Fairy Trail” which appears to be absolutely magical).

Special Events

There are so many fun events throughout the year at the park, like Hoot ‘N’ Howl, the Pumpkin Chomp and Stomp, Winter Wonderland, and Zookeeper Academy! And for those who love taking photos, there are also photo tours on occasion where two NW Trek staff members will drive four people through the free roam area in an open Jeep. These tours are two hours long and an amazing experience.

Ultimately, Northwest Trek is an incredible place to visit and a great way to learn about native wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. The park cares for numerous native animals, like grizzly and black bears, grey wolves, wolverines, and snowy owls, and is a great way to see and learn more about the animals we share the region with. And if you’re looking for a gift for an animal lover in your life, a trip to Northwest Trek, a membership, or a photo of an animal that calls it home could be perfect!

The prints below are photos I took at Northwest Trek in October 2022 and they are for sale!

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