The South Swofford Pond Trail is a joint venture by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Cowlitz River Project of Tacoma Power and runs almost two miles around the south side of Swofford Pond to its southwest corner. It is a moderately-graded, mostly wooded trail that offers plenty of opportunities to view wildlife, marvel at old-growth cedars and enjoy glimpses of the surrounding Swofford Valley.
The trailhead is just a few hundred feet away from where Riffe Lake is separated from Swofford Pond by a spillway. The 240-acre shallow stocked pond was originally created to rear juvenile steelhead but is now managed for warm water fish. You are more likely to see hopeful fisherman with their poles in the water than other hikers on this ramble around the lake. The wide trail starts off relatively close to the water, walking past tall grass, Fringecup, sword fern and cattails.
The alder and hemlock trees are well spaced, leaving plenty of room for sunlight to filter down on the snails and millipedes as they share the path with you. You can also expect that being close to the water here could mean a swampy trail in the wetter months of the year.
The trail narrows a bit at a quarter mile in and moves up into the forest but still runs parallel along the water. You will find yourself walking between huge moss covered cedar giants with wood sorrel carpeting the forest floor and you may find yourself looking for leprechauns, although you are more likely to see the local elk munching a snack. Take time to climb a few of those old trees, plenty have good places to kids to take post and listening to birds singing. There are a few small streams to hop over before you reach a sturdy bridge over Sulphur Creek a half mile into your trek. The trail will alternate between decommissioned road and groomed tread, just keep to the right with the contour of the pond.
About three-quarters of a mile in, the trail again takes you down closer to the water and you will catch a few views through the tall grass, Indian Plum and maple. There are trail markers that begin here to lead you the rest of the way. The trail continues to be relatively level and there are puncheon bridges and turnpikes to help you over most of the swampy areas. Here the hearty vegetation will most likely crowd the trail, watch out for stinging nettles and salmonberry.
Just shy of two miles in, the trail ends and you can step down towards the pond for a view of rowboats floating lazily on the water and the surrounding farmland with the Swofford Valley hillside for a backdrop. It may be possible to continue around further on a fisherman’s trail but it will most likely be overgrown and hard to follow. Go ahead and enjoy the view, then return the way you came. If you are looking to fish or sit right next to the water you would have to go off trail here, the best spots for catching dinner seem to be on the north side of the pond along the road.