The Foothills trail is a rail to trail project. The rail history began in 1864, when the United States Congress gave the Northern Pacific Railroad Company sufficient land to construct a railroad between Ellensburg and Tacoma. In 1883, Northern Pacific was forced to complete its line from the Midwest to Tacoma or forfeit millions of acres of land grants. This rail section east of South Prairie through Enumclaw and the Stampede Pass tunnel was completed in July 1887, finally connecting Tacoma and Ellensburg.
In about 1874 the Northern Pacific began construction of the railroad line from Tacoma to Wilkeson to take advantage of the newly discovered coal resources in the Cascade foothills. The Burlington Northern Railroad Company succeeded the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in managing the railroad line. By late 1986, the balance of the railroad line had been removed for salvage.
Pierce County saw the opportunity to create the trail on the former rail line and worked with the salvage company to preserve the remaining trestles along the line. In October of 1990 the Pierce County Council passed Ordinance #90-6, establishing the Foothills Trail as a public linear park. Thus began the journey of constructing what is now the Foothills National Recreation Trail.