Prior to white settlement of the Snoqualmie Valley in the late 1850s, this area was home to several large permanent winter villages occupied by the ancestors of members of the Snoqualmie Tribe. Snoqualmie villages were along the Tolt, Snoqualmie, and Raging Riversand. The Snoqualmie people utilized many seasonal camps, as well as resource procurement and processing areas, between villages and in the surrounding uplands.
The town of Carnation was originally known as Grand Rapids, when it was established in the 1860s. Carnation was later called Tolt, as it developed around settler James Entwhistle’s claim to be its first settler. Tolt's economy centered on logging and agricultural pursuits, including hop farming, hay production, and dairy production, which expanded with arrival of the Great Northern and the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroads in the early twentieth century. The town's name was changed from Tolt to Carnation in 1917, after the Carnation Milk Company. Then the name changed back to Tolt in 1928. But the post office and the railroad continued to be called Carnation and eventually Tolt reverted to Carnation in 1951.
King County bought the first publicly-owned parcels at what was to become Tolt River-John McDonald Park in the 1970s. The County developed the area, as envisioned by Boy Scout Council Chief John MacDonald who led local efforts in one of the nation's largest bicentennial projects. More than 20,000 Boy Scouts spent some five months constructing campsites, picnic tables, and shelters. The suspension bridge was also built at this time by the Army Reserves 409th Engineering Company. Today, it is a treasured historic property that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tolt-MacDonald Park was dedicated upon completion of the project in June 1976.