This story was written by ThurstonTalk. Photos by Hannah McLean.
Imagine 150 miles of trails dedicated to recreation, all within a short drive of Grays Harbor, Thurston, Lewis, Clark and Pierce Counties. In the southern portion of Capitol Forest, you will find 80 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, trail running, cycling and horseback riding. The remaining trails in the northern portion are approved for off-road vehicles. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, so take a day trip to the Capitol Forest for hiking trails you won’t forget.
Capitol Forest is a great place to take a hike. It can easily be reached from Tacoma, Grays Harbor County, Lewis County, Clark County, and beyond! Photo credit: Hannah McLean
The forest is made up of 110,000 acres, all managed by the Department of Natural Resources. They provide a user-friendly map that is color-coded and shows that the southern portion of the trails, reserved for foot, hoof, and paw traffic, are shown in light green and purple. There are approximately six trails for hikers-only, (shown in dark green on the map), and they possess older growth trees and even prairie.
If you want to be certain that you have the trail to yourself with no mountain bikers or equestrians, head to Bob Bammert Grove, Fuzzy Top, Porter Falls, Centennial Demonstration Forest, Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, and McLane Creek Nature Trail, with portions of the last two on the list being ADA accessible.
Regardless of which portion you plan to visit, you will likely encounter a number of other outdoor enthusiasts, recreating in the forest in the way that speaks to them. Jeff Barrette, a board member of Oly Trail Runners and also a longtime member of Friends of Capitol Forest, says he personally spends 500+ hours a year maintaining the trails for all to use. Thanks, Jeff! “There is so much to learn about Capitol Forest and it is such a great resource that many just don’t know about,” he shares.
Hike Fall Creek
Hannah McLean, an avid forest user and ultra runner who regularly combines the forest’s trails to achieve distances upwards of 26.2 (marathon distance) miles, says she loves the Fall Creek area. She explains that there is great access to trails that lead up to Capitol Peak, which boasts an impressive view of Mount Rainier, and a few of her other favorites are Margaret McKenny trailhead and the Mima Falls trailhead.
The roads to access these specific trailheads do not encounter many twists and turns, and they are all paved, making for very easy access to the forest.
The popular Fall Creek area was recently upgraded, too. In a crowdfunding effort spearheaded by Friends of the Capitol Forest (FOCF), an event shelter and associated parking lot were built, and the infrastructure is now complete and open for anyone to use. DNR reported that they made a new trail system map in May 2019, and you can find it here.
“There is also a bocce ball court, ping-pong table and fire ring located at the Fall Creek Trailhead,” says McLean, “FOCF is planning future upgrades to the shelter, so stay tuned!”
Accessing the Forest
Capitol Forest has eight entrances that encircle the forest. The entrances are named County Line, Rock Candy, Delphi, Waddell Creek, Bordeaux, Cedar Creek, C-Line, and Porter Creek. They are easy to spot on DNR’s map of the forest in large bold type.
Logging roads and spur roads throughout the forest lead you to trailheads and are organized by lines, A, B, C, D, etc., but as McLean explains, the trails all have unique names based on features you encounter on the trail like Mima Falls or where the trail originates, like McKenny.
A sunrise hike in Capitol Forest is worth the early alarm clock. From Capitol Peak, Mount Rainier glows. Photo credit: Hannah McLean
Combine any number of these shorter hikes to create a day hike suited to you or your group. A few favorite combinations are listed below:
- Out of Fall Creek Trailhead
- Lost Valley Loop (~8 miles)
- Greenline – Greenline Tie – Wedekind Loop (~9 miles)
- Greenline – Crestline – Wedekind Loop (~15 miles)
- Out of Margaret McKenny Trailhead
- McKenny – Mima Falls – Campground Loop (~6.5 miles)
- Out of Mima Falls Trailhead
- Mima Falls – Mima Falls Tie – Campground Loop (~5.5 miles)
- Mima Falls – Mima West – McKenny – Campground Loop (~13 miles)
- Mima Falls – Mima West – Lost Valley – McKenny – Campground Loop (~20 miles)
Capitol Forest is a working forest. There are areas of clear-cut. But as avid trail user Hannah McLean points out, it makes for sweeping views and impressive wildflower showings. Photo credit: Hannah McLean
Be a Good Steward
- DNR asks that you follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace when in Capitol Forest. (Brush up on them here). There are pit toilets at some of the trailheads, but not all.
- Pack your water bottle or filter for longer hikes as you can utilize the freely-flowing year-round streams for hydration.
- Target shooting in Capitol Forest is permitted, and definitely something to be aware of. To learn more about the Triangle Pit shooting range, and where shooting is NOT permitted, check out DNR’s website.
- Bring your Discover Pass. It’s required to visit Capitol Forest.
- Capitol Forest is one of DNR’s highest-yielding timber forests and provides revenue in support of schools, state universities and local counties’ public services. You will encounter areas of clear-cutting in almost every portion of it, but the increased sunlight allows for the forest to become more biodiverse and makes for a dazzling array of wildflowers in the springtime.
Food and Drink
Why not explore Downtown Olympia on your way home? Check out Wayside Cafe for plant-based fare so good you won’t guess it’s purely plants! Or, indulge at Old School Pizzeria, or Wicked Pies Pizzeria: there is nothing like a warm pizza after a good hike!
If you want to make it an overnight trip, the downtown Olympia DoubleTree by Hilton is a great option and very walkable to Olympia’s beautiful waterfront. As always, learn everything you wanted to know about visiting Olympia and the surrounding areas on the Experience Olympia & Beyond website.
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