If you want to get out and experience some of the top tried-and-true outdoor autumn activities in the Pacific Northwest, Thurston County is the place where you’ll find them. From farm festivals and fall salmon runs to hiking and biking trails through some of Puget Sound’s most scenic landscapes to classic historic sites and cultural venues, you’ll find them all within close proximity here!
Special Autumn Activities
Classic Fall Fun: Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm
This season, Thurston County’s classic country attraction provides farm-fresh produce and baked goods amid a pumpkin patch, corn maze, baby animal petting areas and bluegrass music. The family-owned farm — which has been in business since 1976 and produces up to 75 tons of apples a day — is where you’ll find the best caramel apples, world-famous apple fritters and local ciders this fall (in strawberry, blackberry, raspberry and spiced flavors as well, no less!). Don’t miss the free annual Apple Festival, which starts on Saturday, September 28 and continues every weekend in October.
More Fall Family Festivities: Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, wolf howl-ins & more!
There’s a lot more family farm fun around Thurston County as well this season. Just north of Olympia on I-5, the scenic, 180-acre Schilter Family Farm in the Nisqually River delta is a favorite place to pick from the pumpkin patch, wander the corn maze, take a hay ride, visit the animal petting area and more. It’s open September 28 through October 31. South of Olympia in Tumwater, Rutledge Farm opens its famous Haunted Corn Maze on September 19, and has a special Kids Day on October 11. Don’t forget Wolf Haven International, where tours get you right up close to dozens of wolves while listening to stories about these magnificent species; Wolf Awareness Week is October 14 - 20, otherwise it’s open weekends through mid-February. After Thanksgiving, Christmas Tree Valley Farm in Rochester has top-quality U-Cut Blue Spruce, Norwegian Spruce, Noble, Nordman, Grand, Fraser and Douglas Fir trees, as well as wreaths, greens and holly; and at Clyde ’n Dale’s Holiday Trees & Gifts in Olympia, you can take a carriage ride or a trolley pulled by a team of Belgian draft horses, plus sip free hot cider and see Santa on weekends.
Nature at Nisqually: Explore the National Wildlife Area
The weather might get damp and drizzly after the last sunny September days, but it’s always the perfect time to head into this beautiful rivershed area. Join a weekend nature program, or check out the Nisqually Watershed Festival in September, or visit during National Wildlife
Refuge System Week in mid-October. It’s the prime site for viewing migratory waterfowl and winter songbirds, as well as peregrine falcons, American kestrels and bald eagles. Add to this the clusters of returning chum salmon in November, and the 4,000 to 6,000 wintering geese and waterfowl that have settled here by the end of the year, and you’ll find it’s a lovely spot to enjoy the one of the region’s most memorable waterways in every season.
Waterfall wonders: Tumwater Falls Park & the returning salmon
Autumn — when hoards of salmon swim back up the broad Deschutes River to jump the fish ladders — is one of the most exciting seasons to visit this picturesque park. Easy paved paths and footbridges intertwine to create a half-mile maze of scenic riverside trails, which weave through 15 acres of wooded hills and historic buildings. The gemstones of Tumwater Falls Park, however, are the three rushing, rocky cascades themselves, in between which are sections of splashing rapids and deep, swirling pools. You’ll also find the historic former Olympia Brewery buildings and the Washington Salish Native Plant Garden on site. Bring a picnic; there are big lawns for tossing footballs and Frisbees, a sandy beach area, clean restrooms and plenty of parking.
Classic All-time Activities
Washington State Capitol Tour
This lively and fascinating hour-long walking excursion takes you on an insider’s tour of Washington state’s most important government buildings, as well as the lesser-known highlights of the capital area’s history. Did you know that, at 287 feet high, the Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia is the tallest masonry dome in North America, and the fifth-largest in the world? Or that its 173 million pounds of stone, brick, concrete and steel have survived three earthquakes intact? Learn the real stories that shaped state government here weekdays 10 to 3 and weekends 11 to 3; free tours begin on the hour at the Tour Information Desk on the second floor of the Legislative Building. Governor’s Mansion tours are also available by reservation on Wednesdays.
Hands On Children’s Museum
Children and adults will both have a blast at this marvelous two-story museum, conveniently set within walking distance between downtown and the Port of Olympia. More than 150 educational and fun-filled exhibits let you explore and experiment: at the Arts & Parts crafts studio, the Build It! construction zone, the two-story cargo ship and working crane, the Emergency! police and medical vehicles, the Fabulous Forest animal rescue center and treehouse, the stream slide and eagle’s nest, the 25-foot Airways Maze — and more! Then head outside on the plaza to the Outdoor Discovery Center, a half-acre scene for nature pathways and wildlife secrets. The HOCM is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 to 5, Sundays and Mondays 11 to 5, with programs daily.
Sample Tours: Autumn in Thurston County
Classic Capital City Walk
Get a good start to this historical, cultural and culinary adventure with coffee and a breakfast treat at Batdorf and Bronson, The Bread Peddlar, or Wagner’s European Bakery near the Capitol Campus. Take your goodies along on a brisk walk around Capitol Lake, where there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy them along the water, then wander up to the domed Legislative Building for the hour-long Capitol Tour. Afterward, stroll downtown to spend some time in Olympia’s diverse shops and art galleries, coupled with a late lunch at one of the inexpensive local eateries like Meconi’s, the Fifth Avenue Sandwich Shop, Pizzeria La Gitana, or Ramblin’ Jack’s. From here, walk over to enjoy the serene waterfront scenes around East Bay park and the Port of Olympia area — and don’t miss the Olympia Farmers Market if you’re here Thursday through Sunday in September and October, or on a November or December weekend. Catch happy hour drinks and appetizers at Anthony’s Hearthfire
Grill at the head of the bay, or back at the cozy Swing wine bar in town; or, just go for top-grade regional cuisine at one of Olympia’s classic dinner spots: Acqua Via, the Waterstreet Cafe & Bar, La Petit Maison, or Budd Bay Cafe. If you’re really ambitious, top of the day with a local brew or live music at Fish Tales Pub & Brewery.
Kickin’ it with the Kids Walk
The whole family can fuel up for the day at the hometown Batdorf and Bronson coffee shop downtown, then work off the caffeine and carbs with the short walk over to the Hands On Children’s Museum. Plan on spending the morning or more here; then wander a few blocks west to the Olympia Farmers Market if it’s a weekend. If not, either pack a lunch for a fair-weather picnic at scenic East Bay park (and tour the 60-ft tugboat Sand Man with a reservation); on rainy days, there are plenty of inexpensive, kid-friendly lunch places in town nearby, like Pizzeria La Gitana and the Fifth Avenue Sandwich Shop. After a break, kids of all ages will love to check out downtown Olympia’s colorful local shops, hands-on art galleries and kitschy antiques stores. Later in the afternoon, there might be a movie for older kids at the Olympia Film Society on Fifth Avenue, or a matinee show at Harlequin Productions or The Washington Center. No dinner plans yet and you want to stay in the area? The casual Budd Bay Cafe, Tugboat Annie’s, Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ and other local spots will take good care of you.
Fall Fun Tour
Begin the day at Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm, where
the whole family can nosh on world-famous apple fritters and baked goods with deliciously fruity varieties of apple cider. Explore the pumpkin patch, hay bale maze and baby animal petting areas; don’t forget to pick up a pie before you go. Next, head to the 180-acre Schilter Family Farm in the Nisqually River delta, where you can pick from the pumpkin patch, wander the corn maze and take a hay ride. From here, you can head out onto the boardwalk trails and birdwatching vistas of Nisqually National Wildlife Area for the afternoon; or, for cold and rainy and cold days, there’s always the vast Cabela’s sports and camping complex with it’s real-life animal displays and aquarium, and the colorful Shipwreck Beads market in Lacey. If you’re itching for more outdoor explorations, just drive south to Tumwater, where Rutledge Farm holds its famous Haunted Corn Maze; from here, in any weather, you can watch salmon jump the fish ladders at Tumwater Falls Park or take a hike through the fall colors and saltwater shoreline views of Priest Point Park. Note: Many fall festivals are scheduled around the region this season, so pack a lunch or sample there and plan to enjoy lots of local music plus fun arts and athletic activities!
Head out to Priest Point Park early for a hike through one of the Pacific Northwest’s most scenic saltwater shoreline and old-growth forest areas. At the heart of this 314-acre regional nature park, the Ellis Cove Trail’s moderately challenging, hilly terrain offers views of downtown Olympia and the state Capitol Campus buildings. Pack a picnic to eat by the water next at Tumwater Falls Park, (shelters
available for drizzly days), or pick up a sandwich in town, then walk the paths and footbridges past historic Olympia Brewery buildings (hint: look for salmon jumping up the ladder this season!) Spend the afternoon kayaking around Olympia’s many waterfronts with a rental from Tugboat Annie’s, Boston Harbor Marina, or a local sports company. Do dinner at a pub or casual restaurant in town, then head out to Nisqually to watch thousands of migrating waterfowl nest in the evening. Or, just take a stroll or bike it around Black Lake in Tumwater, Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia, or the Recreational Athletic Complex trails in Lacey.
2- to 3- day:
Classic Arts, Cuisine & Culture
Get your java and homemade pastry fix at Batdorf and Bronson or Wagner’s European Bakery in downtown Olympia, then head out for a walk around Capitol Lake. Next, join either the 45-minute tour of the Bigelow House Museum — the oldest residence in Olympia and one of the earliest in the Pacific Northwest — which provides an in-depth look at the early history of Olympia and Washington Territory; or the 60-minute Legislative Building tour on the Capitol Campus to hear the little-told history and legends of government in Washington state. (Or, do both!) Stroll back downtown for lunch, and then take a relaxing early-afternoon tour of Olympia’s trendy art spaces and shops; if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the season’s arts community highlight, the Fall Arts Walk, the first weekend in October. Stop in at Swing for a glass of
first-class regional wine and appetizers before catching a show by Harlequin Productions or at The Washington Center. Afterward, have a relaxing late dinner or share a couple of sweet delicacies at one of Olympia’s classic restaurants: Acqua Via, the Waterstreet Cafe & Bar, La Petit Maison, or Budd Bay Cafe — or quaff a local brew at Pints & Quarts at the Capital Mall, or from downtown Olympia’s Fish Tales Pub & Brewery.
Day 2 begins with a light breakfast at one of the region’s signature cafes, followed by a leisurely drive into the country. If you love wines, or are even just curious about them, this richly blessed agricultural region has some wonderful surprises for you along the South Sound Wine Trail. Stretching between six award-winning, easy-to-reach wineries around Thurston County, the route takes you from the soft whites and bold reds at downtown Tenino’s boutique Scatter Creek Winery to the Rhône and Mediterranean styles of Shelton’s Walter Dacon Wines, the handcrafted vintages of Medicine Creek Winery in the Nisqually Valley, and Lacey’s Stottle Winery, Madsen Family Cellars and Northwest Mountain Winery (try the FireBreathing Mead, made from local honey and jalepenos). Note: The SSWT’s Fall Passport event, where you can win prizes while tasting top regional wines along the way, happens September 12 - 14; Northwest Mountain Winery also holds its Fire Pit Night wine tasting September 13.
Wines aren’t your preference? Then take the new Thurston Bountiful Byway scenic route, with nearly 100
agricultural and historic stops through the heart of the region, to visit a prime selection of farms and creameries, sculpture gardens, nurseries and local cultural sites. Whichever route you choose, or if you mix and match from both the Bountiful Byway and Wine Trail itineraries, there are many lunch options along the way; or, make a picnic of samples from several stops. (Just don’t forget to bring back some local produce, meat, or wine to enjoy when you return home!) To end the adventurous day of meanderings, kick back with a movie at the Olympia Film Society, or live music at a local pub on weekends.
Day 3, if you have it, begins with a stop at the colorfully tiles Artesian Well in downtown Olympia, water from which in the early 1900s was used to power steam locomotives; today, water is still available for public use, and is said to have mystical healing powers. Next, spend some time strolling amid the delicate outdoor artistry at the Yashiro Japanese Garden, where the meticulously tended foliage is particularly colorful this season. Finally, to top off the day, take a drive to the outdoor Monarch Sculpture Park, where acres of breezy and walkable terrain are scattered with the magnificent and multi-faceted creations of more than 140 regional and international artists.
Start right out early by foot or by bike along the Chehalis Western Trail, a 22-mile, non-motorized public thoroughfare that from 1926 through the mid-1980s was the route of the historic Chehalis Western Railroad.
Running north-south through the heart of Thurston County, it’s a great way to get outdoors during autumn and experience a variety of colorful seasonal rural and urban environments. Pack a lunch and spend the day exploring the CWT’s more than 170 acres of beautiful parklands and two miles along the Deschutes River and falls, as well as spectacular scenes of Chambers Lake, Puget Sound, and many forest, farmland, wetland and prairie habitats. If you’re really ambitious, link this up with the 14.5-mile Yelm—Tenino Trail; parking, picnic facilities, restrooms and trailheads are located at both along the way. Finish the day with a hearty country meal at a local cafe like Ramblin’ Jack’s, the Ranch House BBQ, or Mac N More.
Day 2 begins with a morning hike in Priest Point Park, where hilly trails through 314 acres of forested landscape not only capture the early years of Olympia’s settlement but also memorable views of the modern-day city and its saline shorelines; or, try the many scenic trails of the Capitol State Forest, off of Highway 101 near Tumwater. Head back into civilization for brunch — try the Omelette Depot in downtown Olympia, the River’s Edge in Tumwater, Pat’s Cafe in Lacey, or Norma’s Burgers along I-5 in Nisqually — then spend a couple of hours kayaking around the local bays from Boston Harbor, Tugboat Annie’s, or East Bay Plaza; local sports outfitters provide rentals in any season. If biking’s your preference, check out mapmyride.com, which sketches out dozens of routes throughout Thurston County, as well as lists local companies who can provide equipment or guides. Finally, before tucking into town for the evening, take a drive out to
the open-air Monarch Sculpture Park to stroll among the giant creations of more than 140 regional and international artists; it’s free and open ’til dusk.
If you have a third day, begin with a walk through Tumwater Falls Park, where the Deschutes River bisects rugged forest landscapes and a collection of historic buildings from the former Olympia Brewery; don’t miss salmon jumping up the fish ladders through mid-autumn. From here, head up to the boardwalks and trails of Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, where thousands of migratory birds and their hunting counterparts are settling into the wetlands here this season. To end the Active Explorers tour, take one or more of the three trails in the 800-acre Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area, one of the region’s first parks and the site for early Native American, colonial settler, and logging and shellfish activities. It’s one of the best places in Thurston County to spot bald eagles, heron rookeries, sea lions, otters and other marine life.
Family Mix-It-Up Tour: Indoor/Outdoor options
Fall weather in the Northwest means all kinds of unpredictability, but Thurston County has fun family activities for every type of temperature and rain ratio. So use the following ideas to mix and match, depending on what type of weather you’re dealt when you get here.
Day 1, if the weather’s fair, start with a quick coffee, hot
chocolate and pastries at a local cafe, then a venture to Tumwater Falls Park and its easy scenic trails (and jumping salmon, too, in September and October). With everyone’s energy sated, climb in the car and head out along the new Thurston Bountiful Byway scenic route, where you can choose from nearly 100 agricultural and historic stops through the heart of the region. Kids of all ages will enjoy visiting the various farms and creameries, sculpture gardens, nurseries and local cultural sites — why not let them pick? Numerous lunch options are along the way; you can also grab meal ingredients at many of the stops. Burn off any extra end-of-day zaniness at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey, where trails, sports courts and playgrounds have something for everyone to do before dinner.
Day 2, head out for Wolf Haven International and get up close with these magnificent animals on one of the hour-long tours. On the way back, check out the trails of Capitol Forest Park, where the landscape ranges from flat enough for the five-and-unders to rugged, teen-challenging terrain; this is also a good picnic lunch stop. Or, head out to West Bay Park, where kids can take in cargo shipping scenes while skipping stones across the deep blue inlet. Wind everyone down by heading into Olympia and strolling through some of the kids’ clothing and toy shops, art studios and bookstores before dinner.
For Day 3, begin with birdwatching at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, where extensive boardwalks provide kid-friendly access and scenic wetland views of familiar migratory
birds and hunters like falcons and eagles. Head into downtown Olympia for a low-key local lunch at family-friendly Traditions, Nammy’s Vietnamese, or The Gyro Spot — or pick up soup and sandwiches at Bayview Thriftway — then take a leisurely walk around Capitol Lake. Wander south toward the Capitol Campus for a tour of the Legislative Building, or just take a stroll among the buildings and gardens. Top the day off with a late-day drive to the open-air Monarch Sculpture Park, where both adults and kids of all ages will marvel at the oversize creations of more than 140 artists.
Stormy, snowy, cold, or just plain nasty
For Day 1, there’s nowhere better for families with kids under 10 than the Hands On Children’s Museum, with more than 150 educational and fun-filled exhibits plus the Outdoor Discovery Center, a half-acre of nature explorations. Adventures here will likely take you past lunch time, but your options are many: walk to downtown Olympia for a bite, or head up to one of the casual, inexpensive noshing spots in Lacey like Hop Jack’s burgers, Dirty Dave’s pizza and subs, Farelli’s pizza, Mac N More comfort food, or one of the many Vietnamese pho noodle soup sites. Or, since your next stop is the massive outdoor sports shop Cabela’s, have your meal at the family restaurant there before wandering through the store’s myriad museum-quality animal exhibits, testable tent and equipment displays, and double-sided aquarium passageway. For older kids, a foul-weather morning can be easily invested in the lively and fascinating Legislative
Building tour, coupled with a walk around the Capitol Campus. If Cabela’s isn’t enough of an afternoon activity, Lacey also offers the Marvin Road Golf & Batting Range, and there’s always Skateland in Olympia.
Day 2, prepare to pull out your family’s collective artistic skills and head to one of the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater area arts studios, where both kids and adults can show their talents for painting on canvas or by watercolor, or by creating and/or painting pottery (what better a classic souvenir to take back home?). Then, explore some of downtown Olympia’s colorful, kitschy shops, most of which are not only kid-friendly but offer affordable and good-quality clothing, games and toys, books and more. After lunch, even rainy days are perfect for a drive along Thurston County’s new Bountiful Byway scenic route, which offers more than 100 fascinating farm and historic sites from which your kids can choose — don’t forget to pick up local produce for everyone to try. Spend the evening close to where you’re staying, then catch a matinee play or movie at The Washington Center, the Olympia Film Society, or at the theaters at the Capital Mall. (Alternate strategy: Plan on spending one or both nights at the Great Wolf Lodge, where everyone can enjoy a day [or two] at the indoor water park plus all of the resort’s on-site, kids-of-all-ages activities.)
Day 3, choose from or combine a jaunt out to Tenino or Yelm; both are chock-full of colorful local shops and intriguing farmland scenery along the way. Afterward, dress for the weather and head to Tumwater Falls Park,
with its easy paths and footbridges over the rocky, rushing Deschutes River and waterfalls. If everyone still has the energy, finish the trip with a boardwalk wander through the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, which threads through quiet wetlands that teem with thousands of nesting water birds — especially in this season.
Fall 21+ Fun
Begin Day 1 with a stroll through downtown Olympia for a mug of high-end local java at Batdorf and Bronson, then continue the walk up to Capitol Lake and the Capitol Campus. You’ll get to know Thurston County — and Washington state, itself — best on a tour of the Legislative Building and then a visit to the Bigelow House Museum, the oldest residence in Olympia and one of the earliest in the Pacific Northwest; both provide the highlights and fascinating, little-known backstories of early history and government in the region. Have lunch in one of the area’s local cafe’s, then head out on the new Thurston County Bountiful Byway scenic route, which passes by more than 100 farms and creameries, plant nurseries, craft centers and local historic and cultural stops. (Hint: Don’t miss The Iron Works, Tenino’s famed 2,000-sq-ft home decor and accessories store set in the historic Wolf Building; Organic Friendly Farms and Gordon’s Garden Center in Yelm; and the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, a great place for a walking break.) For dinner, go for down-home grub at one of the local barbecue or seafood spots, then head up Highway 101 to The Lucky Eagle for some gambling, live music, and dancing.
Day 2, fueled up first by a stop at one of the area’s frequent and fun little drive-through coffee stands, takes you out on the road again and onto the new South Sound Wine Trail. Whether wines are your preference or not, it’s still a gorgeous scenic route through forests and farmlands that takes you past six of Washington state’s most notable and award-winning wineries: Tenino’s boutique Scatter Creek Winery, which produces soft whites and bold reds; Walter Dacon Wines in Shelton, which bottles their own Rhône and Mediterranean styles; Medicine Creek Winery in the Nisqually Valley, which specializes in handcrafted wines; and Lacey’s Stottle Winery, Madsen Family Cellars and Northwest Mountain Winery — try the latter’s FireBreathing Mead, made from local honey and jalepenos. (Note: SSWT’s Fall Passport event, where you can win prizes while you taste top regional wines along the way, happens September 12 - 14; Northwest Mountain Winery also holds its Fire Pit Night wine tasting September 13.) After this leisurely day of wandering through the vineyards and wine shops, and chatting with with winery owners, top off the experience with fine French fare at La Petit Maison, classic Northwest seafood at Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill, or a lighter upscale meal at The Mark or Acqua Via.
Start Day 3 with brunch at the Omelette Depot or The Spar (a McMenamin’s restaurant), then spend a few hours browsing in the unique, high-quality clothing, arts and home accessories shops of downtown Olympia; there’s plenty to choose from for souvenirs of your stay. For some fresh air in the afternoon, head over to the Yashiro
Japanese Garden, where the meticulously tended foliage is particularly colorful this season — the perfect way to finish a fall tour of Thurston County.
(Note: For 21+ visitors, this fall there are myriad fun and fantastic evening events to try all over Thurston County. Consider replacing your dinner — or after-dinner — plans with one or more of the following if you’re in town:
Saturday, September 20
2014 Farms Forever @ Thurston County Fairgrounds
Top local chefs and wineries provide a first-class dining experience, followed by an auction and live music, to benefit farmland preservation.
Friday, September 26
Uncorked @ the Hands On Children’s Museum
Sample delicious Northwest wines while exploring the science behind them; even create your own wine blends.
Saturday, September 27
Wolves & Wine @ Saint Martin’s University
Meet the supporters of Wolf Haven International, plus national wolf advocates, while enjoying regional hors d’oeuvres, wines and brews.
Sunday, October 12
Downtown Fall Ball @ the Olympia Center
A champagne reception, gourmet dinner, live music and dancing are the background Olympia’s traditional local projects and events fundraiser.
Friday - Sunday, October 3 - 5
Fall Arts Walk in Downtown Olympia
Celebrate Thurston County’s thriving arts communities with more hundreds of visual and performing arts presentations and a walking route through more than 100 local businesses.
Saturday, October 25
Capitol Steps @ The Washington Center
This nationally known comedy group, which specializes in satirizing current political affairs, performs songs from their latest album, "How to Succeed in Congress Without Really Trying.”
Saturday, November 8 - Sunday, November 16
Olympia Film Festival @ the Historic Capitol Theater
The 31st Annual Olympia Film Festival has on tap everything from dramas and comedies to must-see foreign language films and ground-breaking animated kids flicks, as well as film workshops, live music, and special appearances by the filmmakers and actors themselves.
Friday, November 14
Black Box Jazz with Betsy Perkins @ The Washington Center
Olympia’s music scene welcomed a new dynamo in 1992, when vocalist, composer, lyricist and percussionist Betsy Perkins moved into town. Her fresh, smooth style — often heard in collaborations with the bands Bevy, Planetary People, Mucho Gusto and Artesian Rumble Arkestra — takes center stage here tonight.