Take a day trip to the Capitol Forest for hiking trails you won’t forget

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Imagine 150 miles of recreational trails, all within driving distance of Grays Harbor, Thurston, Lewis, Clark and Pierce counties. In the southern part of the Capitol Forest, you will find 80 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, running, biking and horseback riding. The other trails in the northern part are approved for off-road vehicles. It’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, 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 is easily accessible 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 which is color coded and shows that the southern portion of the trails, reserved for foot, hooves and paw traffic, is marked in light green and purple. There are about six hiking trails (marked dark green on the map), and they have older trees and even meadows.

If you want to be sure you have the trail to yourself without mountain bikers or horse riders, 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.

Whichever part you plan to visit, you will likely meet a number of other outdoor enthusiasts, recreating themselves in the forest in the way that speaks to them. Jeff Barrette, Oly Trail Runners board member and also a longtime Friends of Capitol Forest member, says he personally spends over 500 hours a year maintaining the trails for everyone to use. Thanks Jeff! “There is so much to learn about Capitol Forest and it’s such a great resource that many just don’t know,” he shares.

Fall stream hike

Hannah McLean, an avid forest user and ultracharger who regularly combines forest trails to cover distances of up to 26.2 miles (marathon distance), says she loves the Fall Creek area. She explains that there is great access to the trails that lead to Capitol Peak, which has awe-inspiring views of Mount Rainier, and a few of her other favorites are the Margaret McKenny Trailhead and the Mima Falls Trailhead. .

The roads to access these specific trails don’t encounter a lot of bends and bends, and they are all paved, making it easy to access the forest.

The popular Fall Creek area has also been recently renovated. In a crowdfunding effort led by Friends of the Capitol Forest (FOCF), an event shelter and associated parking lot were built, and the infrastructure is now complete and open to everyone. MNR said it created a new trail system map in May 2019, and you can find it here.

“There is also a pétanque court, ping pong table and fire ring located at the start of the Fall Creek trailhead,” says McLean, “FOCF is planning future improvements to the refuge, so stay tuned! “

Access to 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 the MNR forest map in large bold print.

Forest roads and side roads through the forest lead you to the 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 such as Mima Falls or the origin of the trail such as McKenny.

Day Trip Capitol-Forest-View Walking Tour
A sunrise hike in the Capitol Forest is worth waking up in the morning. From Capitol Peak, Mount Rainier lights up. Photo credit: Hannah McLean

Navigate

In addition to the DNR, members of clubs who often use and lovingly maintain the forest all recommend using the Avenza app to navigate. “Avenza is a georeferenced map,” McLean explains, “so you can see where you are on the map without cell service. “

The Friends of Capitol Forest website has a helpful page with step-by-step instructions on using Avenza.

Recommended hikes

Combine any number of these shorter hikes to create a day hike that’s right for you or your group. A few favorite combinations are listed below:

  • From the Fall Creek Trailhead
    • Lost Valley Loop (~ 8 miles)
    • Greenline – Greenline Tie – Wedekind Loop (~ 9 miles)
    • Greenline – Crestline – Wedekind Loop (~ 15 miles)
  • From the Margaret McKenny Trail
    • McKenny – Mima Falls – Campground Loop (~ 6.5 miles)
  • At the start of the Mima Falls trail
    • Mima Falls – Mima Falls Tie – Camping Loop (~ 5.5 miles)
    • Mima Falls – Mima West – McKenny – Campground Loop (~ 13 miles)
    • Mima Falls – Mima West – Lost Valley – McKenny – Camping Loop (~ 20 miles)
Capitol-Forest-Wildflowers Day Hike
Capitol Forest is a working forest. There are clear cut areas. But as avid trail user Hannah McLean points out, it offers scenic views and awe-inspiring displays of wildflowers. Photo credit: Hannah McLean

Be a good steward

  • MNR asks you to follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace while in the Capitol Forest. (Brew on them here). There are pit toilets at some trailheads, but not all.
  • Take your water bottle or filter for longer hikes, as you can use the free-flowing streams year-round to hydrate.
  • Target shooting in the Capitol Forest is allowed, and it’s definitely something to be aware of. For more information on the Triangle Pit shooting range and where shooting is NOT allowed, visit the DNR website.
  • Bring your Discovery Pass. It is compulsory to visit the Capitol Forest.
  • Capitol Forest is one of the most productive lumber forests in MNR and provides income to support schools, state universities, and local county utilities. You will encounter clearcut areas in almost any part, but the increased sunshine allows the forest to become richer in biodiversity and is a dazzling array of wildflowers in the spring.

Food and drink

Why not explore downtown Olympia on the way back? Check out Wayside Cafe for plant-based dishes so good you won’t guess it’s all plants! Or, let yourself be tempted by the Old School Pizzeria, or the Wicked Pies Pizzeria: nothing like a hot pizza after a good hike!

If you want an overnight trip, downtown Olympia DoubleTree by Hilton is a great option and very walkable to the beautiful Olympia waterfront.

As always, learn everything you wanted to know about visiting Olympia and its surroundings on the Experience Olympia & Beyond website.

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