Thrifty Thurston – McLane Creek Nature Trail



Capitol City Honda sponsorIt’s currently a glorious morning in Thurston County.  However, weather forecasters and I seem to have a difference of opinions.  You see, if school is out and it’s technically the first day of summer, then shouldn’t sunshine be in the forecast going forward?  But, like most Olympia residents, I’ve come to accept that I need to embrace outdoor activities, rain or shine.

So, grab your rain coat and head outside as Thrifty Thurston leads you on a tour of the McLane Creek Nature Trail – a beautiful wildness mecca with a flat hiking trail, easily accessible views of freshwater wetland beaver ponds and a variety of habitats that attract birds and wildlife.

Located within the Capitol State Forest, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has developed a self-guided 1.1 mile walk which takes about an hour.  (For a complete map of the trail, click here.)  A shortcut bisects the trail.

Washington Trails Association indicates that “hikers of all ages, especially children, will enjoy the easy loop.”

Interpretive plaques and observation decks give families the opportunity to stop and savor the natural beauty.  Wind around the trail in a figure-eight shape and take your time enjoying the forest ecosystem.

Depending on the time of day and season, there are many critters to spot.

  • Locate a beaver working on its dam in the pond.
  • Listen to tree frogs perform.
  • Spot a turtle poking its head out of the water.
  • Look for spawning salmon in the fall.
  • Observe fish and tadpoles beneath the water’s surface.

Bird Watching at McLane Creek Nature Trail

I linked up with Sam Merrill, President of Black Hills Audubon, for his insight on how to introduce children to bird watching.

An avid birder, Merrill raves about the McLane Creek Nature Trail.  “The diversity of the habitat is what makes the trail unique.  It passes through a pond, made by a beaver dam that creates marshy vegetation and old stumps for a good nesting area.  Then, the trail goes into deep woods where it’s often easier to hear birds than see them.  Finally, you walk along a stream with a backdrop of a hill where hawks or turkey vultures may be seen,” explains Merrill.

Merrill gives me a list of birds that are easy for kids to spot, keeping in mind that it can often be difficult to show someone else, especially a child, where a bird is located.

  • Wood duck – males have bright, gaudy color designs and females have tear-drop eye spots
  • Mallards – iridescent green heads and blue “speculum” patches on the side
  • Red-wing Blackbirds – black birds with red wings which the males show off to establish nesting territory
  • Red-breasted Sapsuckers – an all red head who drill little holes in the bark of trees to remove sap and insects
  • Violet-Green Swallows – kids can look for the two white dots on the small of their back as they fly over the pond looking for insects
  • Cedar Waxwings – crested yellowish-brown birds that look so neatly dressed that they might be made of porcelain

How many can you and your family identify?  Merrill suggests walking slowly, stopping along the trail to be quiet and listen, and carrying binoculars as tips for spotting birds.

Merrill recommends two introductory bird guides, both by Olympia authors, that are not too complicated for children – “Birds of the Puget Sound Region” by Bob Morse and “Finding Your Wings” by Burt Guttman.

This weekend, you may need to bring along a cup of hot chocolate after your hike.  Or, maybe file this post for a weekend when the weather forecast is a little sunnier.

To reach the McLane Creek Nature Trail, take the Evergreen State College exit off Highway 101.  Continue towards Mud Bay.  At the bottom of the exit ramp, turn left at the stop sign.  Turn left onto Delphi Road and follow it for approximately 3.5 miles.  Turn right to enter the McLane Creek Nature Trail which is marked by a DNR sign.

Please note that a Discover Pass is required to park at the McLane Creek Nature Trail.

Check out our events calendar for more ideas of things to do this weekend.  Also, if you enjoy looking at photos, click here to see what the trail looks like in December.

If you have a suggestion for inexpensive family fun in Thurston County, drop us a note at

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