Thrifty Thurston Captures Salmon Migration

salmon migration
Salmon Stewards undergo six hours of training and then share their knowledge with the community.


By Kathryn Millhorn

heritage bankI’m the cheapest person I know.  Heck, I’m probably the cheapest person YOU know.  If I won the lottery today, I’d still use coupons to buy dented cans.  Maybe it’s upbringing, maybe the economy, either way, I can have an amazing day on the town for less than $5.  That being said, it’s salmon run time and that’s the best of all possible scenarios:  educational for my daughter, outdoors for both of us, and FREE!

Whether at the 5th Avenue Bridge in downtown Olympia, Tumwater Falls, or the McLane Creek Nature Trail, it’s ooh’s, aah’s, and ‘What’s that seal doing?!’  And, through mid-December, Salmon Stewards (volunteers from Stream Team) will be helping you learn about the salmon migration.

salmon migration
Salmon Stewards undergo six hours of training and then share their knowledge with the community.

The Salmon Stewards are a wealth of information, tips, guidance, and educational tidbits.  Stewards attend six hours of training and are willing local volunteers.  They work in two-hour shifts from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm to answer questions, point out the best viewing spots, or explain the spawning process.  In their absence, printed sheets are now posted on the 5th Avenue Bridge, answering the most commonly asked questions.

The best times to view the salmon can vary by location.  The 5th Avenue Bridge and Tumwater Falls locations are sometimes shaded into obscurity in the mornings.  Stream Team’s Patricia Pyle says that this year’s fish are coming in slowly, just now beginning to enter Budd Inlet.  Their migration depends on water flow and temperature but by early September local viewing sites are often in full swing.  The salmon will hang around the bridge until mid-September when they make their way into Tumwater Falls.  From here, some are sent up river to spawn.

From early November through early December, viewing has shifted to the McLane Creek Nature Trail.  Because spawning salmon are easily spooked and their carcasses can hold bacteria toxic to dogs, it is recommended that dogs either stay home or remain leashed and out of the water (away from both fish and their fragile eggs) while exploring.

salmon migration
Peering over the bridge, community members can watch salmon migrate in downtown Olympia, Tumwater Falls park, and McLane Creek Nature Trail.

To see the salmon up close, Tumwater Falls Park has holding ponds, used to imprint the young fish so they’ll return later in life.  Approximately every two weeks in the spring a new batch of juvenile salmon are released, ensuring a successful fall return.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from mid-September through early October you can watch the fish spawning operation at the Falls where over 4.5 million eggs are harvested for later fertilization and incubation.

At Tumwater Falls you can also watch the fish tackle three ladders, a hurdle of over 80-feet in elevation.  Their journey, the beautiful walking trails, picnic tables, and a playground make this a complete morning adventure for young families and homeschoolers alike.

Stream Team also maintains maps of viewing sites, upcoming events, and educational materials on their website.  While the volunteer program is full for this year, anyone interested in future opportunities can contact Stream Team’s Ann Marie Pearce at or 360-754-3355, ext. 6857.

For downtown viewers, walk along the waterfront’s Percival Landing, swing at the park, shop at the Olympia Farmers Market, or visit the Heritage Park fountain to turn the trip into a day to remember!

Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County.  The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community.  If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at  For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.

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