Exploring Thurston County’s Underground Exercise Spots

tumwater hill stairs
The stairs positioned on the side of Tumwater Hill welcome runners and hikers of all ages to accept their steep and challenging course.


By Kira Stussy, Tumwater High School intern to ThurstonTalk.com

russell dentistry logoIn a world that is so focused on reducing the waistline and squeezing into a smaller clothing size, it is natural that there have been a variety of health crazes to help drop the pounds. Many people resort to dieting; usually following whatever fad has caught the public’s attention. But as beneficial as it is to indulge in nutritious meals, there is something else that is key to maintaining a fit lifestyle: exercise. The problem with this is that not everyone has the money or motivation to go to the prestigious fitness facility or work with a personal trainer. Not to mention, many beginners (and even advanced athletes) often hate being watched while they sweat and bust out the reps. Luckily, there are multiple locations around the county that allow for people to work out, with little to no cost, while avoiding the public eye.

tumwater hill stairs
The stairs positioned on the side of Tumwater Hill welcome runners and hikers of all ages to accept their steep and challenging course.

On the side of Tumwater Hill, next to the Old Town Plaza, there is a set of stairs hidden by the leaves of the surrounding trees. Now, these are not just any old flight of steps. Daily, this is used as a more efficient way to travel up and down the hill, but little do these commuters know that they could use these steps as more than just a short-cut. This grueling, three part staircase is steep, narrow, and the short height of each step automatically encourages a more rapid pace. Not only is this a great way to make the calf and thigh muscles more distinct, but it is also partially secluded by overgrown trees.

For those who prefer to exercise without millions watching their every move, this is the ideal spot to run. Most people simply hike up and down the stairs, some carry heavy packs to increase the workout, and others make it an obstacle in a longer distance jog. Whichever way you choose to utilize them, these stairs present a local place to burn the calories, work the core, and tone the lower body.

The stairs on Tumwater Hill are only one of many lesser known areas to work out. Just to list a few: Nisqually Wildlife Refuge provides longer distance walks along with lovely scenery, Capitol Lake in Olympia has a just-under-two-mile loop for runners as well as a view of the lake, McLane Nature Trail is perfect for family walks or beginner athletes, and Millersylvania State Park offers hiking and biking.

Another spot that most cities in our county possess, and that is not normally considered a workout destination, are high school tracks. From Tenino to Olympia, there is almost always a nearby high school that has a track on the premises. Tracks allow for sprinting, longer distance running, and callisthenic exercises. Also, most high schools have a field of some sort that provide a great area for planking and other ground work and often a stadium with stairs for running. So as long as it is after school hours and you are not disrupting any school activities, high school tracks and fields are a fantastic and forgotten location.

“The Pioneer Park hill is good,” says Shari Mertens, Physical Educator at Tumwater High School, certified P90X instructor, C-team volleyball coach, and fitness fanatic, “At any of the parks around here you can do any sort of boot-camp type workout.” She explains this “boot-camp” workout to be exercises such as sprints, pushups, abdominal work, and squats. She suggests going to places such as local parks and high school tracks to do such exercises.

olympia exercise places
Shari Mertens demonstrates perfect side plank form.

But what about when you are unable to go anywhere except the comfort of your own home? She responded to this universal question, “Pretty much any exercise you do that uses your own body weight as your equipment is relatively easy to modify.  For example, if I wanted to make my pushup harder, I would place my hands on the ground and keep my feet raised on a bench. To make a pushup easier, you just do the opposite by placing your hands on the bench and your feet on the ground.”

She stresses that progression is the best way to achieve your wanted fitness level.  “It is a simple way to go from someone who isn’t very in shape to someone who works out a lot.”

It is clear that Thurston County contains several brilliant lesser known places to exercise and stay fit as the holiday season fast approaches. You do not always require a fitness club or personal trainer (although both can come in handy for additional assistance) to work out.

Our beautiful area provides countless locations that are perfect for any way you want to burn extra calories. You just have to be able to see the potential where you never expected it to be.


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