By Kate Scriven
The weather is nice, the kids are out of school, and vacation days at work are begging to be used. It’s summer and in Thurston County, that means getting outside to enjoy the great outdoors. Uniquely located at southern end of the Puget Sound, Thurston County is home to a vast number of small estuaries, harbors, and beaches, perfect for exploring on a sunny day. Stretching up from the shores of the sound are rich farming valleys, vast wooded forests and some of the last true prairie lands.
Whether you explore water, farm or forest, there is something in Thurston County for everyone. Visit for the day or make a weekend adventure of exploring nature at its best. Our guide below has all you need to know to make your outdoor plans from family friendly to adrenaline junkie.
Surf and Shore
Many favorite Thurston County outdoor activities center on the water – and we have plenty of it. From leisurely strolls for beach combing to intense water sports, the waters of south Puget Sound have it all.
- Rent a Kayak to explore the marine-life filled shorelines and coves. See the Puget Sound in a whole new way. Rentals available at Olympia’s Tugboat Annie’s Restaurant, Boston Harbor Marina, and Urban Kayaks.
- Own your own boat? Motor down to Olympia for the weekend. Moorage is available at several area marinas, most of which are walking distance to restaurants and activities. The Port Plaza and Percival Landing are in the heart of downtown, Boston Harbor Marina includes a gas dock, Zittel’s Marina is on Johnson Point and also includes gas.
- Beaches abound in Thurston County. Some of our favorites, with easy access, interesting shorelines, and good beaches for shells and swimming include Priest Point Park near downtown Olympia, Tolmie State Park north of Olympia, Burfoot County Park near Boston Harbor, and Frye Cove County Park off Steamboat Island Road.
Woods and Prairie
If your toes are a bit waterlogged after time spent in the sound, hit the trails throughout Thurston County. Hiking, biking, trail running and horseback riding are all prominent activities in all corners of the county.
Capitol State Forest is a vast tract of land southwest of Olympia presenting opportunities for all manner of outdoor recreation. Grab an updated map of the forest and make a plan. Trails to the north are designated for motorcycles and ATVs. Trails to the south are for equestrians, bikers and hikers.
- Camping opportunities are found throughout the Capitol State Forest as well as designated areas for target shooting. Mountain biking trails are especially popular, and challenging, in this sustainable, working forest. A Discover Pass is needed, so grab an annual pass for $30 and enjoy the Capitol State Forest all year.
- Short, family friendly hikes are a hallmark of Thurston County. Grab the kids and hit the trail. Take a snack and the camera as the photo ops will be plentiful. Favorites include McLane Creek Nature Trail, Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail (especially impressive during the late summer salmon run), Nisqually Wildlife Refuge Nature Trail and Boardwalk (perfect for birders and families alike), Mima Mounds Natural Area, and the Evergreen Beach Trail located at The Evergreen State College.
- If you are hiking with a stroller, try one of these stroller friendly walks or head downtown for an urban safari around Capitol Lake.
Farms and Animals
Outdoor recreation doesn’t always have to work up a sweat. There are plenty of activities that connect us back to nature that do not require technical gear and aerobic activities. Chief among those are visiting area farms, finding the roots of our food and enjoying the peace brought by animals in their habitats.
U-Pick Farms are a great way to engage the whole family, meet a local farmers, and come away with sweet treats to enjoy later. Thurston County is blessed with rich farmlands right within our suburban corridor. Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are the most popular u-pick options and you can find a comprehensive list of local farms here.
- Wolf Haven International allows visitors to experience a rare sight – wolves up close, living in their natural habitat. This unique preserve is dedicated to educating others about the plight of the wolves as well as their role in a healthy eco-system.
- Lattin’s Country Cider Mill is a family friendly outing where you can see farm animals, enjoy local fresh produce, walk the natural areas of the farm, and enjoy a famous apple fritter (really…don’t miss the fritter!).
- While the Olympia Farmers Market is not “technically” a farm, it’s philosophy of being farmer owned, coupled with its 38 year history on Olympia’s waterfront, make it a must see. Wander the booths, meet the farmers, stock your pantry, and have some lunch. The Market offers a chance to connect directly with those who are growing your food and crafting handmade products all within steps of the Capitol dome. A complete list of local farmers markets can be found here.
Thurston County offers a massive bucket list of options for those seeking a connection to the great outdoors, whether deep in the woods or a little closer to civilization. Make the journey to the southernmost end of the Puget Sound, or step outside your door and explore the beauty that our area has to offer every day.