Thrifty Thurston Splashes into Puget Sound

kayak olympia
Rent a double kayak if you have a younger child that may tire easily.


By Lisa Herrick

Alley Oop LogoAdventures in the water of Puget Sound are plentiful. And there is no better time than the summer to take the kids out for a free swim in the salt water or an inexpensive excursion renting a water vessel.  Even take advantage of the ebb and flow of the Puget Sound and plan your salt water activities based on the tides.  Explore the shorelines at low tide or jump on a standup paddleboard during high tide.


swimming puget sound
When the weather is warm enough, salt water swimming is a treat.

Salt Water Swimming

Swimming pools are an obvious choice but there are few months of the year when you can dive into the Puget Sound for a refreshing salt water swim. My kids’ favorite swimming hole is at Burfoot County Park just north of downtown Olympia. Parking is easy and there are not any fees to use the park including beach, trails, picnic shelters and playground. The forested trail down to the beach is almost adventure enough. Yet the view is breathtaking once you emerge from the hike on to the rocky beach overlooking the expansive Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. The water is calm for those just wanting to wade along the shoreline while offering gentle waves for the frolicking swimmers.

Low Tide Adventures

What lies beneath the water is relatively unknown except for a few times in the summer when the low tides meet warm weather-giving us the opportunity to explore sand and sea creatures normally hidden beneath the waves. Low tide exploration is both fun and free. There are even organizations, like the South Sound Estuary Association, who sponsor regular opportunities to explore area beaches at low tide with volunteer naturalists. South Sound Estuary Association hosts “Meet us at the Beach.”  Find the beach naturalist schedule here.

olympia beaches
Beach comb while dipping your toes in the cool water at Burfoot County Park.

Low tide exploration is also an easy event to do on your own. Just pick the right day, read the tide charts and find a good spot.  Tolmie State Park, a 105-acre marine day-use park with 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline, is an excellent spot to explore tide pools. Exploring is free but you will need a Washington State Discover Pass to enter the state park.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

The first time I went on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), I placed my five-year-old daughter on the front of the board with a picnic lunch and off we went for the day’s adventure on Budd Inlet.  While we fortunately did not tip over, admittedly the water was more still than she was. Depending upon the ages and level of squirminess of your children, it might be advisable to have them on their own board. There are several locations to rent SUPs including Sound Board Northwest Standup Paddleboards or West Bay Paddleboards where you can also get an instructional lesson from a fitness trainer and certified ASI Stand Up Paddleboard instructor before you go. Paddle out to Boston Harbor or if the tide is in head north to Harstine Island for the sandy beaches.

Sea Kayaking

kayak olympia
Rent a double kayak if you have a younger child that may tire easily.

Nothing gets you closer to the water and marine life without actually getting in to the water than sea kayaking. Budd Inlet is an ideal location for beginning kayakers as the waters are still with mild currents. Additionally, the rental locations help you in and out of the kayaks from their docks as well as provide ideas where to go such as to Hope Island from Boston Harbor Marina rentals. Tugboat Annie’s might suggest a leisurely paddle to the Farmer’s Market, to Priest Point Park or simply tour the nearby log jams. (Read a full story about kayak rentals from Tugboat Annie’s here.) Wherever your destination the journey will be scenic and can be enjoyed with a group of single kayaks or shared in a double kayak with a child in the back.

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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