Thrifty Thurston Celebrates the Salmon Migration

salmon migration


By Katie Doolittle

VCB logo“See the salmon here!” The bright letters appear at the 5th Avenue Bridge in downtown Olympia some time in late August or early September, depending on the fish run. Late or early, one thing never changes: the salmon run is an excellent opportunity on multiple fronts. It provides a chance to get outside, exercise, and rub elbows with your neighbors. It’s a dynamic educational opportunity for learners of any age. And during this brief season, we all have the chance to view and appreciate a phenomenon embedded within our regional culture.

salmon migration
Salmon Stewards, volunteers with Stream Team, are available to answer questions about salmon migration.

Happily, there’s no price ticket for public enjoyment of the salmon run. That’s right, my fellow thrifty souls: viewing the salmon migration is FREE.

Around Thurston County, we actually have the opportunity to witness multiple migrations. The earliest run involves hatchery Chinook salmon. They come from the Pacific Ocean to Budd Inlet, congregating around the fish ladder at the 5th Avenue bridge. This is the best location through about mid-September. Tumwater Falls Park then becomes the optimal salmon-spotting locale. This is where the fish show up after journeying through Capitol Lake, and they usually hang about through mid-October.

Tumwater Falls Park is an excellent location for families with children who are hoping to view the salmon. Combined, the three fish ladders form an 80-feet hurdle in elevation, making for some spectacular salmon activity. There are also holding ponds for imprinting juvenile salmon. Additionally, the beautiful walking trails are liberally studded with comfy benches and fascinating historical plaques. Finally, picnic tables and playground equipment offer the perfect place to unwind.

Hoping to combine some social studies with your salmon science lesson? Stream Team representative Patricia Pyle suggests attending Cider Sunday at Tumwater Falls Park, hosted by the Tumwater Historical Association. This year, Cider Sunday lasts from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on October 5. You can buy bake sale goodies or pioneer-era treats before hitting the trail to view some salmon.

salmon migration
Watch salmon processing at Tumwater Falls Park on Monday, Wednesday or Friday mornings.

Tumwater Falls Park is also where the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife process the fish three times a week. Over 4.5 million eggs are harvested annually during this fish spawning operation. If you want to see eggs collected for later fertilization and incubation, come to the park between mid-September and early October. Processing occurs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.

Signage at the bridge and park provide background on the salmon life cycle any time of day. An even better option: Salmon Stewards are at both locations in order to share information, viewing tips, educational visual aids, and even polarized glasses! These dedicated individuals complete six hours of classroom training, plus two additional field hours at each location where they plan to volunteer.

If you’re hoping to view a run of wild salmon, you have two opportunities. From early November through early or mid-December, there’s a chum run at McLane Creek Nature Trail. The easily walkable trail consists of a 1.1-mile outer loop with a .3-mile connector trail. Because the trail is run by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), visitors must have a Discover Pass. Salmon Stewards will also be volunteering on this trail.

salmon migration
A docent at Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail speaks to students on a field trip.

Alternatively, the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail is located just outside Thurston County, on Highway 101. This free half-mile trail is a collaborative effort hosted by the  South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG). SPSSEG Education and Outreach intern Allie Feidt previews the season: “The 2014 dates are November 1 – 30. The trail is reserved for school groups during the week, and is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on weekends, Veteran’s Day, and the day after Thanksgiving. When the trail is open, it is staffed with volunteer docents to answer questions, offer up their salmon expertise, and direct people to the best salmon viewing spots of the day!”

Most of the Kennedy Creek trail is ADA accessible with great viewing platforms. Feidt notes, “Kennedy Creek is a special place to view salmon  as it is accessible to families with children of all ages, and provides an outdoor learning opportunity during an indoor season.” With that in mind: make sure to dress appropriately for rainy November weather.

One last thing: if you’re hoping to view salmon at McLane Creek or Kennedy Creek, you’ll want to leave your canine companions at home. Dogs can disturb the spawning process, and they are also susceptible to poisoning via a parasite on salmon skin.

salmon migrationIn summary:

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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