By Douglas Scott
The State of Washington is home to some of the most beautiful places in the world, and the majority of them are just a few shorts hours from home. Our extended backyards lead to majestic mountains, tranquil beaches and old growth forests, many of which are located in State Parks or other protected lands. While typically the purchase of a Discover Pass or a $10 per day fee is required to visit Washington’s State Parks, the agency has designated nine more days in 2015 as “Fee Free” entry days.
During the “Fee Free” days at Washington State Parks, a Discover Pass is not required to visit a park, providing free access for all who choose to visit. The waived fees do not cover camping or rented facilities in the park, but do cover entry and the chance to explore some of Washington State’s most celebrated lands free of charge. The dates for 2015 are as follows:
March 19: State Parks’ 102nd birthday
April 4: Saturday Spring Day
April 22: Earth Day
May 10: Sunday Spring Day
June 6: National Trails Day
June 13: National Get Outdoors Day
August 25: National Park Service Birthday
September 26: National Public Lands Day
November 11: Veterans Day
Thurston County is blessed to be near some of the most iconic images of the Pacific Northwest. In just a few hours drive, we can be on a volcano, in an old lava tube, in a rainforest, along the rugged coast or on an island surrounded by orca whales. Thanks to our central proximity, we have the best of the region at our finger tips, and that includes our local state parks.
5 Great Thurston Region Parks- http://www.parks.wa.gov/849/Southwest-Region
With over half a mile of freshwater shoreline, and access to fishing, swimming and kayaking on Deep Lake, Millersylvania State Park is close enough to Olympia to visit a few times in a single day. The park has 7.6 miles of bike trails, 8.6 miles of hiking trails and offers kayak, paddle board, and pedal boat rentals during the summer. The park’s numerous buildings and trails were built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, expertly combing history and nature. A huge campground is available for those interested in a few days of exploration, and the close location to Interstate 5 makes for easy day trips from anywhere around.
Also built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the building spread around the 621 acres of Lewis and Clark State Park help balance history and nature perfectly. The park, located south of Thurston County, has five miles of hiking trails and eight miles of horse trails, making it a great trip for visitors looking for many different experiences. The park is located along the north spur of the Oregon Trail, connecting those in the Willamette Valley to the city of Tumwater. Near the park, those interested in local history should check out the John R. Jackson House, a rebuilt replica of the first American pioneer home built north of the Columbia River.
Home to ten miles of hiking trails, seven miles of bike trails and seven miles of horse trails, those looking for an outdoor experience south of Thurston County need to head to Rainbow Falls State Park. With a self-guided nature walk through old-growth forests, opportunities for wildlife watching and the chance to see a pretty waterfall, the short drive to Rainbow Falls is well worth the effort. With over 50 campsites, 36 picnic areas and places to fish and swim, it is easy to spend an entire day exploring this often-overlooked state park.
Hope Island State Park is one of the most unique state parks in America, as it is only accessible by boat. Located just north of the end of Steamboat Island Road, this rarely visited park has over 1.5 miles of beaches to explore and two full miles of hiking trails around the island. At just 106-acres, the island is covered with old-growth forests and has just four tent sites for those willing to spend the night on their own island in the Puget Sound. If you are up for a fun adventure, Hope Island State Park can provide you with that, and much more.
Just north of Olympia and south of the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Tolmie State Park sits quietly along the Puget Sound, giving glimpses of shorebirds, views of Mount Rainier and access to three miles of hiking trails. The park was named after Dr. Willian Fraser Tolmie, who was a physician, surgeon, botanist, and fur trader for the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Nisqually for 16 years in the 1800s. The park gives access to the beach, as well as providing a great place to swim, clam, crab and fish. While the park itself may seem small, the opportunities Tolmie offers make the short trip off of I-5 well worth it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.