Thrifty Thurston Visits Tolmie State Park

tolmie state park
Be prepared to wade through some tide pools as you explore the sea life on Tolmie State Park's beaches.


capital medical centerA little known fact about Tolmie State Park is that it is home to an underwater dive park built for and by scuba divers. The underwater park has a man-made reef and a few different barges posing as shipwrecks that have become home to a variety of fish, crabs, and other sea creatures. I am not now, and most likely will never be a scuba-diver (too claustrophobic for my liking), but the beauty of Tolmie is that the above water park is just as much fun as the below water one with expansive beaches, fire pits and shelters, winding forest trails, and unparalleled views of Mount Rainier.

Many Thurston County residents have fond memories of playing, exploring and hiking at Tolmie. Anne Brown, life-long Olympia resident and mother of two, has been visiting Tolmie State Park since she was five years old. “My memories of this park range from playing on the beach with my brother as a small child and walking the trails with my parents, to bringing my own children to Tolmie and showing them the herons and the sea creatures that delighted me as a kid,” she muses.

tolmie stat park
Some of the region’s most breathtaking views of Mount Rainier can be found at Tolmie State Park.

When I recently visited Tolmie with my husband and four children, the beach playground was our first stop. In order to get to the beach at Tolmie, it is necessary to walk over the beautiful, sturdy “bridge to the beach,” as locals call it. The tides at Tolmie fluctuate greatly with high tide bringing the water almost up to the tree line and low tide providing an expansive stretch of sand to explore. Because of the extreme tides, it is prudent to check the tide tables before visiting.

Tolmie’s main beach was enough entertainment to keep my family engaged for hours. It is rife with sea life and, on warmish days, has perfect stretches of sand for castle building. Word to the wise, unless you are prepared to take off your shoes, roll up your pants, and get wet feet – wear rubber boots. While there are stretches of packed sand, there are also tide pools and soggy spots throughout the beach. If you are looking for a more private beach experience, take the Sandy Beach Trailhead located by the main shelter area, for a quick walk in the woods that leads to a smaller, more secluded beach with a picnic table.

tolmie state park
Be prepared to wade through some tide pools as you explore the sea life on Tolmie State Park’s beaches.

Tolmie has two kitchen shelters with electricity as well as eleven sheltered and twenty unsheltered picnic tables. The upper kitchen shelter can be reserved for of groups of up to fifty people, and the large, enclosed lower shelter can accommodate as many as eighty. We have had friends host impressive retirement parties, lovely weddings, and epic birthday parties at this charming park’s sheltered areas – in all types of weather – and they have all been remarkably enjoyable. (To reserve a shelter, call 360-456-6464.)

Along the several trails in Tolmie, hikers will encounter assorted animal habitats, streams, and wetlands. In fact, Tolmie State Park is one of Nisqually Middle School science teacher, Brian Stave’s favorite places to visit on field trips. “The variety of ecosystems, including intertidal, salt marsh and forest, makes it an excellent place to take my students to see the diversity of wildlife the Puget Sound has to offer,” Stave explains.

tolmie state park
Pacific Northwest kids do not need dry sand or even heat to engage in some sand castle creating fun.

If your child has not had the pleasure of a school trip to Tolmie, there are ample opportunities for guided tours this summer. As part of the South Sound Estuary Association’s summer “Meet at the Beach” program, a naturalist will be at Tolmie State Park on scheduled dates throughout June, July, and August. To see Tolmie’s schedule, as well as the dates and times for other Thurston County parks, click here. And be sure to bring your Discover Pass when visiting, trust me, I learned this one the hard way.

Tolmie State Park is one of Lacey, Washington’s recreational and educational gems. If you have never had the pleasure, pack up your sand toys, rubber boots, hiking shoes, and picnic food and go enjoy all Tolmie has to offer.

To visit Tolmie State Park, set your GPS to 7730 – 61st Ave NE in Olympia.

tolmie state park
Tolmie’s “Bridge to the Beach” divides the forest trails from the saltwater playground.

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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