Living in the Pacific Northwest, we have an opportunity in 2016 to have the greatest wilderness and nature experiences, all just a short drive around the South Puget Sound.
Each year, we look ahead, hoping that the New Year will bring us good fortune and amazing adventures. Instead of waiting for something good to happen, make 2016 the year of wilderness, the year of nature and the year of exploring outside. With thousands of miles of trails, numerous state and national park, wildlife refuges and natural wonders to explore, you and your family have endless possibilities to head outdoors every weekend this year.
As a local outdoor expert, I can confirm that these 16 awesome family-friendly adventures are sure to make 2016 one of the greatest years in Nature.
1. Travel to Paradise for Snow and Sun
Paradise is only two hours from downtown Olympia is a must-see experience in every season. In the summer, the Paradise region of Mount Rainier National Park is a hiker’s daydream location. With stunning views of the mountain, including access to waterfalls, lakes and glaciers, a trip to paradise is always worth the trip. In the snowy months, Paradise is perfect for witnessing feet of snow from snowshoes or on your sleds. Just make sure to check the conditions before you head up.
2. Hike the Family-Friendly Ohanapecosh Trails
Another overlooked gem in Mount Rainier National Park is the Ohanapecosh region. Greeting visitors with a suspension bridge, a loop hike and access to one of the prettiest drives in the state of Washington, this seasonally open region is sure to become a family favorite after just one visit. A visit on hot summer days will let you cool off in groves of ancient timber along a stunning, glacier-fed river; not bad for a short drive. Be aware that the area is only open during the snow-free months.
3. Hike and Climb Around Olympic’s Staircase
Olympic National Park is the most visited National Park in the Pacific Northwest, and the Staircase Region is the fastest growing. Staircase is the perfect local getaway in the wilderness of Olympic, and is only 90 minutes from Olympia. Once at Staircase, you can choose between easy, yet stunning loop hikes, remote and gorgeous mountain climbing, jaw-dropping overnight trips and access to hundreds of miles of wilderness all around Olympic National Park. You do not want to skip this Hood Canal masterpiece. Looking for something more difficult or remote? Discover everything there is to know about Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula.
4. Adventure Around Hood Canal’s Waterfalls
Water is what makes life so amazing in the Pacific Northwest, and nowhere is that more evident than on the Olympic Peninsula. Up and down the Hood Canal, which is just a few hours drive from Olympia, waterfalls pour off cliffs along every stream and river. There are dozens of beautiful falls around, but nine waterfalls are so stunning, they should be seen monthly. While best after heavy rains, the waterfalls of Hood Canal also serves as great places to cool off in the summer heat.
5. Enjoy the Dizzying Heights of the High Steel Bridge
Mason County has many attractions, but one of the easiest to get to is the High Steel Bridge along the South Fork of the Skokomish River. Standing 420 feet above the river, the High Steel Bridge is amazing for pictures, and to take in the splendor of the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. With other areas close-by to explore, the High Steel bridge can be the first stop to an amazing day along the Hood Canal.
6. Watch Salmon Migrate Through Olympia
Every fall, Olympia becomes one of the best spots in the Pacific Northwest to watch salmon returning to spawn. As the salmon wait to return to the Deschutes River, they congregate by the dam that forms Capitol Lake, giving an excellent vantage point to see thousands of salmon swimming amongst jellyfish and seals. In October, visit Tumwater Falls and see them swimming up the fish ladder.
7. Paddle to Hope Island
For those looking for the ultimate kayaking adventure, look no farther than a kayaking camping trip to Hope Island State Park in the South Puget Sound. Accessible only by boat, Hope Island State Park is a short paddle from either Boston Harbor or the Arcadia Point Boat Launch. Once you arrive at Hope Island, enjoy one of the eight campsites and 3.5 miles of beach and forest hiking.
8. Kayak at Boston Harbor
If you haven’t paddled the waters of the Puget Sound, make 2016 the year you check that off your list. Just north of Olympia, Boston Harbor is waiting for you to explore in canoes or kayaks. With boat rentals available from the Boston Harbor Marina, you can quickly be out with the seals under the shadow of the snowy Olympic Mountains. Paddle to Burfoot, Hope Island or all the way to Priest Point Park for amazing views.
9. Climb Mount Ellinor
Everyone should climb Mount Ellinor. Sure it is steep and a bit tiring, but the panoramic views in every direction are worth every drop of sweat and labored breath. Just 90 minutes from Olympia, Mount Ellinor offers the best views of any easy to a access mountain in the Pacific Northwest. While Ellinor can be climbed in the winter, it is best to wait until August to summit this spectacular Olympic Mountain peak.
10. Watch Wildlife at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Along the Nisqually Estuary, just a few miles north of Lacey, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is one of the greatest places to birdwatch and explore the marshlands of the Puget Sound. With over five miles of trails, each offering unique and stunning views, you should visit Nisqually a few times in 2016. Pro tip: If you want to see amazing wildlife with the experts, participate in a Wednesday Morning Walk and see all the migratory and local birds.
11. Spend a Day at Burfoot Park
Just a few miles north of olympia, Burfoot County Park is the perfect place to find solitude during the rain, or enjoy the beaches of Budd Inlet on a toasty summer day. Giving fantastic views of Olympia and the Olympic Mountains, Burfoot Park also lets you hike miles of trails through fern-filled forests and shell-clad beaches. Perfect for families, dogs, and a day on the Puget Sound, Burfoot Park has been part of the Olympia experience for 40 years.
12. Hike and View Wildlife at McLane Creek
Ten miles from Olympia’s core, McLane Creek provides an amazing getaway any month of the year. With salmon in the fall, migrating geese and ducks in the winter and spring, and salamanders and frogs in the summer months, nature and wildlife is around every corner. The absolute best time to explore McLane Creek is during late October and November, as the spawning salmon return to this small creek. Watch them jump, spawn and slowly rot, all from boardwalks and well-maintained trails.
13. Walk the Loop at Tumwater Falls After a Storm
After heavy spring and fall rainstorms, the normally peaceful Tumwater Falls Park becomes a raging torrent of water. As the Deschutes River floods, the torrential pace of the river picks up along the narrow, rocky canyons of Tumwater Falls Park. The river swells, creating a stunning display of force along the entire pathway. Make sure you check out both the upper and lower falls for an amazing experience!
14. Road Trip to Olympic’s Wilderness Coast
You may see friends, family and coworkers planning trips to the Oregon Coast for 2016, but resist the urge. Instead of heading south, head northwest and explore the best stretches of wilderness coast in America. With seven stunning beaches to choose from, the coastal region of the Olympic National Park can be a perfect day trip or weeklong camping extravaganza.
15. Become a Spelunker in The Ape Caves
Two hours southeast of Olympia, in the southern cascades, one of the coolest and most unique experiences in the Pacific Northwest is waiting for your adventurous spirit. In the shadow of the Mount Saint Helens crater, the Ape Caves are the longest lava tubes in the continental United States, at over two miles in length. During a hot summer day, there is no better place to be, as the temperature remains at a chilly 42 degrees.
16. Explore Millersylvania State Park
Just a few miles south of Olympia, Millersylvania State Park offers hiking, camping and swimming experiences unlike anywhere else in Thurston County. Offering 7.6 miles of bike trails and 8.6 miles of hiking trails, Millersylvania should be your go to destination when you need to escape the city and work week. With 168 camping spots, enjoy a staycation in the natural beauty of our state parks.