In 2016, there are 9 days when you can leave your Discover Pass at home. No fees are required on these dates, giving you and your family the opportunity to have adventures around some of the best sights and nature areas in Washington, free of charge. For residents of the South Puget Sound, we have 21 State Parks to explore, including 14 more on the coast and Olympic Peninsula. With such a wealth of nature and historical areas to explore, we give you our five favorite state parks for hiking, picnicking, wildlife watching, boating and days out with the family.
The fee-free days for 2016 in Washington State Parks are spread throughout the year, giving you free entry almost once a month. Please be aware that on the fee-free days, entry to the park is the only thing that is free. Camping and renting park facilities will still require the normal cost to users. Highlights for fee-free days in 2016 include the State Parks’ 103rd Birthday on March 19, and National Get Outdoors Day on June 11. More dates for fee-free entry are:
- March 19 – Washington State Parks’ 103rd birthday
- March 26 – Saturday Spring Day
- April 22 – Earth Day
- May 8 – Sunday Spring Day
- June 4 – National Trails Day
- June 11 – National Get Outdoors Day
- August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
- September 24 – National Public Lands Day
- November 11 – Veterans Day
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, visit our complete event calendar.
1. Hiking – Cape Disappointment State Park
Located on the southwest coast of the state, right along the mouth of the Columbia River, Cape Disappointment State Park has something for everyone. While the name may cause many to feel less than enticed, one look at the park and you will be smiling. This park is one of the best in the state and is one of the most photographed, thanks to waves crashing against rocks and a picturesque lighthouse. With hikes to the beach and the aforementioned lighthouse to explore, Cape Disappointment needs to be experienced often. Your best bet for amazing views will be the 3.4 mile round trip on the North Head Trail. For the most dramatic pictures and experience, seeing the park on a day before a storm will show off some huge waves.
2. Picnics – Tolmie State Park
Closer to Olympia, Tolmie State Park sits along the Puget Sound and just a short drive off the I-5 corridor. Often overlooked, this park has 1,800 feet of beaches to wander, explore, or just sit and enjoy. The small park has 31 picnic tables, including 11 that are sheltered from the rain. The park also has three miles of trails to explore, making it an ideal getaway close to town. A surprise at Tolmie is that it is also the location of an underwater park that contains an artificial reef, built in cooperation with scuba divers. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a scuba expert to enjoy Tolmie. This park is perfect for a mellow day in nature, listening to the soothing sounds of crashing waves. Keep your eyes open when you visit; you might see deer, herons, eagles and seals.
3. Wildlife – Dosewallips State Park
While wildlife can be seen at nearly every state park in Washington, the animal watching at Dosewallips State Park is always fun. With roaming herds of elk traipsing down the Dosewallips River Valley, glacial fed water pours down from the Olympic Mountains. Eagles soar over head, porpoises and seals swim in the Hood Canal, and life seems perfect. Located near the small town of Brinnon, Dosewallips State Park has five miles of hiking trails and five miles of shoreline. The Steam Donkey Loop Trail and the Maple Valley Trail are the most popular, while the North Tidal Area Trail is awesome for those interesting in birding or gazing upon the beauty of the Hood Canal. With wilderness around every corner, it is little wonder why this is one of the most memorable parks in Washington.
4. Boating – Hope Island State Park
Hope Island State Park is only accessible by boat, automatically making it a boat lover’s perfect destination. Since it is an island, the park has to be paddled to from either the Arcadia Point boat launch east of Shelton or from Boston Harbor, north of Olympia. Or, find a friendly face at Steamboat Island who will let you launch your kayak. While that may be a deterrent for many, those who do get out to Hope Island State Park are rewarded with stunning views, amazing wildlife and isolation that only an island can bring. Once you reach Hope Island, there is a 1.5 mile long beach, an historic homestead, and two miles of hiking trails through pristine forests. With deer commonly seen, eagles overhead and seals off-shore, paddlers will immediately fall in love with Hope Island.
5. Family Day – Fort Worden State Park
If you haven’t experienced Fort Worden State Park, you are missing out on one of Washington State’s most historic and scenic areas. With enough activities to fill an entire three-day weekend, Fort Worden is sure to become a family favorite after just one visit. Driving in to the park, you are greeted with historic 100-year Victorian era buildings, early 20th century military structures, giant artillery guns and endless trails to explore. With a beach perfect for watching the mountains, waves and beach-combing, as well as 12 miles of hiking and biking, it is hard to imagine why you would be spending your day anywhere else. Whether you explore inside the old military buildings, take in the sights of Mount Baker from the Port Wilson lighthouse, or learn about wildlife around the Salish Sea at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, you are going to find something that will keep you coming back to the fort again and again.