Now that the snow is melting at record levels and the seemingly-endless winter is behind us, we are blessed to be able to get out and explore some amazing natural destinations around the South Puget Sound.

edge fitness logoWhether we are looking for a short drive for an afternoon of natural beauty, or longing for a full day of exploration in true wilderness, living at the base of the Sound gives us access to the best possible hiking options in the nation. In an hour and a half, we can be at the coast, in a rainforest, or standing on the slopes of a 14,000 foot volcano. We are truly lucky to live here; and now that the snow is melting, it is time we make the most of our backyard- the great outdoors.

1. South Fork Skokomish

Wander the forgotten old growth forests of the South Fork of the Skokomish. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

Close to Olympia, just an hour and a half from the Capitol, the remoteness of the South Fork of the Skokomish is beckoning you for exploration. While most will go to the Lower South Fork and make their way upriver, the best bet for stunning stands of ancient timber are located out of the Upper trailhead. This trail is ideal for families and perfect for those looking to get into a bit more wild terrain.

Well-maintained and frequented by locals, this trail starts out along an old logging road and soon narrows into ever-increasingly beautiful forests. For 2.2 miles, the trail crosses bridges and wanders through huge trees before arriving at the site of a washed-out bridge. For most, this is the end of the trail; and it is completely worth it. Families with older kids who are more comfortable in the wilderness and looking for longer distances can cross the river on downfall before continuing up the trail to the National Park boundary and beyond.

Distance: 4.4 Miles Round Trip or Longer

2. Mount Townsend

Enjoy the jaw-dropping panoramic wonderland of Mount Townsend. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

Those looking for panoramic views and elevation gain should look no further than the local classic of Mount Townsend. This is the perfect hike for active families looking for a rewarding day on the Olympic Peninsula. Mount Townsend isn’t hard, but might be difficult for those not used to being active. However, if you want a fun, family challenge up to a mountain that gives stunning views of the Cascades, Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the city of Seattle, Mount Townsend is where those lifelong memories can be found. The trail is a bit remote to get to, but it is an extremely popular day hike among locals. Starting in a pretty forest, the trail soon switchbacks up the mountain, giving ever-growing beautiful views of the entire Salish Sea region of the Pacific Northwest.

Distance: 8 Miles Round Trip

3. Carbon River

Take a walk in the rainforest along Mount Rainie’s Carbon River. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

While the snow melts slowly at Paradise in Mount Rainier, one area of the National Park is free of snow and offers you a chance to check out the rainforest of the Cascades. Located along the Carbon River, the trails along the northwest corner of Washington’s most iconic mountain will surely dazzle you with beauty and inspire you with grandeur. The trails at the Carbon area are perfect for kids of all ages. There is a small rainforest loop for the younger kids, while older kids can get out and stretch their legs amongst the giant trees and river access along the now defunct National Park road on their way to better views and waterfalls further upriver. If you haven’t experienced this side of Mount Rainier, you are missing truly stunning wilderness experiences.

Distance: 1 Mile Round Trip or Longer

4. Washington State Parks

Tolmie State Park is a great place to visit year-round.

Another easy trail closer to Olympia that is a fantastic way to get everyone out of the house is to explore the trails in our local State Parks. Close to Olympia, both Tolmie and Millersylvania offer miles of trails to explore, as well as great ways to experience the waters of the region. Millersylvania State Park has five miles of trails, including a few routes where you can find relative solitude even on the sunniest of days. With access to a lake for kayaking, rafting or swimming, you can’t help but enjoy the gem of a state park right near home.

Up near Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Tolmie State Park gives amazing access to Puget Sound and a chance to walk and picnic near three miles of trails. These aren’t for the folks looking for serious hikes in wilderness but work perfectly as a stunning destination.

5. Mount Rose

Take the family up to enjoy the stunning views of the Olympic National Park’s Mount Rose. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

If you want to climb a mountain locally, you only having to load up the car and drive a little over one hour, there is a gorgeous peak that gives off stunning views of Lake Cushman. Located just before the Staircase Entrance of Olympic National Park, Mount Rose sits waiting for your adventure. The trail is steep at times and will challenge most new-to-moderate hikers, but the views and the experiences are completely worth it. Hiking this trail will eventually lead you to views of Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens. The trail starts out as one trail, but splits to a loop trail after a few miles. Stick to the right side for an easier and gentler climb. The left side is steeper and for more advanced hikers.

Distance: 6.4 Miles Round Trip

6. Big Creek Trail

Mount Ellinor feeds the waterfalls along Big Creek Trail.

Finally, if Mount Rose turns out to be too tough, you can easily get to the always-classic Staircase Loop Trail or explore the easy and pretty loop around the Big Creek Trail. The Big Creek Trail is an awesome place to go, especially when the temperatures are warm and the snow is melting. Fed by Mount Ellinor, the creek that the trail follows is full of stunning waterfalls and hundreds of perfect picnic destinations. This trail will easily become a family favorite, even giving the most hardcore hikers in your family a chance to follow the route of the trail all the way to the summit of Mount Ellinor.

Distance: 4.5 Miles Round Trip

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 submit@thurstontalk.com. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and the surrounding area, visit our complete event calendar.

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