Experiencing the majesty of autumn around the South Sound is an annual tradition that we all know and love. As the taste of pumpkin spice fills our coffee cups and the daylight hours slowly dwindle, the magic and wonder of the fall season needs to be experienced fully. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate enough to have one of the best fall experiences in the nation. Under the broadleaf maple trees dropping their colorful leaves, salmon swim to their historic spawning grounds and elk bugle as a light snow starts falling in the mountains. Before the heavy rain returns and we are consumed with gray, exploring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest in the crisp air is the perfect way to make memories and connect on a deeper level with the wilderness in our backyard.
A little over an hour from Olympia, Olympic National Park beckons, luring us into pristine wilderness that somehow is even more gorgeous in the fall season. As the crowds return home, our National Park’s return to locals, giving us empty trails and viewpoints all to ourselves. Hiking in the fall on our local public lands lets us see mushrooms and elk, salmon and fall colors in true Pacific Northwest fashion. The trails become insanely beautiful nature walks, fun for the whole family. While the higher elevations have incredible hillsides of colors, a few trails in the lower lands are equally as stunning and accessible.
Ninety minutes from Olympia, the trails of Olympic National Park’s Staircase region transform into an autumn paradise. The Staircase Loop Trail and the Shady Lane Trail are your best bets for fall color, mushrooms and a memorable, easy hike. Along the Shady Lane Trail, watch for elk as you walk downstream along the banks for the North Fork of the Skokomish River. Right away, you are rewarded with an amazing tree dripping with brilliant colored moss, before crossing a wooden bridge and exploring elk-filled stands of forests. The trail is flat, easy to follow and offers side trips to the banks of the river.
Those wanting a little bit longer walk will enjoy the views along the Staircase Loop Trail. Starting off along the river, the trail in the fall months erupts in mushrooms and greenery, making it a local favorite. With a few sections dropping colorful leaves from the maples, this is an awesome two mile loop hike for all ages of hikers. Capped off with a bridge crossing and huge trees, you can’t go wrong with a fall trip to Staircase.
Closer to home, there are a handful of short hikes in gorgeous destinations that will allow you to experience fall in full glory. When fall starts in late September, the best place to experience fall in the Pacific Northwest is the easy and family-friendly walk around Tumwater Falls. Here, when the leaves start to turn colors, salmon congregate at the base of the falls, slowly working their way up the fish ladders. That is after they’ve first tried their hardest to leap up the rocky and steep falls tumbling down upon them. The trail is most colorful during October, when the salmon are in the hatchery at the top of the park, but for the best and most unique fall experience, you should go when the salmon run is still trying to reach their spawning grounds.
Two other classic fall destinations with family-friendly trails in the Olympia area are Priest Point and Tolmie State Parks. Both offer great views of the Puget Sound and a chance to see huge leaves in numerous hues of orange scattered about the ground. Both trails also have a nice mushroom growth, helping transform the trails into an autumn wonderland.
Finally, once October is nearing its end, the trails at McLane Creek and Kennedy Creek become some of the more unique and interesting Pacific Northwest fall destinations. Kennedy Creek opens to the public in November, letting visitors stroll through the forest while watching salmon swim, spawn and die in the small, shallow creek. Along the walk, docents help explain the salmon lifecycle and give incredible facts about the region. This is a must-do activity for families of all ages.
If you’d rather be alone and watch the salmon lifecycle, McLane Creek is the ideal place to do just that. The short trails are gorgeous with fall colors from October to mid-November, but the highlight is definitely the salmon returning to this narrow and shallow creek. Once the rains fall, the salmon work their way up from the Puget Sound, spawning in the rivers for all to see. With informative signs along the way and a chance to get up close and personal to these amazing fish, a day of salmon watching and walking around McLane Creek is sure to get you the perfect dose of fall adventure.
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.