Olympia has a special relationship with nature and its parks. For generations we have found ourselves taking friends and family members out into nature, enjoying picnics, hiking through forests and strolling along the beaches, connecting with the community and lands we call home.
Since 1905, when it was first opened to the public, Priest Point Park has been giving families in the Olympia area fantastic access to a beautiful forest, a gorgeous section of beach and magnificent views from the madrona-lined bluffs over Budd Inlet. Today, the beach area continues to be one of the most visited parks in the South Puget Sound, allowing us access to the sound itself while enjoying the majestic views of the Olympic Mountains.
Many know of Olympia’s Priest Point Park, especially the playground and main picnic and beach areas, but few are aware of the miles of trails, hidden viewpoints and appealing forest paths spread throughout this 314 acre city park. Fewer still have heard of the trail maintenance that has occurred or witnessed firsthand the newly-designed rose garden area, complete with a new archway and covered picnic section.
Priest Point Park, like Olympia, is always changing for the better, with numerous beautification projects going on under the radar. Next time you visit the park, instead of sticking to the regular routine, head out and explore the pristine paths working their way around this iconic, as well as historic, favorite destination. On busy days park on the east side of the area, high up by the remote picnic tables where less people frequent.
One trail that needs to be explored often is the 1.2 mile Upper Loop Trail of Priest Point Park. Starting north of the rose garden, next to the restrooms, the trail weaves through ferns and moss-draped forests, offering a slice of woodland solace just a few miles from town. With minimal hills and numerous options for making the trail longer or shorter, this is an ideal place to get out and stretch your legs after a long day of work before heading down to the gorgeous views along the beach.
This trail is a great place for walking with your dogs, exploring the small and large wonders of the forest with your kids, or jogging on the easy-to-follow and well-maintained trail system. This section of trail also stays the driest on rainy days not to mention develops the least amount of mud during the wettest weeks of winter. Year round, the 1.2 mile Upper Loop of Priest Point makes for a great leg stretcher and offers an easy way to reconnect with the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Another classic trail in Priest Point is the Ellis Cove, which meanders up and down and all around the undulating bluffs and coastline of the western side of the park. For over two miles, the trails of this section of the park offer access to lesser-visited beaches and fantastic views of the city of Olympia, the Olympic Mountains and Budd Inlet. Along this route you’ll gain and lose elevation, granting access to Ellis Cove.
The cove, hidden from Budd Inlet, is home to otters, blue herons, eagles and scores of other type of local wildlife. This section of the trail also reflects an important part of the Olympia region’s history, tracing the locations of one of the first European structures in the region. For 12 years, from 1848 until 1860, Catholic missionaries, led by Father Pascal Ricard and three other French Canadian priests, operated and maintained three buildings, an orchard and a garden, serving as a place for religion, education and trading.
Today, this section of trail still educates, thanks to numerous signs spread along the paths. If Olympia’s past interests you, head to the very northwest corner of the park for an old homestead location with historical information.
The Ellis Cove Trail and the northern trails of Priest Point also provide an engaging location during the more crowded days in the park. While the masses will all head to the beach closer to the playground and picnic areas, those hoping for a bit of silence and relative solitude are rewarded with the beach entrances located at the furthest northern points of the park. Offering over a mile of hiking from the playground area, the Ellis Cove Trail passes the cove and beach access and two breathtaking viewpoints over exploded bluffs before eventually reaching an area for beach access.
This beach is quite appealing but those hoping for a little more can continue over the boardwalk section of the trail until they reach another short trail down to the water. Here, you will find shells, rocks, incredible views of the Olympics and even a chance to see seals, birds and the occasional whale out in the Puget Sound’s Budd Inlet.
Priest Point Park is simply a gem in Olympia, inspiring adventure and reconnecting residents with the beauty of our salty shores and beautiful forests. Full of history and soul-nourishing views, a trip out to explore the trail system of this park will have you returning week after week, watching the seasons change along the Puget Sound and enjoying the benefits of living in such a beautiful region.