There are few things more Pacific Northwest in spirit than the annual salmon migration each fall. That is why, each autumn, when the leaves begin to change color and the crisp air returns to the Puget Sound, families all around the region pack up a lunch and head outdoors. We jump in the car hoping to not only witness the awesomeness of the salmon run, but to connect with our families and our backyards. As the salmon swim upstream, we watch in curiosity and astonishment, taking in the beauty of the forests, rivers, and creeks while watching the circle of life. All around the region, our waterways see the return of the salmon, giving us the perfect excuse to head outdoors and have a day exploring, learning, laughing, and being together.
While there are dozens of spots to experience this around the area, there are five destinations that make for the ultimate family day out.
In late October, November, and December, when the daylight hours start to dwindle and the rains return in earnest, the salmon watching at McLane Creek is second to none. With short, mostly flat trails leading to the creek, residents of Tumwater, Lacey, and Olympia only need to drive a few minutes to experience the spawning salmon. McLane Creek is small with hundreds of salmon working their way up the narrow channel. In the later weeks of October and early November, volunteers from Stream Team and other local groups will be there to help educate and point out the unique characteristics of the spawning salmon. A Discover Pass is required to visit McLane Creek, but cheaper day passes are available at the parking area.
Not to be outdone, Kennedy Creek is yet another amazing place for families to go and see the return of the salmon. During the month of November, the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail, which is less than a mile long, allows visitors the opportunity to see tens of thousands of salmon return to their spawning ground. With 11 viewing stations made just for salmon watching, interpretive signs and volunteer docents, Kennedy Creek is a salmon watcher’s dream location. Built on land graciously donated by Taylor Shellfish, Kennedy Creek is awesome. Since it is only open for one month a year, visiting the salmon at Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail should be added to your calendar now. The salmon trail around Kennedy Creek will be open and free of charge November 3, 2018, through November 30, 2018, but keep in mind that it is only open to the public on weekends, Veteran’s Day, and the Friday after Thanksgiving from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Closer to town, Tumwater Falls is yet another amazing local place to go and see the return of the salmon. From September to late October, Tumwater Falls Park becomes a hotbed for salmon watching, as they return to the Deschutes River Hatchery. Here, under what remains of the Olympia Brewery, the chinook salmon run is one of the iconic and classic regional events. Walking along the half mile trail to Tumwater Falls, visitors can watch as the salmon work their way up the fish ladders to the top of the park. Along the trail, take in cascading water, trees turning fall colors, and the incredible sight of salmon trying their best to leap to the top of an 82-foot waterfall. This is a family-friendly destination and is also free, making it a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
While not as iconic as the previously mentioned salmon watching destinations, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge has eagles and seals doing their best to eat salmon. Starting in September and lasting through October, the wildlife refuge becomes a feeding ground for predators and a final gasp to make it home to spawn for the returning salmon. Visible from both the east and west boardwalks, the salmon viewing here is much more open than the other destinations, and is one of the many amazing things you can see when taking a trip to Nisqually. Keep in mind that there is a daily fee of $3 that covers four adults, while children under 16 can visit for free.
The Hoh Rainforest
Those looking for a longer drive and more rugged scenery need to look no farther than the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. Sure, it is a three-hour trip one way, but the salmon watching and wilderness exploration here is some of the best in America. As you weave your way between the changing leaves of the maple trees, salmon swim through the small creeks each November and December, giving you a glimpse at an uninterrupted migration that has been going on for millennia. Your best bet is to take the Hall of Mosses Trail, which will quickly have you crossing a creek with salmon swimming amongst the moss. Keep an eye out for bobcat, as they like to sit on the banks and scoop out a tasty meal.