Set against the backdrop of the Capitol State Forest, where eagles and hawks soar over salmon runs and beaver ponds, McLane Creek is one of many outdoor destinations that tend to be overlooked during the winter months. On the sunny days of summer, McLane Creek is quite popular, thanks to the newts and walking trails, ducks and lazy creek. That all changes once the fall and winter months arrive, when the crowds reduce to a trickle, with visitors easily outnumbered by ducks and salmon. While it is easy to retreat indoors once the rains return, McLane Creek offers a slice of accessible nature just a short drive from home. This late fall and winter, grab your rain jackets and boots and head to McLane Creek, where an awesome family adventure awaits.
During November and December, returning salmon swim the narrow stream, hoping to make it far enough to spawn and carry on their legacy. These months, when the stench of dying salmon fills the air, are when McLane Creek sees its largest influx of visitors; but don’t let that dissuade you. While busloads of school children occasionally descend on the small park, chances are you’ll have salmon watching all to yourself on most weekdays and many weekends. The salmon run is best seen in November and early December, as hundreds of spawning fish flop and swim in the shallow waters. Educational displays are set up and often on weekends in November where docents, led by the Stream Team, stand by the creek and answer questions about the salmon. Once November ends, the salmon watchers vanish, and the creek-side becomes a stinky, yet beautiful place to see the final days of these magnificent fish. For incredible viewing of salmon carcasses, head to the creek after a heavy rain, when their bodies will be scattered on branches and logs along the banks. Seeing the salmon run with your family is a great way to see the life cycle of the fish as well as understand the role they play in helping to keep our forests healthy.
McLane Creek has roughly a mile and a half of trails that weave next to ponds, pass along the creek and meander through pretty forests. In the fall and winter months, very few people wander these paths, giving you a chance to have most of the wild park to yourself. The paths are easy to follow, well maintained and are both kid and leashed dog friendly. As the daylight hours dwindle, McLane makes for a perfect weekday walking destination, giving you a chance to stretch your legs, smell the smells of the forest and escape into a quasi-wilderness wonderland, just a short drive from the concrete of town. If you are looking for a place to be in nature and take a break from the stresses of daily life, McLane is always waiting for you.
While the salmon of the fall months and newts of the spring get most of the animal watching glory, the bird watching at McLane Creek is quite serene. Along the ponds and from the viewing platforms, birds of all shapes and sizes can be spotted, from eagles and hawks to sparrows and other songbirds. In the winter, however, your best chance of bird sighting is of ducks and a few hawks. The ponds at McLane Creek are quite good for ducks, including the incredibly gorgeous Wood Ducks, who call the area’s trees home. For families, the USFWS, with help of Americorps volunteers, has put together a great birding guide, full of fun activities and birding tips, perfect to inspire kids to become scientists in the future.
Snow and Ice
Once winter truly hits, and the temperatures dip below freezing, the ponds at McLane Creek often freeze over, transforming this wetland into an icy oasis. In December, seeing the salmon carcasses that still line the sides of the creek with frost or snow on them is quite an amazing sight, as is the chance to see ducks and geese wandering around confused on the frozen ponds. To top it off, walking through the forest trails in the freshly fallen snow is always a treat, and is an experience that the whole family will love. Since McLane is slightly higher in elevation than the towns of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, it gets more snow, helping to transform this into a winter wonderland when the lower areas barely get a dusting.
Finally, we highly encourage a trip to McLane this winter as a way to reconnect with the family. Out in nature, without screens and the distractions of everyday life, we reconnect to those we care about, sharing experiences and stories while wandering through the beauty of public lands. Walking in the winter with the family, seeing the sights, taking in the smells and listening to the sounds of nature should be done year-round, and by heading out in winter, you are kick starting the upcoming year’s worth of outdoor adventures off right. If you need a day in nature, but don’t want to drive far away, McLane is a perfect substitute, giving everyone in the family a memorable time.