One doesn’t have to travel far in Thurston County to experience the diverse scenery of the Pacific Northwest. In the back yard of local Thurston neighborhoods lay acres of park land and trails available to all with mountain views, playgrounds, rental venues and beach access. Whether celebrating an anniversary, or a day out swimming with the family, Thurston County parks and trails can be an escape into the South Sound’s natural beauty.
Chehalis-Western and Yelm-Tenino Trail System
In Thurston County, the philosophy is “trails are us,” and a key example is the 22-mile paved Chehalis-Western trail. Running north-south through Thurston County, this converted railroad corridor begins at Woodard Bay with a parking lot and restrooms available. The trail then winds through suburban Lacey and into Rainier and Tenino. Diverse eco-systems abound, with travelers passing through the heart of Lacey on the way to Yelm. As the hum of cars on the suburban roadways fade, the scenery includes the Deschutes River and prairies in the distance.
With four walking bridges covering the four major South Sound roadways including Martin Way, Interstate 5, Pacific Avenue and Yelm Highway, the trail is uninterrupted, even through highly populated areas. Located near the Panorama retirement community, the Chehalis-Western trail is paved and relatively flat, which makes it a suitable route for a range of ages. Between families on an evening walk, bird watchers and bicyclists, the Chehalis-Western trail can be the scenic route for daily transportation or recreational activities.
Running east-west, the Yelm-Tenino trail connects to the end of the Chehalis-Western trail and is also owned by Thurston County. A highlight for the Yelm-Tenino trail is the Seattle to Portland bicycle event, which brings 10,000 riders through all 14.5 miles of the Yelm-Tenino trail. It is the largest event hosted in the Thurston County parks and trails system annually, closing down the trail to the general public for the day.
With 50 acres of meadows, wooded trails and Budd Inlet shoreline, Burfoot Park has it all. A well-loved park in the Olympia area, many locals rent out Burfoot’s multiple picnic shelters for events like birthdays and family reunions. A special feature of Burfoot is an ADA accessible road, leading down to the park’s 1,100-foot saltwater beach. In addition to four picnic shelters, Burfoot is also home to a flower garden and a playground with a jungle gym and swing set. Leading down to the waterfront is a series of wooded trails, with the Puget Sound peeking through the trees. On the shoreline overlooking Budd Inlet are also views of downtown Olympia and the Capitol Building dotted in the distance.
Boston Harbor resident, Jordan Belmont, walks through the extensive Burfoot Park trails every day. Growing up in the area, Belmont would often spend time at the park for weekend birthday parties. As an adult, she has further acquainted herself with Burfoot and knows the intricacies of the trails from hidden benches to shaded areas on hot days. On her walks, Belmont enjoys the old growth trees lining the park trails and the complex root systems bubbling out from the earth.
“It’s a really nice park and it’s never too crowded,” says Belmont. “Even when it’s crowded, even when you see so many cars, you don’t feel like you’re surrounded by a lot of other people.”
6927 Boston Harbor Rd NE, Olympia
9:00 a.m. to dusk
Tranquil and lining Eld Inlet, Frye Cove is an oasis just off Steamboat Island Road and features 1,400 feet of saltwater beach. At the entrance of the park, a paved trail leads into a tree shaded meadow, complete with picnic shelters, a playground and waterfront access. Surrounding the meadow is a two-mile network of wooded trails.
“The view is beautiful when you are standing in Frye Cove, you look right across the bay at Mt. Rainier,” says Thurston County Parks Manager, Kerry Hibdon. Available for rental, Frye Cove has been an increasingly popular wedding venue in the last several years.
4000 NW 61st Ave, Olympia
9 a.m. to dusk
Once a Girl Scout Camp, Kenneydell Park lines the shore of Black Lake. Featuring a grassy field winding down to the park dock and designated swimming area, Kenneydell Park is perfect for a picnic and a swim. At 40 acres, Kenneydell also features two playgrounds and athletic fields. In addition to three covered picnic shelters, available for rent is the Lodge, a heated cabin with a kitchen, fireplace, meeting space, covered deck and tables and chairs for 49 people. The Lodge can host any event from birthday parties to business meetings year-round.
6745 SW Fairview Rd, Olympia
9:00 a.m. to dusk
One of the Thurston County’s newest parks, Deschutes Falls, is a unique trek through pristine nature. Open for two years and minimally developed, the only human-made structures within Deschutes Falls are safety guards on the edge of the river gorge. At 155 acres, the gem of Deschutes Falls, and the park’s namesake, is a 27-foot waterfall pouring into the Deschutes River. With the bank almost 70 feet above the water, the park and waterfall are sure to be a thrill for hikers and photographers.
25005 Bald Hill Rd.
9 a.m. to dusk
To learn more about Thurston County parks or for facility rental information, visit the Thurston County Parks and Recreation website.