Olympia is known for its natural beauty, especially in its dozens of parks scattered around the city. Each day, residents flock to parks like Priest Point and Watershed, Grass Lake and LBA to enjoy the recreation opportunities these areas offer. However, the city is in the process of developing a new park just south of Ken Lake. While the undeveloped community park doesn’t have an official name yet, locals who frequent the area simply call it “Kaiser.”
The park in Kaiser Woods is rugged at best, nothing like the parks elsewhere in the city. There are no amenities like restrooms or picnic tables, no real signage or infrastructure. For now, the park boundaries only hold a handful of trails, but those who frequent the area follow paths deeper into the woods, giving them hours of trails to explore.
Kaiser is a wonderland of recreation for mountain bikers and trail runners, giving them steep, wild single-track trails through dense forests that often feel more like the Olympic Peninsula than a park just a few miles from the mall. Kaiser is wild and that is what makes those who visit love it. It is a place to enjoy adventures not found anywhere else in the city.
The Kaiser Woods are probably best known to the mountain bikers of the region, who have been riding the trails they built in the woods for years. Without the mountain bikers, there is a good chance that Kaiser would have fallen by the wayside, possibly never becoming an actual park. While other great members of the community worked to protect these woods, the mountain bike community came out in force, turning a once logged-out hillside into a riding destination unrivaled in the city. Most of the trails they ride are outside the park boundaries, but the routes in the park are just as important to them. The undeveloped park remained mostly secret, until the increased popularity and desire to keep it accessible attracted the interest of the City of Olympia. Because of their work, public interest in the lands around Kaiser increased, and land was bought by the city for a future park.
In September 2015, the city approved the purchase of 67 acres of the Kaiser woods, but after the land was paid for in 2016 not much happened. In 2018, the wheels started spinning again, with the city of Olympia conducting a mountain bike park feasibility study for the region. The results from the study were great news for those hoping to ride the Kaiser woods, as it showed Kaiser as the preferred location for new mountain bike trails. In spring 2019, the city gathered public input for the new park. More than 500 people spoke up online, and nearly 200 showed up for a meeting to discuss the future of the park. While the final plan has not yet been released, those who visit Kaiser often are excited for the park’s future.
Mountain bikers aren’t the only ones currently enjoying the trails and routes in and beyond the Kaiser Woods. The area has become a hot spot for trail runners of the region, who flock to the trails in the park boundaries and beyond. For runners, Kaiser is where you go to get solid hill workouts along forested, single trails, as well as a place to feel hundreds of miles away from the city, without actually leaving it. The trails are even featured in a guidebook for the best running trails in Olympia and beyond.
Like many who have fallen in love with the recreation opportunities in and around Kaiser, Mathias Eichler, author of Adventure Running: Exploring Olympia’s Trails, is excited for the future of the park.
“I love Olympia’s parks and I love that Olympia purchased parts of the Kaiser Woods area,” shared Mathias. “This place is magical, with rugged trails through dense forest. It is a dream for outdoor lovers. I’m stoked about the potential of this place and I can’t wait to go explore it more.”
Right now, there are a couple of access points to the woods and trails at Kaiser, though the routes in the park and forest nearby are confusing for those who haven’t been there before. One of which is at the end of a residential neighborhood, where some residents are opposed to the development of the park. The city will continue to hold meetings about the future of the park project, hoping to appease all sides and come up with a recreation and access solution that will make the perfect city park.
The remote ruggedness has made Kaiser a popular destination for trail runners and mountain bike enthusiasts for years. Seeing plans for a new recreational park emerge in Olympia is a sign that the town is truly a basecamp to outdoor adventures, and that local residents are craving more destinations to go for workouts and local adventures just a short drive from their doorsteps.
Many are hoping that the trails in the new park will be mixed use, giving mountain bikers routes to ride that are free of hikers and runners, while those on foot will find ample trails and access to the woods outside of park boundaries. If you haven’t yet been to Kaiser, and are looking for something a bit off the beaten path, you need to check it out. The future of this park is looking up, soon to be one of Olympia’s most-popular places for wild and wonderful outdoor recreation.