Hiking Thurston County: Exploring Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in Winter

Although most of the national and state parks in our area close for the winter, there are a few places where you can still get out in nature rain or shine. Just a bit south of Olympia and right off I-5, the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area is a beautiful piece of land in Thurston and Grays Harbor counties that is great for winter hiking or horse riding.

Scatter Creek Wildlife Area is over 3,000 acres of prairie and trees. Tributaries for the Chehalis River meander through the area, keeping it green year-round. The area supports many types of wildlife, including aquatic, forest, prairie and wetland. It’s even home to some federally threatened and endangered wildlife. With green moss-covered deciduous trees, tall evergreens, open grasslands, ponds and creeks, the area is a unique and beautiful mosaic of all the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

When it comes to exploring, the gravel logging roads afford a fairly mud-free, wide open space, with plenty of room for hikers, dogs and horses. Criss-crossed over the acreage are bridle paths, or single width dirt trails. These of course get muddy and slick during the winter. It’s best if horseback riders do not stray off the logging roads when it’s been very wet, as their horses may sink, leaving big holes in the trails. Riders also caution the mud can pull shoes off horses as it can be soupy and deep.

scatter-creek-winter-path
Some of the bridle paths are wider and if there has not been a lot of rain, are still usable even in the winter. Photo credit: Kristina Lotz

Those on foot can enjoy the trails anytime, just be aware they may be slick after a lot of rain. “Most of the people I see hiking are hiking the big roads right now,” says Sheri Chiri, a horse rider who frequents Scatter Creek often. She adds that some of the trails have steep hills that are definitely difficult to navigate in mud.

Just how long of a hike or ride can you have? Annie Childress rides often at Scatter Creek and says the furthest she has gone is 14 miles. She loves riding past Beaver Pond. “I absolutely love going up into the trails in the hills and looking at the moss-covered trees surrounded by these beautiful vibrant ferns,” she shares. “My gosh, I can just be at peace out there! We also love riding down to the creek, I believe it is called Bear Creek?” To get to the pond, follow the logging road at the entrance next to Scatter Creek Stables. When it reaches the top of the hill with a break in the trees and the powerlines, go across the break to the bridle path there. That should take you to the pond. “The Beaver Pond is after the power lines about 15 minutes,” she adds. “It is about 3 miles from where we park.”

Technically, all this happens on private logging roads that adjoins the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area. You will need to ride along the edge of the meadow at the parking lot to get to the logging road. Do not go into the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area meadow: There are protected butterflies that inhabit the area. Once you each the gravel road, head into the trees. After a left turn, you will start climbing and will enter the private logging area, where the bulk of the trails are. Be respectful of this privately owned land so that all can continue to use it.

Make sure everyone in your party is wearing bright colors during hunting season – dog and horse included! Photo credit: Kristina Lotz

The Scatter Creek Wildlife Area is open to is hunting. It’s important to note that you will see hunters, often with their hunting dogs. Check Western Washington Pheasant Release Program for the year before you go and be sure to wear bright colors—this includes you, your dog and your horse! They also sometimes have hunting trials going on.

Getting to Scatter Creek Wildlife Area

From the north, take I-5 South to exit 95. Keep left at the fork to continue onto Maytown Road SW (follow signs for Littlerock). Turn left onto Case Road SW. There are two parking lots. The first one you come to after the Scatter Creek Stables is used primarily by horse riders with their trailers. The second parking lot, a bit down the road, is for cars only. A Discover Pass is required to park at both lots.

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