From Mushrooms to Mountain Bikes in Olympia's Capitol Forest

by Brittany Gallagher, Government Relations Manager

As part of our Government Relations team, I spend a lot of time in Olympia.  As is the irony for many of us working to protect nature, I don’t get to spend as much time outside in it as I would like.  But when there’s a break to step out from under the dome, Capitol Forest is only a few miles from downtown Olympia and offers a little something for everybody, no matter what you like to do outside. 

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As a graduate student at The Evergreen State College nearby, I liked to go for runs in Capitol Forest with my friends and their dogs.  We all got good and muddy, and enjoyed a nice break from the stress of writing our Masters theses.  For my years of living and working in Olympia, though, I’ve only seen a small sampling of the 91,000+ acres of the forest. 

 Students from Evergreen State College venture into Capitol Forest as an environmental studies classroom. Photo by Dennis Buckingham.

Students from Evergreen State College venture into Capitol Forest as an environmental studies classroom. Photo by Dennis Buckingham.

This relatively huge area has hundreds of miles of trails and a recreational option for whatever you’re into.  Take a glimpse at the diversity of events being hosted at Capitol Forest in 2017 to get an idea of what’s available, or read on:

If you’re a classic western-Washingtonian and you just really like walking uphill (often in the rain), and/or enjoying the views from the top, then Capitol Peak trail is for you.  For a shorter, easier hike with a waterfall reward, check out the Mima Falls Loop.  It’s open throughout the legislative session (watch out for horses)!

Horses, you say?  Sure.  You can ride your horse in the forest on the non-motorized trails.  And if your “horse” is actually a bike, yes, that’s allowed too.

 Mountain bikers take on the trails in Capitol Forest. Photo by Courtney Nash. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode) 

Mountain bikers take on the trails in Capitol Forest. Photo by Courtney Nash. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode) 

Is zipping around on something really fast more your thing?  The northern part of the forest has tons of singletrack trail and gravel roads for motorized use by ATV and motorcycle riders.

If you’re tired after all that riding (or running, or hiking), and you’ve come prepared to spend the night, campgrounds in Capitol Forest are open from May through November.

Do you fancy yourself a mycologist?  Friends who know more about mushrooms than I do highly recommend Capitol Forest for treasures of the fungal variety.

If hunting is your thing – and we’re talking animals, not mushrooms now: Capitol Forest is open at certain times of year to turkey, bear, deer, elk, and grouse hunting.  If you’d rather practice shooting at something that’s not moving, recreational target shooting is also allowed in some areas.  And if you prefer your food to come from fresh water, try fishing on Sherman Creek or Porter Creek.

As a working forest rather than a park, it’s clear to even the most casual of observers that Capitol State Forest is used for timber production in addition to all these recreation uses.  Our state Department of Natural Resources manages the lands here to provide revenue to support schools and county services

The multiple uses of this special place mean people with different reasons for getting outdoors need to cooperate to make it a space everyone can enjoy.  In Capitol Forest, that means making sure you’re on the right trail – check out your options on this map or this more-detailed map from DNR – and observing trail etiquette.  If you drive, make sure you have your Discover Pass on display, too.

Bonus, if your favorite ecosystem isn’t under tree canopy: Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve is adjacent to the forest’s eastern edge, and is the site of upcoming family-friendly Prairie Appreciation Day on Saturday, May 13th.