Olympia Off The Beaten Path

  • Map of Trail Loop in Grass Lake Refuge
    Map of Trail Loop in Grass Lake Refuge
    by glabah
  • Arc of Statehood with Plaques along Capitol Lake
    Arc of Statehood with Plaques along...
    by glabah
  • The Arc of Statehood is Low Wall on Side of Lake
    The Arc of Statehood is Low Wall on Side...
    by glabah

Most Recent Off The Beaten Path in Olympia

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    The Arc of Statehood - Capitol Lake Wall

    by glabah Updated Jan 9, 2014

    Along the eastern edge of Capitol Lake, you will find a low wall that separates the gravel pathway from the water, mudflats, and water brush that are part of Capitol Lake. A casual look will make this wall look just like any other such wall seen along waterways in any other park.

    However, take a closer look at this wall - it is called the "Arc of Statehood" and it commemorates the formation of each of Washington's 39 counties, with information on when they were formed. Sadly , it is difficult to read each of the plaques due to age and their position so low to the ground.

    Arc of Statehood with Plaques along Capitol Lake The Arc of Statehood is Low Wall on Side of Lake Detail View of Jefferson County Plaque on Wall
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    Percival Landing Plinth Project

    by glabah Updated Dec 22, 2013

    The boardwalk along Percival Landing isn't just a place to get good views of the old Olympia waterfront. It also has been turned into an art corridor of sculptures. The plinth refers to the base on which the sculpture sits.

    The work on display changes every year (but the plinths are permanent). Each year new sculptures arrive and are put on display, on loan from their artists. One of them is selected by community vote for purchase for permanent display elsewhere in the city. Those not selected are available for purchase by private art collectors before they are returned.

    Each of the sculptures gets a small plaque listing the title and the artists. As seen in photo 3 these at least show the artist and title. However, as seen in photo 3 of my December 2013 Travelogue a number of them also get tags with a QR code that can be read by a smartphone, thus giving people with such a phone instant access to more information about the artist and work.

    The sculptures are scattered all along the walkway from A Avenue NW down to State Avenue and from there westward to the bridge over West Bay. There is a particularly high concentration of them around Harbor House, where Thurston Avenue would cross the walkway if Thurston Avenue continued to the edge of the water. This is on the north side of Percival Landing Park.

    Plinth Project Sculptures are Only Shown for Year Nike - Goddess of Victory by Karsten Boysten Example of Title Plaque on Sculpture Eagle by Ray Evens is Part of Plinth Project The Healer by Leon White part of Rotating Art Show
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    Percival Landing Boardwalk

    by glabah Updated May 29, 2013

    Percival Landing is the name for the area at the south end of the west bay, at the southern end of Budd Inlet. This is the more commercialized section of the Olympia waterfront, including the Olympia Yacht Club and the Port of Olympia (at the north end).

    A board walk, some of which appears to be made from the older wooden port piers and other sections are much more modern, runs from the 4th Avenue Bridge (Bayview Thriftway area) north and east all the way to the Port of Olympia and the Farmer's Market area. This passes through Percival Landing Park, where the public boat moorage is located.

    The boardwalk has a number of viewpoints of the local waterways, and features public art and planters that come alive in spring with various flowers.

    Currently, Port Plaza Park marks the furthest north of this walkway, which is only a block west of the Farmer's Market building.

    There are many access points to the boardwalk, but not all of them are easily found as a few of them are very narrow walkways between two waterfront buildings.

    In a few locations the boardwalk passes right next to waterfront buildings, where special requests for quiet passage are made due to the proximity to office space and other businesses.

    There are a number of viewpoints along the boardwalk. Some of these are covered locations. Some of them feature public viewing scopes for distant viewing of what may be out on the water.

    Boardwalk Starts at 4th Avenue Bridge Boardwalk features Viewpoint Observation Scopes Boardwalk along Tidal Flats in Olympia Planters along Boardwalk allow Spring Colors Artwork in Many Places along Boardwalk
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    Chehalis Western Trail: Chambers Lakes Trailhead

    by glabah Updated Mar 21, 2013

    As noted in my Chehalis Western Trail tip, this Thurston County trail network is fairly long, and covers places well outside Olympia. There are a number of places where the trail may be accessed, and a few more developed trailheads.

    The Chambers Lake Trailhead is one of those more developed trailheads. It includes paved parking, a restroom facility, a boat ramp for getting out onto one of the lakes, a nice kiosk that shows the trails owned by Thurston County, and several picnic tables. The boat ramp has a loop access road to it so that backing the trail is minimal. However, it should be noted that the boat ramp is not extremely well developed and not exceptionally long - nor is the lake really suited for any sort of larger craft.

    The trailhead is at Milepost 7 on the trail - meaning it is 7 miles north to Woodard Bay and the old log dump - where logs were dumped off the trains and into Puget Sound for transport to the mill by water. Going south on the trail, it is 16 miles to Rainier, 21.5 miles to Yelm, and 20 miles to Tenino.

    South of the trailhead, the trail crosses several roads at grade, but only one of them (37th Avenue SE - is particularly busy and even that is not so busy as to be an extremely huge barrier.

    North of the trailhead, the trail crosses 14th Avenue SE on a bridge, but then the trail becomes obliterated for the short distance between Pacific Avenue SE and the Woodard Trail. Unfortunately Pacific Avenue is difficult to cross on foot at this location as it is busy, and so it acts as a significant barrier.

    How to Get Here:

    From Sleater-Kinney Road, go south to 14th Avenue SE and turn right onto SE 14th. Immediately after railroad bridge turn left into parking lot (the driveway is a bit narrow so be careful). From Pacific Avenue, go south on Fones Road SE to 14th, and go around the roundabout until you are headed east. Just before the old railroad bridge turn right into the parking lot.

    Intercity Transit has bus route #64 that goes right past the entrance to the trailhead. A more frequent and later running bus route 66 intersects the trail just north of the Chambers Lake Trailhead, on Pacific Avenue.

    See Also

    My general purpose Chehalis Western Trail tip for Olympia

    Kiosk at Chambers Lakes Trailhead Loop Boat Ramp at Chambers Lakes
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    • Cycling

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    Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area

    by glabah Updated Mar 21, 2013

    The official address of the Woodard Bay Natural Area is in Olympia, but its actual location is approximately 5 miles north of Olympia, and located close to the community of Boston Harbor. I have put a more extensive set of tips about this location in my Boston Harbor pages, including tips about:

    + The Overlook Trail (which is accessed from the Woodard Bay Trailhead of the Chehalis Western Trail)

    + The Woodard Bay / Chapman Bay Trail between the parking area and Weyer Point

    + Weyer Point itself, at the end of the trail

    + The Chapman Bay / Woodard Bay Loop Trail through the forest on the peninsula between the two small bays. This trail is a more traditional hiking trail and is narrow and steep in places, with boardwalks and stairs.

    This tip only serves as a basic introduction to this location, and more information may be found in my Boston Harbor tips:

    By the 1920s, Weyerhaeuser Company had consolidated an extensive amount of timberlands in western Washington. However, one of its big mill complexes was in Everett. To get the logs from the forests to Everett, a railroad was built connecting some of the other existing lines to the edge of Woodard Bay. Here, the logs were dumped into the water and floated over to Everett for use in the mill. As much as one million board feet of timber was arriving at Woodard Bay every day during the peak of lumber operations.

    By the mid-1980s, timber resources were exhausted in a number of areas and the entire nature of the business was changing. Even for massive operations like Weyerhaueser, trucking was becoming cheaper than the train and log raft operations.

    At the same time, Washington Department of Ecology was looking for some land that had potential as a new type of conservation area and it was decided this would make a good location for this work to commence.

    Over the years, the land has been restored to its natural state, though the old pier that supported the logging railroad log dump into Puget Sound remains - though it is inaccessible as bridges at both ends of the pier have been removed.

    There is a trail approximately 3/4 of a mile (1 km) in length that runs from the parking area to the old center of operations on the peninsula along Woodard Bay. This is the old maintenance access road to the site, but is closed to auto traffic. It is paved, but due to the danger to small animals bikes are not allowed on this road. Several benches are scattered through the area, and a set of pit toilets exists near the observation area.

    The end of the point between the two bays (Chapman Bay and Woodard Bay) is called Weyer Point, and features scattered benches and picnic tables, as well as a pit toilet facility.

    An additional Woodard Bay / Chapman Bay Loop Trail extends into the forest, which is mostly mature second growth.

    It is possible to see salt water birds of various types, as well as kingfishers and other forest birds that need to be near the water. Out on the remains of some of the log raft holding pens it is possible to see sea lions, seals and other marine mammals.

    There are many interpretive signs scattered through the area, and one set is devoted to relaying the basic form of a First Nations legend about the rise and fall of the tide.

    Please be aware that it is required to have a Discover Pass in order to park here. See my Washington Discover Pass for more information, and be aware that there is no facility here for buying a day pass. The nearest place you can do that is at Tolmie State Park.

    Bench of Edge of Woodard Bay Natural Area Paved Trail through Forest is old Access Road Old Log Dump Pier is now Home to Wildlife Junction of Loop Trail and Trail to Weyer Point More than 100 Herons dot Chapman Bay at Low Tide
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    • Birdwatching
    • Photography

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    Burfoot County Park

    by glabah Updated Mar 4, 2013

    While I have put this tip in the Olympia section, as that is the closest significant city, the fact is that Burfoot County Park is actually located in the small community of Boston Harbor several miles north of downtown Olympia.

    The biggest attraction here is the beach, which is fairly large at low tide but is quite small at high tide.

    There are reasonably well maintained trails through dense forests, plus a very large open area for any games of any sort that may be desired. Picnic shelters consist of one fairly large one in the center of the grass field, while scattered smaller ones are around the edges, hidden in the forest. The ones along the edge of the forest are reservable by calling the number below.

    None of the trails are especially long, but they are steep in the route they take down to the beach.

    Clamming and other shellfish harvesting is allowed here on certain seasons, but you need to have the correct Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife permits and be collecting them in season to be legal.
    See the Washington DFW page at

    The park is extremely popular on hot weekends, so expect there to be a lot of people here in the summer.

    How to Get Here:
    From Interstate 5 follow signs to the Port of Olympia, and then Priest Point Park when you see them start to appear on the multi-colored tourist directional signs in downtown. Keep going north on Boston Harbor Road until you start seeing signs for the park. When you see the Woodard Bay Road intersection prepare for it to be on the left soon afterward. The sign is clearly visible in Photo 4, but the reality is that this photo was taken in winter. In summer the sign is a little more obscured by shade and branches. It isn't as easy to find as it might first appear. The approximate address is 6935 Boston Harbor Rd NE Olympia, WA 98506 (the house across the street and just slightly south is at 6930).

    Additional Web Site: You may also wish to view
    which is the Thurston County Parks web site, which is the organization that runs the park.

    Olympic Mountains View from Burfoot County Park Typical Smaller Picnic Shelter in Forest Typical Trail through Forests of Burfoot Park Entrance to Burfoot County Park Playground, Picnic Shelter, Picnic Tables with BBQ
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    • Family Travel
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Beaches

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    Grass Lake Refuge

    by glabah Written Oct 19, 2012

    While the name of this location implies that it is a wildlife refuge, the fact of the matter is the reason this little area got preserved has probably more to do with the drinking water of Olympia, and the Olympia water pump station located on the property. Pets are not allowed in the park.

    Nevertheless, this small preserved forest and wetland does see some bird life, and may be of interest to those who want to get out of their car in a relatively uncrowded area and try to see some wildlife. It was regarded as important to preserve due to the encroaching suburban sprawl so common around Olympia.

    There are no benches long any of the short group of trails.

    When you arrive at the park, you will find a small entrance on the left side of the fence that prevents vehicles from entering (photo 1). Beyond the passageway through the fence, you will find a small sign that is well worn but still gives a reasonable map of the trail loop in the refuge (photo 5). Past the sign there is a small open field where sometimes you can find students from nearby Evergreen State College playing games of some sort or another. The paved road is a maintenance road for the city water well. Keep going straight, towards the center of photo 4, and you will find two options for trails.

    If you take the one on the left, it slowly decays into a tangle, but not without providing a view of the lake (which is not called Grass Lake, but is instead called Louise Lake).

    If you take the trail on the right, you will find yourself on the main trail through the refuge. This passes through well preserved second growth forest, and eventually arrives at a split in the trail. Either way you go you will come right back to this point as it makes a loop (as seen in the map in photo 5). The loop plus trail headed to the loop through the forest is somewhat over 1 mile in length.

    How to Get Here: The official address is 814 Kaiser Road NW. By car the best way to get here is highway 101 to Evergreen Parkway / Evergreen state college ext. You need to go east on Mud Bay Road at the first exit - so that you don't even really have to be on Mud Bay Road (please note that Mud Bay Road is also labeled Harrison in a number of places). The first traffic light is Kaiser Road, and head north on it. The parking lot is on the right, and it is easy to miss . It is just north of 6th Avenue North and then the much smaller Fairfield Court.

    From downtown it is possible to take Harrison Avenue going west.

    Gray's Harbor Transit stops at Kaiser and Mud Bay Road, but only twice a day on certain days. Your best option is Intercity Transit bus route 47 at McPhee Road and Harrison - several blocks away but not really that far.

    Entrance to Grass Lake Refuge Grass Lake on Some Maps but Louise Lake on Others Trail through Forest shows Native Forest Paved Road is Access to Water Pump Station Map of Trail Loop in Grass Lake Refuge
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    • Birdwatching

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    McLane Creek Nature Trail (Capitol State Forest)

    by glabah Written Sep 5, 2012

    The area that is called Capitol State Forest covers a huge area of land, from western Olympia west to approximately Elma and south all the way to Rochester. Thus, the area covered really needs to be split into multiple tips covering multiple different communities near the various areas of this forest. Much of the forest is restored second growth forest, as the land was heavily logged and then given up as being useless since it no longer had vegetation and was too hilly to farm easily. The Department of Natural Resources wound up owning the land and restoring it to recreational and commercial forest land.

    The McLane Creek Nature Trail is located somewhat west of the suburban expansion of Olympia, but it is still very close.

    The loop is a very easy walk on dirt trails or boardwalks over the wet areas. The trails are dirt so there will be mud in the wet winter months. The trail is a 1.1 mile loop around a large pond and through the forest. There is a shortcut trail that is built on an old logging railroad grade that reduces the size of the loop to about 3/4 of a mile. There are boardwalks over the marshy areas that allow for viewing the water, on which a number of birds may be found under the right conditions (they are shy, so busy weekends are not ideal for seeing them). See map of area in Photo 2.

    The trail can not be considered ADA accessible but it is level for the distance around the pond.

    There are a number of interpretive signs around the trail system that indicate the history of the area and the natural features of the land.

    There is a pit toilet facility here, and a very new looking picnic shelter.

    There are few official documents that describe this trail, but if you do a Google search for McLane Creek Nature Trail you will turn up a number of pieces of information about the trail from local nature groups and the local Audubon Society (the Black Hills Audubon Society).

    How to Get Here: Highway 101 going north to 2nd Avenue SW exit. Take Mud Bay Road west one traffic light to Delphi Road, then go southwest on Delphi for approximately 5 miles. On the right side of the road you will find a well marked entrance to the McLane Creek area of Capitol State Forest. As you travel on Delphi Road the land gets more and more rural in nature, and eventually becomes forested. The entrance to the trail is soon after entering the forest land. There is no access by public transit.

    Boardwalk and Viewpont on Pond at McLane Trail Map of the McLane Creek Trail Loop Typical section of the McLane Creek Trail McLane Creek Trail Boardwalk over Marsh
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    Monarch Sculpture Park

    by glabah Updated Nov 14, 2011

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    In 1991, artist Myrna Orsini went on a quest to visit every art museum in Europe. While she did not accomplish this specific goal, she did return home with an eccentric idea: why not build a place where artists can work, exhibit and live at the same time? While they might only stay a time, the facility could become a permanent home for some of their works.

    This concept became reality in 1994 when artists from as far away as Lithuania and Ukraine participated in a joint artists gathering from seven other countries, but it would take until 1998 for the sculpture park to be open to the public.

    It proved to be a considerable success, but also a lot of work. Contemplating retirement, and the loss of an early partner that helped her in the work, Orsini decided to close the park.

    Thurston County, appreciating the contributions this park had made to the local arts community, decided this was not a good idea at all, and provided some assistance to operating the facility. For example, they now pay for part of the the liability insurance, the portable toilet near the road entrance, helped organize volunteer work parties to help maintain the place, and otherwise started doing what they could to help out. They helped organize the art auction and wine tasting fund raiser, and paid to put up signs from the freeway.

    So, today you will find this sculpture garden is still open daily from dawn to dusk, filled with some 130 different works of outdoor art, and open to exploration from sunrise to sunset. Admission is by donation. An indoor exhibit space is also on the grounds, but open by appointment only June through October.

    While some of the sculptures here have a permanent home at this sculpture garden, many of them are also for sale to that individual that provides a good and adequate home (as well as adequate payment). Therefore, some of the sculptures that you see in my photographs may not be at the park when you visit.

    Many of the works of art are not that easy to find. Especially obscure are the various sculptures scattered through the forest on the north side of the property, some of which are quite obscure in the bushes and undergrowth (see photo 4 for an example). You have to look really carefully to find such pieces as the giant steel spider and the smaller pieces hidden behind trees. Also, the area around the artists work shop seems to be part of the private residence there, but much of the grounds there are also part of the sculpture garden.

    A section of the park is dedicated to musical sculptures, on which visitors are invited to bang, hit, crash, rub, strum, or otherwise use to create musical (or not so musical) noise.

    The park is primarily paid for by volunteer donations, despite the contributions from Thurston County. As you enter the park, there is a donations box, a box for maps of the park, a schedule of announcements, and other information. (See photo 2).

    There are several picnic tables scattered through the garden (see photo 3), so this may be a good and eccentric place to have a lunch stop. They are somewhat limited in their quantity, however.

    How to Get Here: Please note that for reasons known only to themselves, some of the signs directing people from Interstate 5 to the park have been stolen and/or otherwise gone msising.

    The official address is 8431 Waldrick Road SE, Olympia Washington. However, the garden is actually closer to Tenino, though really only about 2 miles from the community of Rainier. From the north, take Interstate 5 exit 99, and 93rd Avenue SE to Old Highway 99 SE. Turn right onto the highway, and after approximately two miles turn left onto Waldrick Road SE. This location has a spectacular old-style home on the corner of the intersection that appears to be an old hotel from the days this road was an old wagon road. If you come to the very narrow, very low clearance underpass under the railroad line you have gone too far - or if you come to the turn-off for Wolf Haven you have gone too far.

    From the north on Waldrick Road, the sculpture garden is first announced by a huge steel bicycle sculpture (see photo 5 for this tip) between Waldrick and the bike path at the intersection with Silver Creek Drive. Several more sculptures along the highway lead to a huge stylized bell sculpture (see photo 1) at the entrance to the sculpture garden. The bell looks somewhat Asian style but it is actually made from an old industrial tank. Between the bicycle and the bell, there are no driveways to the right, so as soon as you pass Silver Creek Drive you know that you are approaching the entrance.

    Speaking of bicycle: The park is located right next to Chehalis - Western trail, so is easy to get to by bike or walking from areas closer to Olympia, so long as you don't mind a little time spent doing this. It is located at milepost 18.5 on the trail, as measured from the old railroad terminal on Puget Sound.

    An alternate route from the south is take Interstate 5 exit 88 and highway 507 from the Centralia area. Continue through Tenino on highway 507. Go left onto Military Road/McIntosh Lake Road about 3 miles outside Tenino, then left onto Waldrick after crossing the river and the trail.

    In Tenino, it is also possible to go north from 507 to Old Highway 99 SE. If you do this, then just after going by the turn off to Wolf Haven and under the very narrow, tight clearance underpass under the railroad line, turn right onto Waldrick about 1 mile north of the underpass. This also approaches the park from the north, and you will thus have adequate warning of the entrance to the park approaching due to the large bicycle sculpture.

    Parking is somewhat limited here. The area on the right side of the driveway is gravel, and the only real parking for the sculpture garden.

    Huge Bell at Entrance to Sculpture Garden Entrance to Garden has Donation Box and Maps Sculpture Garden has a few Scattered Picnic Tables Flower Bed one of numerous Hidden Sculptures Huge Bicycle is Notice of Approach to Entrance
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    Port Plaza; Views of Olympia from Tower and Shore

    by glabah Written Jul 25, 2011

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    Located where today the Port of Olympia transitions abruptly to land that has been redeveloped into more gentrified uses, Port Plaza is a waterfront park with a small ampitheatre and a tower approximately two and a half stories tall that provides a good view of the surrounding area from an elevated location. The tower is only accessible by stairs, however.

    The park is mostly concrete open space designed for holding large numbers of people, but there are a number of places inside the plaza where plants are allowed to flourish.

    The small ampitheatre in the park does not increase in height very quickly as it goes to the back rows, so it may not be well suited to certain events.

    True to the history of the land as having once been part of the active Port of Olympia, and still in fact owned by the Port, you will find boat anchors and a few other indicators of this history scattered through the plaza.

    There is a public wharf here, but it is a pay per use wharf and a self-service pay station is located by the entrance to the wharf.

    History of Port Plaza evident by Park Benches Observation Tower in Port Plaza gives Good View Observation Tower in Port Plaza gives Good View Port Plaza features Waterfront Views View Towards Old Capitol from Port Plaza Tower
    Related to:
    • Sailing and Boating
    • Photography
    • Budget Travel

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    There are some great little...

    by Bacat Updated May 14, 2005

    There are some great little places outside of downtown, dotted around. Any Happy Teriyaki is a great restaurant. Get Chicken Teriyaki (with an extra side of thick sauce) or sushi.

    Vic's Pizzeria on Division Ave. on the westside has great pizza and pretty good beer.

    Thai Gardens inside of Capital mall is pretty good. O'Blarneys is a good bar in Lacey, on Martin Way.
    Fish Tale Ales brews organic beer and has decent food. Located on 5th Ave, near the artesian well.

    For movies go to Lacey Cinemas most of the time. Capital Mall has less selection. The Capitol Theatre on 5th Ave. is a terrific choice for cult and independent films, with constant showings. They also play main stream...I saw Quills there.
    The Olympia Film Society has a lot going on if you're interested in independent film making.

    Tumwater Falls is beautiful, near the brewery, and a great place for a relaxing walk.
    Priest Point Park (I think it's on Priest Point Rd...take 4th Ave going East past downtown andturn left on Plum, follow it for several miles...it turns into Priest Point rd I think) is gorgeous seaside adventures, with a rose garden.

    The Olympia Zen Center is located about 10 minutes out of town, and has a full practice Soto temple in operation. All are welcome. Attend zazen at 6:15am (you may want to view the schedule on the webpage), or on weekend evenings.

    The Valley Athletic Club has raquetball courts, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, as well as a huge array of exercise equipment (360.352.3400).

    The Olympia Timberland Library (on 9th and Franklin) offers free internet access for up to an hour. All the libraries do.

    The list goes on and on.

    Pond at Olympia Zen Center
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    • Beer Tasting

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    Chehalis Western Trail

    by dragoness86 Written Mar 26, 2005

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    The Chehalis Trail is one that stretches from beyond Olympia directly to Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park, so I've heard. A couple years ago the city of Olympia donated the money to create an overpass just for the Trail. Many people just like to take a stroll up and down it for a couple miles but its also very bike-able.
    access is available at 12th Avenue in Lacey on the north end and the Yelm Highway. Trailheads are currently located at Chambers Lake (14th Avenue), 67th Avenue and Fir Tree Road. Hours of trailheads are from dawn to dusk daily. Gates are closed at dusk.

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    • Cycling

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Olympia Off The Beaten Path

Reviews and photos of Olympia off the beaten path posted by real travelers and locals. The best tips for Olympia sightseeing.

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