At the base of an 82 foot waterfall, hundreds of salmon congregate together, all with the same goal. Their lives have been spent swimming from freshwater to salt water and back, cruising around in the Pacific, trying their best to avoiding predators and fishermen. They dodged seals and orcas, nets and rising acidity in the water, only to be stumped by the massive size and scale of Tumwater Falls. They gather at the base, smelling their ancestral home in the freshwater pouring down the rocks, eager to figure out a way to get home and complete their life’s mission.
With no memory of tumbling down this waterfall, the salmon leap and jump as high as they can, hoping to somehow make it up the impossibly rocky canyon and tumultuous blasts of cascading water. Years ago, these salmon were born upstream of the falls along the Deschutes River near Olympia, Washington. Now they are returning to their birthplace to spawn and die, completing the tragic life of a Pacific Northwest Salmon. In less than a month, the majority of them will be dead, hopefully spawned out and facilitating the survival of their species. For now though, they are just trying to figure out a way past Tumwater Falls. Most will spawn in the gravel banks below the falls, laying their eggs and spreading their milt in hopes to foster a new generation.
From September to late October, Tumwater Falls Park near Olympia becomes a hotbed for salmon watching. Returning to the fish holding ponds at the Deschutes River Hatchery, the chinook salmon run is one of the iconic and classic regional events. Walking along the half mile trail to Tumwater Falls, visitors can watch as the salmon work their way up the fish ladders to the top of the park. Along the trail, take in cascading water, trees turning fall colors and the incredible sight of watching salmon try their best to leap to the top of an 82 foot waterfall. This is an amazing family-friendly destination and is an event that will be talked about long after the salmon have passed on to the great ocean in the sky.
When heading to Tumwater Falls to watch the salmon, remember to take your time and be patient. Often, the jumping and salmon activity comes in waves. For ten minutes you might see limited activity, only to have the next five be a contest stream of chinook leaping out of the water with all their might. Below the falls, the school of salmon thrash and swim, or rest and spawn, all easily visible from the platforms at Tumwater Falls Park. This is an amazing experience and should be seen often, and soon! The salon will only be around until mid-October, so head down now and witness this uniquely amazing wildlife watching experience right in our own backyard.
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