Located at the picturesque southern tip of the Puget Sound, Olympia is at the halfway point between Seattle and Portland along I-5. Hugged by two incredible National Parks, with dozens of large and small recreation areas right within the city limits and in the surrounding area, Washington’s capitol has seemingly endless outdoor adventures opportunities.
We’re experiencing a renaissance of small city living in America. The only good jobs aren’t just in high rise office buildings in metropolitan areas anymore. The standard of living increasingly is higher in mid-size cities conveniently connected, but not overcrowded and paved over for miles each way.
Reaching the outdoors is not hard. There’s no bad time of the day to drive through town, and parks aren’t overcrowded on sunny days.
Olympia still has that small town feel with an increasing number of great restaurants and and endless supply of stuff to do in the outdoors. We might not be on any list of popular adventure towns and can’t measure up with the glitzy resort locations, but our infrastructure makes it desirable to raise a family here and our trails are top notch.
Some are easy to reach mere minutes from downtown, others are just a quick drive away and are worth the trip for a midweek run or weekend adventure. Over the last couple of years, I have run all these trails, some once, others dozens of times. Here’s a small selection of some of my favorites.
All these are mention in detail in my book ‘Adventure Running: Exploring Olympia’s Trails‘ out in May 2019 and available everywhere books are sold.
Priest Point is Olympia’s quintessential park. Nestled along Budd Inlet, just a stone throw from downtown along East Bay Drive, this wooded park offers incredible beach access, amazing tall trees and trails for miles right within the city limits. Some sections make you feel like you’re far away from town, somewhere wild and free. It’s perfect for a weekday training run or weekend destination as part of a longer run.
It’s wonderful for trail runners looking for quick access to a variety of trails, mostly in the shade (perfect for those hot summer days) with tons of variety to make you want to come back over and over. I mean, where else can you run among old forests, right alongside the Puget Sound?
The best parking area is right by the Rose Garden picnic shelter or the Flora Vista parking spot at the northern entrance of the park.
Like most other city parks, Priest Point is only open from dusk till dawn. Be aware of gate closures, especially on shorter days in the winter. There’s also a great little hidden trail exit on the eastern side of the park that takes you straight to 26th Ave, connecting conveniently to Bethel St. and the Eastside neighborhood.
Watershed Park is almost in the heart of the city and nearly underneath the I-5 freeway.
The main parking area is right off of Henderson Boulevard, between the Capitol Campus and the Westwood neighborhood.
This small, damp canyon is full of tall gnarly trees with a handful of trails leading to the surrounding neighborhoods.
The main trail is a 1.4 mile loop that leads over a couple of boardwalks, crossing Moxlie Creek and then going up and down a couple of sweet steep hills.
Along Delphi Road, nestled in the Black Hills is a short and enchanting Nature Trail.
A 1.1 mile loop, around a beaver pond in a rich forest full of birds, this trail is fairly flat, crossing a couple boardwalks (which can be slippery when wet) and intersected by a straight, old railroad grade trail. This place offers a nice way to run a fun figure eight loop out there, increasing the total distance of the trail by a bit.
The prefect introduction to Capitol Forest. Mima Falls is a fantastic access point to a multitude of incredible running loops. A couple are shorter, great for a quick trip to the falls and back. Others allow you to easily connect to a variety of trails and create long loops for seemingly endless trail fun.
Just a twenty-five minute drive from downtown lies this trailhead shared with mountain bikers and horseback riders. The parking lot is spacious and the trail begins fairly gentle and accessible.
THE GOVERNOR, A COAST HOTEL
Right in the heart of downtown, conveniently located in walking distance of many of the spots we mentioned below.
HILTON GARDEN INN OLYMPIA
Conveniently located close to the freeway, just a few minutes from downtown.
HOTEL RL OLYMPIA
Located on the Westside of town overlooking Capitol Lake.
EASTSIDE BIG TOMS
Olympia’s much loved drive through burger joint. Oh, and soft serve ice cream. Perfect stop before the drive home, right on Pacific, close to the freeway!
THREE MAGNETS BREWING
Every rotating selection of deliciously crafty IPAs and an always delicious pub menu of delightfully tasty treats.
STATE & CENTRAL
Located at, well State Ave and Central on the Eastside of Olympia this corner diner serves up the best Juicy Lucy you’ve ever had. Never had one…? Well, that is meant as an invitation.
OLYMPIA COFFEE COMPANY
From handcrafted espresso beverages to on demand pour overs and iced coffee beverages Olympia Coffee with several locations around town is the place to chill and refuel.
OLD SCHOOL PIZZERIA
Come for the 80’s vibe and New York style slices, stay for the pinball machines and trip down nostalgia lane.
LEFT BANK PASTRIES
Nothing fuels a pre-race morning better than a handcrafted French pastry. Works also great as an after race reward.
Pub food, well-made beer, Olympia-style. Delicious.
The fantastic 222 Market in downtown offers a cluster of great restaurants all under one roof. Get your baked goods at the Bread Peddler, delicious authentic Mexican fare at Dos Hermanos Mexican Kitchen and the best seafood in town at Chelsea Farms. Staying a bit longer and wanting to explore of what the city has to offer?
Farmers Markets are always great, and this one’s a good one.
The State Capitol grounds are impressive any day of the year and worth a visit.