You may have passed it on your trip to the Washington Coast, or possibly heard it mentioned by your outdoor loving friends. Often overlooked, the area known Rock Candy Mountain in the Capitol State Forest is a great spot for mountain bikers, ATV riders, dirt bikers and trail runners who are looking for fantastic trails, stellar views and a dose of nature. Just a 15-minute drive west of Olympia, this 2,355-foot peak is quietly becoming a local favorite for all types of outdoor recreation activities.
Rock Candy Mountain is the third tallest peak in the Capitol State Forest and the fifth highest named peak in Thurston County. While the name may have you envisioning a craggy summit standing tall above the dense forest, the mountain is not much more than a cool place that is full of trees, ferns and streams. There is a good view, though. From the top of Rock Candy, you can see the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, making this a scenic spot to enjoy before retreating back down to the parking area. In the winter, visitors will find some snow, while the summer and fall months are warm and mostly dry.
Capitol State Forest is a multi-use area, meaning that hikers and mountain bikers share the region with motorized vehicles. The state forest has nearly 100 miles of trails that are open to motorized use, including the Rock Candy region. Open from May 1 to November 30, the roads and routes around Rock Candy are a blast. Full of dirt, trails, thick forests and logged-out regions, these hills easily offer a full day of fun.
Sections of the trails and roads weaving around the mountain are beautiful, standing as a testament to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t hiked, gone running or biked the area, check it out. Locals love the region for multi-use recreation as it welcomes bike, foot and ATV users. No matter how you explore the area, you too will be saying how much Rock Candy rocks.
Like most trails in the region, the ground can be a bit muddy and slick sometimes, but that’s also part of the fun. On a motorized vehicle, the entire forest is accessible from Rock Candy, making this the closest and best option for starting a day-long ride. We highly recommend the Rock Candy-Waddel Basin West-Twin Peaks-Larch Mountain-North Rim Loop, as it takes you to some of the highest elevation, puts in serious miles and lets you explore some ridiculously rad roads.
Mountain bikers also ride at Rock Candy, accessing it from the more bike-friendly routes that start at the Porter Creek entrance, located along Highway 12 and the Chehalis River. Thanks to its proximity to Olympia, Rock Candy is seeing an influx of bike riders and the reports coming out of the trails are strong. Keep in mind that if you want to mountain bike Rock Candy, do so from the western side of Capitol Forest, starting from the previously mentioned areas, otherwise you will have to maneuver around motorbike traffic.
While exploring Rock Candy is fun on wheels, many Thurston County trail runners are flocking to the area, as it has great trails and some serious elevation. The area is quite popular with the local Strava running group with The Outdoor Society. Many members create routes and post pictures from their adventures on the group’s Strava App page. For some, the route was a training ground for running Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. For others, it is a fun challenge and a place to enjoy time in nature.
For Brandon Barnes, a runner from West Olympia, Rock Candy is his go-to run because the climbing starts right out of the gate and doesn’t let up until you’re on the way back to the car. There is no warm up, just all work to the top of the mountain.
Barnes even enjoys comparing the run to the mullet hairstyle: “Rock Candy is business in the front and party in the rear, because you get right down to business as soon as you start,” Brandon laughs. “But, man, you can really cruise and have some fun on the way back down.”
Hikers have been coming out to Rock Candy in recent years, helping fuel the transition and reputation of Capitol State Forest. The seemingly endless acres of forest land have become a nature destination close to the cities of the South Puget Sound. As the area continues to grow, both in population and in age of forest, Rock Candy and Capitol State Forest will become even more beautiful, popular and fun for outdoor recreation for the entire family.
To plan your trip and find inspiration on area restaurants and lodging, visit ExperienceOlympia.com.