Capitol Forest, comprising 110,000 acres, is a recreation haven in the Black Hills of Grays Harbor and Thurston County. Its central location, just southwest of Olympia, puts it in close proximity to neighboring counties of Pierce, Lewis and Clark counties, and makes for a great day trip. The forest is stewarded by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and is one of the most well-managed: not only for the production of timber but also for recreational use. It provides visitors from surrounding areas with easy access to adventure. So pack your water bottle and take a day trip to the Capitol Forest for trail running.
Capitol Forest boasts 150 miles of trails, and 80 miles of them are dedicated to non-motorized use. It is a popular destination for trail and adventure running and is the site for many races put on by area running clubs. It gets most of its use, however, outside of formal events and is favored by trail runners its miles and miles of trails. “You can link a lot of the trails together and get some serious mileage, (over 50 miles!) without leaving single-track or repeating other trails,” shares ultra-runner and member of Oly Trail Runners, Hannah McLean.
Check out this map, courtesy of DNR, and you will see that the northern portion of the forest is primarily used by motorized vehicles, (signified by the red trails) and the southern portion of the trails is reserved for foot, hoof, and paw traffic only. (Signified by the light green and purple trails). There are a handful of trails that only runners and hikers can use (dark green); Bob Bammert Grove and Fuzzy Top are great ones, and one at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, just outside the forest, is ADA accessible.
Hannah says she loves the Fall Creek area, “since you have great access to trails that lead up to Capitol Peak and trails that go out towards McKenny and Mima areas. There are a lot of loop options there of varying lengths and difficulty. Other great areas are the Margaret McKenny trailhead and the Mima Falls trailhead.”
She explains that these trailheads are easier to access too since all the roads are paved and there are fewer twists and turns to get to them.
Accessing Capitol Forest couldn’t be easier, no matter where you’re coming from. There are eight entrances that surround the forest, from County Line and Rock Candy in the north, Delphi and Waddell Creek in the east, Bordeaux and Cedar Creek in the south, and C-Line and Porter Creek in the west. (They are denoted on DNR’s map of the forest in large bold type).
There are logging roads and spur roads throughout the park that lead you to trailheads, and those roads are denoted on the map in gray. They are organized by lines, A, B, C, D, etc., but Hannah explains that the trails all have unique names. “Some are based on features you can encounter on the trail, like Mima Falls, or the trailhead where they begin, like McKenny,” she shares.
Both Hannah, an avid runner in the forest, and DNR recommend using the Avenza app to navigate within the forest. “Avenza is a georeferenced map,” she explains, “so you can see where you are on the map without cell service. You can find this helpful and up-to-date map on the Friends of Capitol Forest website.
“Most of the hiking/running trails have mile and half-mile markers on the trails so you can figure out how far you are from the trailhead. There are also periodically big signs with distances to different trailheads or campgrounds.”
You can also find maps on the DNR website.
Hannah’s Favorite Capitol Forest Runs
- Out of Fall Creek Trailhead
- Lost Valley Loop (~8 miles)
- Greenline – Greenline Tie – Wedekind Loop (~9 miles)
- Greenline – Crestline – Wedekind Loop (~15 miles)
- Out of Margaret McKenny Trailhead
- McKenny – Mima Falls – Campground Loop (~6.5 miles)
- Out of Mima Falls Trailhead
- Mima Falls – Mima Falls Tie – Campground Loop (~5.5 miles)
- Mima Falls – Mima West – McKenny – Campground Loop (~13 miles)
- Mima Falls – Mima West – Lost Valley – McKenny – Campground Loop (~20 miles)
Know Before You Go
- Capitol Forest is a pack-it-in, pack-it-out area. There are no trash receptacles and DNR asks that you follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace. (Brush up on them here). There are pit toilets at some of the trailheads, but not all.
- Bring your own water, or for longer runs, do like Hannah does and bring a water filter to drink from the abundant, year-round streams.
- There is a shooting range in Capitol Forest, and the sounds can be pervasive at times. To learn more about the Triangle Pit shooting range, check out DNR’s website.
- A Discover Pass is required to access Capitol Forest
- Capitol Forest is a working forest. There are areas of clear-cutting in almost every portion of it. But as Hannah points out, “DNR knows where the clear cuts are planned and when affected trails will be closed and generally for how long. Clear cuts provide nice views of the mountains though, particularly on the Greenline and Wedekind trails, and provide sunlight for lots of wildflowers in the springtime.”
- Trail and adventure runner, Mathias Eichler, wrote a book about adventure running in Olympia and Capitol Forest. For more detailed information, you can find the comprehensive guide here.
Since You’re in the Area…
And speaking of Olympia, why not explore Downtown on your way home? Grab a pint or a burger—or even a Beyond burger—at Well 80 Artisan Brewing and rest your weary legs, or sit down on the waterfront at Budd Bay Cafe, or Olympia Oyster House.
As always, learn everything you wanted to know about visiting Olympia and the surrounding areas on the Experience Olympia & Beyond website.