There are many indicators of the seasons changing, such as days growing shorter and temperatures slowly dropping. Though we are often sad to see summer go, this shift means the welcome and exciting return of our beloved local salmon. The salmon run has been an integral and cherished part of our regional ecosystems and indicates the end of another lovely summer as we move into fall. View the salmon run in Olympia and Tumwater at 5th Avenue Bridge and Brewery Park.

salmon run in Olympia
The 5th Avenue Bridge in Downtown Olympia is a great place to see the salmon’s first stop on their migration journey. Photo credit: Heather L. Dyson

The Salmon Migration in the South Sound

Our local region in Western Washington is home to many native salmon species that generations have worked to protect as part of our ecosystem. Their migration is symbolic of the symbiotic relationship our community has with nature, and represents a time of change. In the Pacific Northwest, there are five primary species of salmon that can be seen going through this yearly transformation. The chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye salmon all share the same lifecycle, which includes both freshwater and saltwater living. The salmon spawn in rivers and streams and spend anywhere from one month to two years in freshwater before transitioning to the Pacific Ocean, depending on their species. Once they have entered the Pacific Ocean, they remain there for approximately two to three years before returning to freshwater to spawn. This is where their lifecycle ends and a new one begins for the next generation of salmon.

Here in the South Sound, the majority of the salmon that can be seen are chinook salmon and are imprinted at the Tumwater Falls Hatchery. The hatchery is an integral part of the salmon spawning process today and helps support the salmon in their hatching and return to their home to spawn. They collect the eggs from the females and fertilize them, then take care of the young salmon during the critical early stage of their life to ensure their survival. The hatchery maintains the salmon in the holding pens at Tumwater Falls for two weeks to imprint them with the Deschutes River water. This helps the salmon develop a familiarity with these freshwater areas so they can remember their spawn point and easily return in the migration period.

salmon run in Olympia
One of the most amazing parts of the salmon migration is witnessing their determination as they move up the fish ladder. At Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls, you can often see the salmon leaping up the many waterfalls! Photo credit: Kyler Larmore

See the Salmon Run in Olympia

Our region is fortunate to have viewing areas to help the community engage with this amazing cycle and learn about the salmon. The 5th Avenue Bridge in Downtown Olympia offers an overhead view of the salmon as they prepare their bodies for the transition from saltwater back to freshwater. Huge chinook salmon can be seen swimming around near and under the bridge, which is the start of the fish ladder that was developed to help the salmon make their journey back home to spawn. This particular area boasts beautiful views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, which contribute to the wonder and joy sparked by seeing the salmon’s journey. The viewing area has been updated over the last decade and continues to experience greater visitation as an accessible and welcoming place to experience nature. Additionally, educational posters are mounted on the fence to help visitors learn about the salmon and better understand their importance in the local ecosystem. Parking is available in the parking lot adjacent to Bayview Thriftway and Views on Fifth at no cost on evenings and weekends.

salmon run in Olympia
Chinook salmon can be viewed through new glass windows at Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls. Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation

See the Salmon Run in Tumwater

For a more up close and personal view of the salmon, you can also visit Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls. Here you can see the hatchery holding pens and view the salmon from above or at eye level down below with their ground-level fish tanks. As amazing as it is to get up close and personal with these incredible creatures, the true sight to see is on the trails alongside the falls and river. There are bridges and overlook spots all throughout the walk that provide breathtaking sights of the salmon making their way up the ladder. You can often catch sight of the salmon leaping up the falls, an inspiring feat and demonstration of their resilience and determination. To learn more about the salmon, you can visit the main building up by the holding pens and read about the salmon’s migration patterns and the hatchery’s history in preserving this critical species. Parking is available in the park at no cost.

Commemorate Another Successful Salmon Season

If you are looking for ways to witness nature’s mystery and awe, visit the local viewing areas at the 5th Avenue Bridge and Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls. Our local community has made the salmon lifecycle a major priority and proudly invites tourists and residents alike to take advantage of the salmon experience at these wonderful local spots. As summer draws to a close, we can see the beauty of change not only in the seasons but in the salmon as they return home to us to start again.