A nice woodsy stroll on Olympia’s west side, the Grass Lake Refuge Trail loops through young forest resonant with bird song.
Distance: 1.6 miles
Time: 30 minutes
Challenging: Nope, except that your legs can get intimate with blackberry bushes and other stickies growing on the trail side.
Trailhead: 814 Kaiser Road NW, Olympia
The trailhead shares land with one of Olympia’s municipal wells. Well #1, in fact. On your left is a luxurious bank of Himalayan Blackberry, a favorite picking spot for neighbors in the late summer.
Heading into the woods, you are faced with an immediate fork. The fork left is a short, one way jaunt down to Louise Lake. If you’re quiet, you may catch a turtle sunning itself on a log. We have also spotted otters frolicking around in the water.
Backtrack to that first fork and now take the other direction. Walk to the end of this alder grove, past the pink foxgloves (if they’re in season) and find your next fork – this is where the loop trail starts and ends. I like to travel clockwise on this trail, and so recommend going left here.
Now, over the next mile and a half, you will be traveling through pretty and lush woods. This is not an old forest, most of the Douglas Fir trees are pretty thin still, but the underbrush has grown tall and thick, giving a charismatic feel to the area. Salal, sword fern and salmon berry all populate the trail sides.
Much of the bird song you will hear comes from the massive wetlands to your north, which is the true Grass Lake. Want to take a look? Determining where the shore begins is tricky, as the ground quickly devolves into marsh as you leave the trail towards the lake. Look for signs of beaver industriousness while you’re exploring, they’ve felled some impressive trees here.
On a sunny day, and if you’re up for it, it’s fun to balance your way out onto a log hanging over the lake to watch for birds flitting around. As far as the eye can see, it pretty much looks like a lake full of trees. Grass Lake’s big secret seems to be that it is, in fact, a marsh.
On the return side of your loop, you may notice a substantial clearing and an incomplete tract housing development to your left. It’s worth a quick look at this in the interest of building your appreciation of how nice land is when it hasn’t been flattened for tract housing. But don’t worry, there is a thick buffer of trees between you and the houses most of the way.
The trail will take you up and down little hills, which makes it a fun jogging trail, by the way. When you pass an enormous old oil tank on your left, left behind by who knows what, you are near the loop trail’s start/ finish. On your way out of the woods, before you get back to the wall of blackberries, take a moment to look up and appreciate the cathedral feeling bestowed by the towering alders.