An adventurous path that emerges from a dense creek valley onto a spectacular beach.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Time: 90 minutes
Steep: Yes, but managebale
Challenging: Yes: the trail can be steep in places, and down on the beach you may have to navigate past downed trees. I recommend visiting when the tide is low.
Trailhead: 3302 East Bay Drive NE, Olympia WA
The Ellis Cove trail may have my vote for best walk in Olympia. It comes packed with all the goodies you want: quiet old forest, unexpected wildlife and gorgeous shoreline. The trailhead, accessed from East Bay Drive within Priest Point Park, drops you down into the verdant valley surrounding Ellis Creek. The trail goes up and down frequently, with wooden railings and bridges to help you along. It’s a great way to get your heart and lungs pumping in the fresh woodsy air.
The trail next follows the contours of Ellis Cove, keep your eyes open for the many bird species that come here to feed or relax. Perhaps you will hear a deep “KWAUK” from a heron or the rapid “CLICK CLICK CLICK” of a kingfisher. When you are on the far side of the cove, the trail goes up, up, up again. Alongside the trail you’ll see a lot of downed trees, their mossy bark already sprouting new flora.
Keep watch for a smaller trail that departs to your left, down to an info board about local wildlife. Continue past this sign, and down onto the gray rock beach. Head to your right, admiring the enormous drift logs and scattered remnants of smashed shells, left from many a seagull’s lunch. Rounding the headland, the view opens up, and you have arrived at one of my favorite places in this city. The wrap around vista of Budd Inlet here is just stunning. Madrona trees, high up, cling perilously to the sand bluffs behind you. The Capitol building and downtown are to the south, the West Bay log yards to the front of you. The Vine Leaf Maples along this shoreline turn a stunning red in autumn, making it an extra nice place for a seasonal picnic.
When the tide is low enough, 10 feet or less, you can navigate around the trees that have fallen from the cliffs onto the beach. Just keep walking north along the water until you see the ‘Park Boundary’ sign. There is a rustic stone stairway that helps you up into the woods, and there you will connect with a wide gravel path. The path out is canopied by a hall of wonderful old trees, including Big Leaf Maple, cedars and Douglas Firs.
The gravel path brings you out to a parking lot on Flora Vista Road, adjacent to East Bay Drive. To complete the loop, you take a right on East Bay Drive and walk back to your car. It’s not as quiet out here on the road, but the beauty and peace of your adventure to Ellis Cove will stick with you long into the day.