Loop trails through the beaches, woods and prairies near Olympia, Washington

Category Archives: Prairie

A gorgeous expanse of rare Northwest prairie adorned with every color of wildflower.

Distance: 2.25 miles

Time:  45 minutes

Steep:  No

Challenging:  No, but you might choose to wear long pants because of scratchy trailside plants

Trailhead:  17900 Guava Street Rochester, WA 98579

After living in the Pacific Northwest for a while, you may realize that our greatest natural treasure, the trees, can create a feeling of being hemmed in.  You can never see very far because everywhere you look, trees are blocking the view.   An awe-inspiring remedy exists just 20 minutes south of Olympia and it’s called the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area.

This little slice of Big Sky country offers 500 acres of wide open, natural prairie.  Early summer is a stunning time to visit as the prairie around you has come alive with wildflowers galore.  White daisies, purple aster and blue camas all dance in the breeze as orange butterflies float by.

The easy-to-follow trail begins next to an old blue farm house and abandoned red barn.  Taking the trail counter-clockwise, you come alongside a grove of Garry Oak that line the creek.  The acorns produced by these oaks are an important part of the food chain here on the prairie.  You emerge from the grove quickly enough and are confronted with a truly comforting view:  tall grass and flowers as far as the eye can see, bordered by wooded hills to your north.

As you walk along you may startle little Savannah Sparrows from their hiding places in the brush.  Pairs of hawks cruise overhead, their tails made orange by the sunlight.  The trail stays flat and easy as it rounds the oak grove in the middle of the loop, and pretty soon you can spot the roof of the old red barn.   Just keep following the tire tracks through the grass and you’re back to the trailhead.

After an hour of light and color, you’ve come back to the Little House on the Prairie from whence you began.   Your breathing is expansive and your heart’s a little more open, like the vibrant fields of Scatter Creek.


An idyllic retreat of duck ponds and expansive prairie, tucked inside a busy urban core.

Distance:  1.1 miles

Time:  20 minutes

Steep:  No

Challenging:  No

Trailhead:  Park at the corner of Abbey Way SE and Father Meinrad Gaul Dr SE in Lacey, Washington.  The trailhead is about 200 feet back down Abbey Way.

This land, also known as the College Regional Storm Facility, is owned by St. Martin’s Abbey, a community of Benedictine Monks who have lived and worked here since 1895.  They also administer the university next door.  In the woods around the parking lot, you can see interesting brick and wood statuettes hosting the 12 stations of the cross, an artistic representation of Christ’s last hours.

If you’d like to explore a little more before your walk, go north of the parking lot and find the paved service road that leads into the forest.   A short walk takes you to a very old graveyard that holds the bodies of monks and brothers that have been members of the Abbey.  The stone and metalwork of this somber graveyard is mossy and medieval, transporting the viewer far back in time. I highly recommend this quick detour.

Down the hill to the trailhead you will find a much more light-hearted and secular experience.  Three man-made ponds grace this patch of earth, built to retain storm water runoff in 2008.  The water, and its rich perimeter of cattails, have attracted a wealth of sonorous wildlife including Mallard ducks, Red Winged Blackbirds and bullfrogs.

Around the ponds spreads a pretty prairie ringed by forest.  Whether this is a true prairie or not, I’m not sure, it does get mowed as would a field, but either way it’s a great open look up at the sky.  A foot path rings the prairie, and if you just stay on the perimeter as you loop around the prairie, you can turn the walk into a mile, enjoying the riffle of the Quaking Aspen in the breeze.

Depending on when you go, you may be joining other walkers from the nearby Lacey City Hall and Department of Ecology who have also discovered this green expanse, tucked away behind busy College Street and the even busier Interstate 5.  Like the lifestyles of the monks nearby, this prairie offers solitude and calm amidst the rushing distractions of everyday life.