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

William Cannon Footpath

This short stroll provides stunning views of undeveloped salt waterfront and changes dramatically as the tide rises and lowers.

Distance:  3/4 mile

Time:  20 minutes for the walk, but I highly recommend stopping on the shore awhile to spy for Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles

Steep:  No

Challenging:  Not particularly, but woe is the explorer that decides to walk into the mud of Mud Bay.  You can sink up to your thighs, so stay high on the shoreline.

Trailhead:  In the rear of the WSDOT Park ‘n’ Ride lot, adjacent and west of Mud Bay Storage at 510 Madrona Beach Road, Olympia

Do not be dismayed by the large parking lot, the industrial park or the busy traffic of Highway 101 roaring by.  What waits for you at the end of this little gravel trail is a beautiful sight that could be one hundred, or one thousand years old.

Walk along the trail towards the water and enjoy the wild daisies and rose bushes…the butterflies and bumblebees certainly are.  Mud Bay is one of the many salt water inlets that make up the southernmost reach of Puget Sound.  To your left, you will begin to get glimpses of one of this bay’s many smaller inlets.

Poking out of the water, you will see barnacled pilings that once held a railroad trestle.  Look out farther into the bay, and you can see the remaining skeleton of the trestle, slowly eroding.

When you get to the big tree by the water (a Douglas Fir), which not too long ago sported a rope swing, hop down towards shore.  The bank is partially covered in a fascinating ground cover plant that spends much of its life underwater during high tide.

And now: take a deep breath and take a full sweeping look at this place.  The Black Hills rise in the west, and across the bay are hundreds and thousands of Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Madrona trees, all hanging languidly over the water.  Look along the near coastline for a Great Blue Heron, standing like a statue waiting for prey to wander too close in the shallow water.

If you’d like, you can turn around and pop out the way you came.  Or, if you feel like stretching your legs, continue east along the trail, which hugs the shoreline.   Yes, on your right you may be distracted by the sounds of power tools in the industrial shops, but you’re also walking along their back lots.  This is where many of their old multi-colored Ford pickups are parked, and they lend a feeling of mellowed old age to the area.

The trail releases you back onto Madrona Beach Road, so turn right and walk the couple of hundred yards back to the Park ‘n’ Ride.  And next time, why not bring a picnic for a timeless afternoon under that big Doug Fir on Mud Bay?

Grass Lake Refuge Trail

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

Steep:  No

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.