Get out: Five urban hikes for South Sound’s rainy season

Craig Romano recommends hiking the Porter Trail in the Capitol State Forest.
Craig Romano recommends hiking the Porter Trail in the Capitol State Forest. Courtesy photo

Author and outdoorsman Craig Romano loves hiking in the mountains, but this time of year, he goes low.

“One of the great things about living in Western Washington is that you get to hike year round, because the weather is temperate,” said Romano of Mount Vernon, who’ll speak Friday in Olympia about his guidebook “Urban Trails: Olympia.” “When your favorite hiking haunt is snowed in, there are great places to hike down in the low country.”

Urban trails are a great resource all year, he said, with particular appeal to those with limited time or money and those who prefer city life.

“Most of us don’t have the opportunity to go to Yellowstone,” he said, “but people can bond with nature right in their backyards.”

All of the hikes in Romano’s “Urban Trails” guides are accessible year round. The Olympian asked him to suggest five South Sound sites that are particularly good in the fall and winter. All are family friendly. Details are adapted from “Urban Trails: Olympia,” which includes more information on all of these destinations.

1. Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Location: 100 Brown Farm Road NE, Olympia

Why he recommends it: “It’s even better in winter because of the bird migration,” Romano said. The refuge is home to one of south Puget Sound’s last relatively undeveloped river deltas, and “Urban Trails” calls its 1-mile boardwalk trail a “sheer delight.”

Distance: 3 miles of trails

Elevation gain: Minimal

High point: 15 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Fitness: Walkers, hikers

Dog friendly: Dogs prohibited

Entrance fee: $3 per four adults, or Interagency Passes accepted

Note: Northern end of the Nisqually Estuary Trail is closed from October to late January for hunting season.

More information: 360-753-9467, fws.gov/refuge/Billy_Frank_Jr_Nisqually/

2. Tumwater Falls Park

Location: 110 Deschutes Parkway SW, Tumwater

Why he recommends it: The wetter the weather, the better the views are. “In the summertime, it’s not nearly as dramatic as it is in the wintertime because of the rains,” Romano said. His book recommends the park for its combination of history and “sensational scenery.”

Distance: 1-mile loop

Elevation gain: 90 feet

High point: 100 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Fitness: Walkers (running prohibited)

Dog friendly: On leash

More information: 360-943-2550, olytumfoundation.org/what-we-do/tumwater-falls-park/

3. Harstine Island State Park

Location: East Yates Road, Shelton

Why he recommends it: “Harstine Island is a wonderful place during the wintertime,” Romano said. “It’s so quiet. There’s a good chance you’re going to be walking on the beach all by yourself.”

“Urban Trails” advises timing your visit for low tide, as the cobbled beach is a highlight, with views of Mount Rainier and nearby McMicken Island.

Distance: 3 miles of trails

Elevation gain: Up to 200 feet

High point: 175 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Fitness: Hikers, runners

Dog friendly: On leash

More information: 360-426-9226

Note: Discover Pass required

4. McLane Creek Nature Trail

Location: 5044 Delphi Road SW, Olympia

This Capitol Forest nature trail, which the guidebook labels one of Puget Sound’s finest, offers a fall view of salmon, which spawn in the creek from mid-November to mid-December.

Distance: 1.5 miles of trails

Elevation gain: Up to 25 feet

High point: 150 feet

Difficulty: Easy; stroller friendly and partially ADA accessible

Fitness: Walkers, hikers

Dog friendly: On leash

More information: 360-825-1631, dnr.wa.gov/capitol

Note: Discover Pass required

5. Porter Trail

Location: Capitol Forest

Why he recommends it: With 90,000 acres and some elevation, Capitol Forest is a treasure for diehard exercisers. “You can get your 10-, 15-, 20-mile hikes and runs in all winter long when the backcountry places are snowed in,” Romano said.

Roman’s book recommends Porter Trail as the quietest of the forest’s long-distance, non-motorized trails. It boasts a grove of Sitka spruce and a view of the Chehalis River valley. “This trail is best done as a one-way route, east to west,” he wrote in the book. “You’ll need to leave a car (or arrange for a shuttle) at the trail’s western end, near the Porter Creek Campground.” Or do it as an out-and-back trail.

Distance: 13 miles one-way

Elevation gain: 400 feet

High point: 2,050 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Fitness: Hikers, runners

Dog friendly: On leash

More information: 360-825-1631, dnr.wa.gov/capitol

Note: Discover Pass required

‘Urban Trails: Olympia’

What: Author Craig Romano will give a slide show and talk about places to hike, walk and run near Olympia.

When: 7-8:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia

Admission: Free

More information: 360-357-7462, browsersolympia.com, craigromano.com