Just north of Lewis County, along the roads leading to Ocean Shores and the Olympic Peninsula, a hidden peak awaits your outdoor adventures. Known as Rock Candy Mountain, this overlooked area is quickly becoming the must-explore spot for mountain bikers, ATV riders, dirt bikers and trail runners looking for fantastic trails, stellar views and a dose of nature. Located just 15 minutes west of Olympia, this 2,355-foot peak in the Capitol State Forest is your new destination for all types of outdoor recreation.
Capitol State Forest is a multi-use area, meaning that hikers and mountain bikers share the region with motorized vehicles. Open from May 1 to November 30, the roads and routes around Rock Candy are a blast. Full of trails, thick forests and logged-out regions, these hills easily offer a full day of fun. The state forest has nearly 100 miles of trails that are open to motorized use, including the Rock Candy region.
Sections of the trails and roads weaving around the mountain are beautiful – a testament to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t hiked, run or biked the area, check it out. No matter how you explore the area, you too will say Rock Candy rocks.
Rock Candy Mountain is the third tallest peak in the Capitol State Forest and the fifth highest named peak in Thurston County. Reaching the summit of this mountain will take you through cool places full of trees, ferns and streams. From the top of Rock Candy, you can enjoy views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains before retreating back down to the parking area. In the winter, visitors will find some snow, while the summer and fall months are warm and mostly dry.
Like most trails in the region, the ground will be a bit muddy and slick during the wet months, but that’s also part of the fun. On a motorized vehicle, the entire forest is accessible from Rock Candy, making this the closest and best option for starting a day long ride. We highly recommend the Rock Candy-Waddel Basin West-Twin Peaks-Larch Mountain-North Rim Loop, as it takes you to some of the highest elevation, puts in serious miles and lets you explore some ridiculously rad roads.
Mountain bikers access Rock Candy from more bike-friendly routes starting at the Porter Creek entrance, located along Highway 12 and the Chehalis River. Thanks to its proximity to Olympia, Rock Candy is seeing an influx in bike riders and the reports coming out of the trails are stellar. This area is full of great riding and fun days. Keep in mind that if you want to mountain bike Rock Candy, do so from the western side of Capitol Forest, starting from the previously mentioned areas. Otherwise you will have to maneuver around motorbike traffic.
While exploring Rock Candy is fun on wheels, many Thurston County trail runners are flocking to the area as it allows them to run great trails and get some serious elevation. The area is quite popular with the local Strava running group with The Outdoor Society. Many members create routes and post pictures from their adventures on the group’s Strava App page. For some, the route was a training ground for running Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. For others, it is a fun challenge and a place to enjoy time in nature.
Brandon Barnes is a runner from West Olympia, who has made Rock Candy his go-to run. Because the climbing starts right out of the gate and doesn’t let up until you’re on the way back to the car, this run is a great workout. There is no warm up, just all work to the top of the mountain.
Barnes even enjoys comparing the run to the mullet hairstyle: “Rock Candy is business in the front and party in the rear, because you get right down to business as soon as you start,” Brandon laughs. “But, man, you can really cruise and have some fun on the way back down.”
Even hikers have been coming out to Rock Candy in recent years, helping fuel the transition and reputation of Capitol State Forest. The seemingly endless acres of forest land have become a nature destination close to the growing regions of the South Puget Sound. As the area continues to grow, both in population and forest age, Rock Candy and Capitol State Forest will become even more beautiful, popular and fun for outdoor recreation for the entire family.
To plan your trip and find inspiration on area restaurants and lodging, visit ExperienceOlympia.com.