There are few things better than taking a hike. The crisp, clean air, stunning vistas, the solitude and the plentitude of the natural world. There’s a lot to appreciate, and it’s even better when you can do it with your best friend, of the four-legged kind. Capitol Forest, a working forest that straddles Thurston and Gray’s Harbor Counties is the perfect place to do just that. Grab your leash and take a day trip for a dog-friendly hike in Capitol Forest.

Capitol Forest hikes
Capitol Forest is a great destination to hike with your dog. Here’s “Timber” beneath the timbers. Photo courtesy: Hannah McLean

Managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Capitol Forest comprises 110,000 acres of dual-purpose land. It is trust land where many types of recreation are permissible and is also a working forest – one of DNR’s most productive, in fact – where high-yielding timber production provides sustainable revenue in support of schools and universities, and many local public services.

Location

With its central location, Capitol Forest is within an easy drive from Olympia, Tacoma, Aberdeen, Centralia, Chehalis and Vancouver. Folks from Gray’s Harbor, Lewis, Clark, Pierce and Thurston counties regularly recreate in Capitol Forest, with opportunities to trail run, hike, mountain bike, use off-road vehicles, target shoot, and best of all, hike with your pup.

Expert Advice

Avid forest-user Hannah McLean gets out into the forest with her dog about once a week. Hannah has intimate knowledge of the trails as she regularly runs them long distances. As an ultra-runner, she runs farther than 26.2 miles (marathon distance) at a time and is well-versed in trail conditions, popular routes, and distances. “All of the trails are dog-friendly,” she says. “My pup, Timber, loves going out to Capitol Forest.”

Hannah shares some of her favorite trails and combinations to make for hikes of varying lengths. Whether you’re looking for a short stint or a longer route, Capitol Forest offers it all.

  • Out of Fall Creek Trailhead
    • Lost Valley Loop (~8 miles)
    • Greenline – Greenline Tie – Wedekind Loop (~9 miles)
    • Greenline – Crestline – Wedekind Loop (~15 miles)
  • Out of Margaret McKenny Trailhead
    • McKenny – Mima Falls – Campground Loop (~6.5 miles)
  • Out of Mima Falls Trailhead
    • Mima Falls – Mima Falls Tie – Campground Loop (~5.5 miles)
    • Mima Falls – Mima West – McKenny – Campground Loop (~13 miles)
    • Mima Falls – Mima West – Lost Valley – McKenny – Campground Loop (~20 miles)

      Capitol Forest hikes
      Timber is used to posing with his mom in Capitol Forest. He’s pretty cute and the views aren’t bad either! Photo courtesy: Hannah McLean

The Department of Natural Resources offers a great map of the area. It shows all eight entrances that encircle the forest and make accessing it from any direction quite easy.

One thing to note is that the northern portion of the forest has trails that are primarily used by off-road vehicles, and Hannah says she “usually avoids the trails that motos can use since they’re not in as good of shape and typically have lots of ruts, which turn into lakes in the wintertime.”

The trails in the southern portion of the forest are designated for hikers, bicycles, and horses, with a few trails shown in dark green on the map for hikers only.

“The trail conditions are usually great!” Hannah says. “We are so lucky here to have nice soils that don’t get too muddy in winter or too dusty in the summer. Sometimes the trails freeze in the winter but usually thaw by the end of the day. Capitol Forest can get a lot of snow and the snow can stick around for a while, but, overall, the trails are very well managed.”

Navigating

Timber the dog has logged a lot of miles in Capitol Forest beneath the timbers. While there are way-finding signs throughout the forest, and the trails are well marked, Hannah has a more high-tech way of finding her way around. “The best way to navigate is to download the Avenza app and the Capitol Forest map,” she says. “It is a georeferenced map, so you can see where you are on the map without cell service.” But she also follows that up by saying it would be pretty hard there to get off-trail.

For a tutorial on how to use Avenza, check out this one on the Friends of the Capitol Forest webpage.

Capitol Forest hikes
Remember, dogs should be on a leash that is no longer than six-feet while visiting the Capitol Forest. Dogs with equines need to be under voice control. Photo credit: Hannah McLean

With every trail within the forest being dog-friendly, Capitol Forest is a great hiking destination for you and your dog.

Refreshments and Relaxation

Olympia is just a short drive away and has many dog-friendly dining spots. There’s a wide array of food truck hot spots in downtown Olympia, at each end of Fourth Avenue. With all of these spots having outdoor seating, it’s a place where both you and your pooch can relax after a great hike together.

The Capitol Forest is also located near a brand new City-owned dog park, should you want to let your dog off-leash for a bit.

Forget something? You can get gear or food for your furry friend at The Pet Works in downtown Olympia. They’ve got a robust selection, and are also located on Fourth Avenue.

And if you want to make a longer stay of your visit, check out Olympia Hotel at Capitol Lake. They’re dog-friendly!

As always, you can find more info for planning your visit to Olympia and the surrounding areas at Experience Olympia and Beyond.

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