If you’ve never been to Capitol State Forest, you’re missing out. The Forest has a whopping fifty miles of horse-friendly trails that run through beautiful woods. And despite its location only five miles south of Olympia, you’ll feel like you’re far away from it all.
Flowers bloom profusely in the clear-cuts.
My friends and I arrived at Capitol State Forest on a sunny day in late May. We set up camp at Margaret McKenny Campground, then saddled up to ride the Equine Loop, the only non-motorized trail in the park that is not open to mountain bikes. This 4-mile loop is also the only trail that is open year-round. (The Forest’s other trails are open May 1 to November 30.) As we rode, we traveled through mature stands of second-growth Douglas-fir, maple, and alder, and through a tree plantation. We even got a view of Mt. Rainier!
Mt. Rainier from the Equine Loop Trail.
The next morning dawned clear and sunny, so we decided to ride a 13-mile loop on the McKenny and Mima Falls Trails. In addition to seeing pretty Mima Falls, we were treated to views of Mt. Rainier from several vantage points. The wildflowers along the trail were spectacular.
The following day we trailered out to Falls Creek Campground to ride the Greenline/Wedekind Loop. This route is very popular with mountain bike riders, who grind their way to the top of Capitol Peak and then plunge down the Greenline Trail. We rode on a weekday to avoid the heavy weekend bike traffic. A couple of cyclists we met in the parking lot advised us to ride the loop counter-clockwise, so we would be facing the cyclists as they came downhill.
The trails run through mature forest and through clear-cuts.
All the bike riders we met on the trail were pleasant, and they seemed genuinely happy to share the trail with us. All of them tried their best not to spook our horses. However, the Greenline Trail has many blind corners, so we did encounter a couple of speeding cyclists who seemed to appear out of nowhere. Luckily, our horses are accustomed to mountain bikes, so none of them overreacted. We completed the ride just the way we wanted to—in our saddles. Needless to say, this is not a good trail for green horses.
On the Greenline/Wedekind Loop.
The next day we rode the Mima Falls Loop, a fun 7.5-mile route that goes to the same waterfall we had ridden to a couple of days before, but gets there by following a different set of trails.
The trails run through beautiful forest.
Our last ride took us out on the McKenny Trail to the Lost Valley Trail, a scenic 16.5-mile ride that makes a lollipop loop around a ridge. The loop follows Sherman Creek on one side of the ridge and Lost Valley Creek on the other. Like all the trails in Capitol Forest, this ride features stands of mature Douglas-firs, maples, and alders interspersed with tree plantations and clear-cuts. The wildflowers were stunning.
On the McKenny Trail.
All of the trails at Capitol Forest are horse-friendly, with bridges to cross but no steep drop-offs or shale. All trails are moderate difficulty except the Greenline/Wedekind Loop, which is challenging because of the bike traffic.
The Horse Camp
Margaret McKenny Campground has six sites (four with single corrals and two with double corrals). All the corrals have concrete floors, and each site has a manure bin. The campground has a vault toilet, stock water, and a huge day-use parking area. You’ll need a Discover Pass for either camping or day-use parking.
The corrals at Margaret McKenny Campground.
My friends and I were awed by Capitol Forest’s dense woods and dazzled by the wildflowers along the trails and in the clear-cuts. And we were delighted with the many miles of well-maintained trails (thank you, BCHW!) that are open to horses. Capitol State Forest is indeed a special destination for equestrians. We’ll be back!
Learn more about the trails at Capitol State Forest in Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2016). Available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.
Article reprinted with permission from Trailhead News, July/August 2017.