For years I’ve been hearing about the wonderful riding at Capitol State Forest near Olympia, and last summer I finally got the chance to experience it for myself. The Forest certainly lived up to its excellent reputation!
Capitol State Forest is a 100,000-acre working forest that is sustainably logged to help fund the Washington Public Schools. The forest is open for public recreation, with separate trails for motorized and non-motorized users. Nearly 50 miles of trails are open to equestrians from May 1 to November 30, and the 4-mile Equine Loop (where bike riders are excluded) is open to horseback riders year round.
Margaret McKenny Campground is the best horse camp in the forest, with easy access from I-5, nice facilities, a big day-use parking area, and an abundance of horse-friendly trails nearby.
From Margaret McKenny Campground you can ride the easy 4-mile Equine Loop, which is open to equestrians year round and closed to bikes. On a clear day the trail has a good view of Mt. Rainier.
You can ride the Lost Valley Loop, which circles a ridge and follows Sherman Creek along the western side of the loop.
Mima Falls Loop is a 7.5-mile route with little elevation change. It takes you through pretty forest to Mima Falls, a small waterfall on Mima Creek. Tie your horses, visit the waterfall, and take advantage of the picnic table nearby for an enjoyable lunch stop.
The McKenny/Mima Loop is a 13-mile round trip that showcases the various life stages of a working forest as it runs through mature stands of Douglas-fir, through tree plantations, and through recent clearcuts. From several vantage points you’ll have views of Mt. Rainier. Wildflowers are abundant along the trail in early summer. And don’t miss pretty Mima Falls!
Adventurous riders may want to ride the Greenline/Wedekind Loop, which originates at Fall Creek Campground and explores the lower slopes of Capitol Peak. The trail is not difficult, but the Greenline Trail is very popular with mountain bike riders who plummet down the steep slopes of Capitol Peak and zip around the trail’s many blind corners. If you ride this trail, do it on a weekday when bike traffic is light, ride the loop counter-clockwise so you are facing oncoming bikes on the Greenline Trail, and use caution.
As you can see, there’s way more riding at Capitol Forest than you can fit into a long summer weekend. What a nice problem to have!
Getting to Capitol Forest: From I-5 south of Olympia, take Exit 95 and head west on Maytown Road SW toward Littlerock. After 3 miles the road goes through Littlerock and becomes 128th Avenue SW. Continue straight for another 0.8 mile and turn right on Waddell Creek Road SW. The campground is ahead on the left in 2.4 miles.
Fees: Discover Pass required for camping or for day use
Season: Margaret McKenny Campground and most of the trails are open May 1 to November 30. The Equine Loop Trail is open to equestrians year round.
Facilities: Margaret McKenny Campground has a toilet, stock water, and six back-in sites with fire rings and picnic tables. Two sites have room for 2 trailers. Four sites have a 1-horse corral, 2 have double corrals (though strangely, they’re not the same sites that can hold 2 trailers). All corrals have concrete floors. Some sites are missing chain gates. Each site has its own manure bin. All sites have room for highlining. Margaret McKenny Campground also has day-use parking for 10+ trailers.
More Information: Capitol Forest is covered in the Capitol State Forest chapter of Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2016)