I LOVE the trails at Capitol State Forest! The Forest offers a whopping fifty miles of horse-friendly riding, beautiful woods, and spectacular wildflowers in season. And even though it's located only five miles south of Olympia, the Forest has a get-away-from-it-all feel.
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!
McKenny/Mima Falls Loop
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.
All the bike riders we met on the trail were super polite, 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 appeared 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. However, this is not a good trail for green horses.
Mima Falls 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.
Lost Valley Loop
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.
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.
We 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 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, available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.