Olympia’s Chehalis Western Trail is among region’s longest accessible walking paths.

Share story

Hike of the month

Chehalis Western Trail

This is an easy, lowland winter walk along a paved trail that’s wheelchair-accessible. The old railroad bed runs north and south through Olympia and Lacey, but the most interesting stretch arguably is the north end near Woodard Bay Conservation Area, where you transition from open space to a lush forest teeming with songbirds and wildlife.

By the numbers:

Chehalis Western Trail stretches 21.5 miles through Thurston County. It also connects to the 14.5-mile Yelm-to-Tenino Trail and to more than 170 acres of park land including two miles of frontage along the Deschutes River.

You can also take the Chehalis Western Trail to the 870-acre Woodard Bay Conservation Area, home to one of the state’s largest heron colonies. More than 100 species, including bald eagles, harbor seals, otters, and Yuma and Little Brown bats, can be found around Woodard Bay. Woodard Bay features three trails: a 1.5-mile loop trail, the 1-mile Overlook Trail and the Whitham Road Trail.

Facilities: Dozens of access points dot the 21.5-mile trail (for a detailed map with trailheads, see co.thurston.wa.us/parks/trails-chehalis-western.htm). Access points with parking, restrooms and picnic facilities are located at the Chambers Lake Trailhead. A trailhead at 67th Avenue has parking and kiosks with info and maps, and access points at Fir Tree Road and Woodard Bay have parking, restrooms and information kiosks.

The hike: This old railroad bed draws bikers and horse riders on weekends and retirees on weekdays. It’s one of the longer wheelchair-accessible trails in the region.

The best place to start may be the north end near Woodard Bay. You get to experience two different landscapes in a short distance. For instance, if you start at the intersection of Shincke Road Northeast and South Bay Road, you’re three miles from the conservation area. It’s a pastoral setting, flanked by red barns, horse ranches and duck ponds. The path appears to narrow as you go north with all the cedars and firs lining the trail. It also gets colder under the canopy of trees.

Once you’ve reached the conservation area, the setting shifts dramatically, as if you’ve been dropped into the middle of a national forest. You’re surrounded by big-leaf maples, Douglas firs and other giant trees draped in moss.

As of February, the entrance point from Chehalis Western Trail to the conservation area was temporarily closed to protect nesting herons. Check the website for a reopening date (see dnr.wa.gov and search for “Woodard Bay NRCA”).

An alternative is to bike or drive to the conservation area’s main entrance. Or walk on Woodard Bay Road, with traffic, for a short stretch to the main entrance. See the website for directions.

Restrictions: Discover Pass required to park at Woodard Bay. Conservation area hours: dawn until one hour after sunset. No dogs allowed.

The Chehalis Western Trail is open year-round. No permit needed to park. Two sections of the trail, on the south end, have inclines and aren’t built to ADA standards. Posted signs show alternate routes.

Directions: For easy parking, use one of the access points listed above. For the Chambers Lake Trailhead, take Interstate 5 to Exit 108 in Olympia. Go south on Sleater-Kinney Road South, then right on 14th Avenue Southeast for a half-mile and look for the trail sign on your left.