Tumwater’s Hidden Gem

Fish ladder near the Middle Falls.  Tumwater Falls Park.  Photo: KGilb.

Fish ladder near the Middle Falls. Tumwater Falls Park. Photo: KGilb.

Tumwater Falls Park is a hidden gem tucked away alongside the interstate, but if you didn’t know about it, you’d never guess it was there. We certainly didn’t, and we’ve been whizzing up and down I-5 for years! But in our defense, the park isn’t readily visible from the highway.

Tumwater Falls Park is a 15 acre slice of natural beauty that borders the Deschutes River just before it plunges into Capitol Lake. With a wide variety of native trees and shrubs, this is as close to a stroll through the woods as you will find without leaving the city. Though privately owned and maintained by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, the park is open to the public free of charge.

Walking trails run along both sides of the river as it rushes and tumbles down through a narrow gorge strewn with boulders. In addition to white rapids interspersed with dark pools of water, hikers will also find the foundation stones of an old hydroelectric power plant erected way back in the 1890’s. And fish ladders built to help spawning salmon fight their way upstream.

Pedestrian bridges span the river at each end of the trail, making a nice circuitous route back to the visitor’s center. Total walking distance: 1/2 mile. The one at the Lower Falls is actually a replica of the wooden truss bridge used by the citizens of Tumwater in the late 1800’s. Each foot bridge provides a good view of one of the three waterfalls present in the park.

Just inside the entrance is a more traditional “city park” area with manicured lawns, picnic tables, restrooms, shade trees, and a great play area for the kids. The perfect spot to take a break if you’re on a long drive from Salem to Seattle.

Tumwater Falls Park is located at 110 Deschutes Way SW in Tumwater, WA. Winter hours: 8am to dusk. For detailed directions and a map,  please check the olytumfoundation website.

Special Note: Don’t confuse this park with the city-owned and operated Tumwater Falls Historical Park which is located nearby.

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