Tolmie State Park

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I had planned to join a day hike with a Meetup group at Sequalitchew Creek early Saturday morning, but I had a pretty rough night and ended up sleeping in. After doing a load of laundry and a few other chores, I decided to head out to Tolmie State Park. I packed a daypack with eleven pounds of miscellaneous crap for an extra workout and grabbed my hiking boots.

I love Tolmie State Park. It’s a very popular local destination, and it’s not unusual for the park to reach capacity in the summer months. The park is described as a “154-acre, marine day-use park with 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline on Puget Sound” featuring a “saltwater marsh and abundant wildlife.” The park also offers “a variety of beach activities and an underwater park that contains an artificial reef built in cooperation with scuba divers.” But don’t let the description fool you–it’s also a great hiking destination if you’re looking for a short, quick hike without leaving the city.

I had visited it once previously, in March, shortly after moving to Olympia. At that time, much of the trail was blocked with winter deadfall, and one foot bridge had been completely obliterated by a fallen tree.

I reached the park shortly after noon. The parking lots were already almost full. Luckily, I found a great spot with plenty of room so I didn’t have to worry about door dings or issues with my kayak overhanging the ends of my truck.

Since I had parked in the upper parking lot, I took the steep paved trail down to the beach. The tide was out, exposing mudflats the length of a football field. I’m still not used to tides, especially the 20’ tides we get here in Puget Sound; it’s always a little startling to see the extreme changes in the shoreline. 

Lots of people were out clamming and picnicking on the beach. Huh. I didn’t know there were clams here.

I made my way up the beach and across the bridge to the Four Cedars Trail trailhead. There were quite a few people on the trail, at first, making it difficult to stop and take photos. After about a quarter mile, the crowd thinned out, and I was able to pretty much hike alone.

Trail restoration crews have been busy since my last visit, and the trail is in great condition. Except for one massive tree requiring a trail reroute, all the winter deadfall had been removed. And, a replacement foot bridge for the one that had been obliterated was under construction. 

Four Cedars Trail has lots of short and sometimes steep ascents and descents as it winds its way through the gullies and ravines that make up the state park (topographic map). In some areas, steps and/or switchbacks have been built into the trail to assist hikers. Some steps are pretty high, making it difficult for people with limited mobility, so there’s usually also a path off to one side, which helps. Handrails in places provide assistance, as well, but be sure to test them before relying on them as one failed when I used it to help me up a steep slope.

The trail also has some exposed roots and embedded rocks, so I do have to watch my steps pretty carefully. Because my left knee has limited range of motion, it’s really easy for me to trip. But, the trail is well packed with no loose gravel. And, it also has some really cool wood walkways built over wetland areas.

I made my way along the trail, stopping every now and then to take photos. I saw very few people; it seems most were out on the beach, which was fine with me. It was cool in the shade of the old growth forest, and I was able to set a pretty good pace and arrived at the end of Cedar Trail after about an hour and 12 minutes. I was surprised to reach it so fast; for some reason, I had thought the trail was at least three miles long. Turns out, it’s only 1.98 miles.

Since I had planned to hike four miles, it only made sense to turn around and head back the way I came.

This time, I didn’t stop for photos and maintained a 28-minute mile hiking pace for the remaining two miles. At one point, however, I came across a young girl and her older sister (or very young mother) blocking the trail. They were so engrossed in their conversation they didn’t hear me coming. I stopped when I got to them and just stood there silently. After about ten or 15 seconds, the younger one finally noticed me. With a shriek, she jumped off the trail, startling her companion into doing likewise. I hiked past without a word.

It was hilarious! And, I admit, a little mean. But still…hilarious! I was still laughing on the drive home.

In all, I hiked 4.27 miles with 478’ of elevation gain while carrying an 11-pound pack. Total hike time was 2:14:35, including stops for photos and a quick visit to the blue room. Total moving time (1:55:02) is as follows:

Mile 1: 29:34/106′ elevation gain
Mile 2: 29:17/124′ elevation gain
Mile 3: 28:52/105′ elevation gain
Mile 4: 27:19/81′ elevation gain

Average hiking pace: 28:45/mile; 2.15 mph.

Trail rating*: 64, or moderate, if you hike the trail twice and also hike up the long, steep hill from the beach to the first parking lot, which adds 81 feet of elevation gain. Four Cedars Trail by itself is only 1.98 miles and 200’ of elevation gain, giving it a score of 28, which is an easy hike.

I don’t think the pack weight affected me; it was really too light for me to even notice. Next time, I’d like to carry my regular backpack. My only concern is being stopped by park rangers who might question my intentions. However, I think it would be easy enough to explain it as a training hike, especially if my backpack contained only gallon jugs of water.  At 8.34 pounds per gallon, three would easily replicate the weight of a loaded backpack, including the weight of the backpack itself and my water bottle or bladder.


This is a great place for a day hike without having to leave the city. Just be sure to come early on the weekends during the summer months because the park fills up early and Rangers won’t let anyone in until someone leaves. Also, you need an annual Discover Pass, which you can purchase at just about any sporting goods store. You can also purchase day or annual passes on site at the automated station. If you’re going to visit any Washington state park more than once, the annual pass is the better deal.

Tolmie State Park is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

*More about trail ratings.