Gerry at Nisqually Estuary Trail

Staying in Olympia

We’re mixing house-swaps with touring and in-between we hope to do a lot of hiking. We arrived a few days ago at SeaTac international airport, after our flight from Paris. We needed a day of nothing to get over the travel and the jetlag and I’m going to do some research into how to make that easier! Our first home swap is on the edge of the town of Olympia and it’s a beautiful home, surrounded by trees and only a hop and a skip away from the water.

We’ve been shopping and there was much excitement as we parked beside Wells Fargo Bank and bought our groceries at Trader Joe’s. To American’s these just seem like normal everyday things but for us it’s the stuff of Movies; I wonder if red phone boxes and the Eiffel tower have the same effect on our friends on this side of the Atlantic? Travel is a funny old thing isn’t it!

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

For our first trip out we decided to visit the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. It’s only a few kilometres from our home in Olympia so a good choice for two old duffers, still grappling with jet lag! The refuge is located where the freshwater of the Nisqually River meets the salt water of the Puget Sound. Here you’ll discover a host of different habitats throughout the river delta, which provides the perfect conditions for a host of different wildlife.

I’d seen photos of some of the walking areas on TripAdvisor but we weren’t quite sure what to expect and subsequently we were blown away by the sheer scale of the boardwalks.

We follow the signs from the motorway to the parking area where you’ll also find a small visitors centre. You pay for your ticket at a small booth outside beside the large map, and you can also purchase a small map to take with you. We had the same information on our phone but if you don’t have a smartphone then buy the map as it shows how all the various trails join.

Two Hours of Walking Trails

We followed the markers away form the Visitor Centre and out into the forest. We had no plan and we had all afternoon so we hoped to discover as many of the trails as possible. There are around 6 kilometres of paths but as we walked ‘there and back’ on a few of the trails, I am guessing we walked close to 10 kilometres today. However, you can take a much shorter route to the Estuary Trail, which is the main attraction and the path is suitable for everyone!

At the start we were kind of ‘mmmm’ as the trail meandered through a forest, because it’s not far from the motorway and the road noise was kind of distracting. But, the more you wander the more you lose yourself to the forest and the water and the sound of the birds and the trees. Information boards provide a history lesson to the Nisqually Tribe that have lived in this area and it wasn’t long before we were captivated by this beautiful refuge. Reading about the history of the area, we were reminded of the Pequot Museum we visited years earlier whilst on holiday in Massachusetts.

The Nisqually Tribe have lived in this area for over 10,000 years and their lands reached as far as Mount Rainier. With the arrival of European settlers their land and their way of life was forever changed. According to legend, the Squalli-absch (ancestors of the modern Nisqually Indian Tribe), came north from the Great Basin, crossing the Cascade Mountain Range. They are a fishing people and the local salmon forms a large part of the diet and culture.

The Nisqually Estuary Trail

We continued walking, and eventually we walked our of the forest and onto the main Estuary Trail. As we walked we spotted a Bald Eagle, later we were be shown another with her young son. That was a real highlight for us!

Today the tide was out but there was no shortage of birds, digging in the soft muddy sand for a tasty treat. We walked along the giant boardwalks, reading all the information signs and searching for birds or flowers or wildlife. I couldn’t help but compare these wooden paths to the boardwalks along the Portuguese Camino, but these were much bigger and such an incredible feat of engineering.

When you reach the end there is a small seating area and we started talking to a guy who visited here often to observe the birds. He had a great pair of binoculars and gave us a little lesson in spotting wildlife and pointed out the mother and son eagles. He suggested we come back when the tide is in as it will be very different and he said it’s spectacular at sunrise or sunset. Sadly, we never did manage a return visit and I am so sad about that, it’s a glorious place to spend a few peaceful hours in nature, and to learn about the ancient history of the people who once called this area home.

Today was the best introduction to the Pacific Northwest and the beautiful waters of Puget Sound.

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