The Best Mountain Biking Trails in Washington

Make tracks to Olympia, where some of the state’s best trails await
ROLLING ON A RIVER: A mountain biker on the Wedekind Trail, good for intermediate riders

This article appears in print in the June 2018 issue, as part of the "85 Best Outdoor Adventures" cover story. Click here to subscribe.

Who knew such great mountain biking existed just south of the state capital? Knobby-tire aficionados will appreciate the 166 miles of single-track and 575 miles of gravel road within this 150-square-mile state forest managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Spend an hour, spend a day: You’ll never have to ride the same trail twice.

What we know as the Capitol State Forest today is rooted in the frontier days. The first timber claims were made during the 1870s, and the forest became a major logging operation thereafter. Devastating fires ravaged the forest for decades, and in 1938, state officials closed it to the public and brought in the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant 7 million seedlings. Seventeen years later, the state reopened the gates to the public, and recreationists have been sharing it with commercial loggers ever since. The very fact that “multiple uses” are allowed in this working forest on the outskirts of Olympia makes access by mountain bike possible. National and state parks typically don’t allow bikes on their trails, but the Capitol forest is neither, as it’s owned by “We the People” of Washington and managed by the DNR. With mountain bikes welcome across more than 15 intersecting trails, the Capitol State Forest has become a mecca for riders of all levels from all over the state.

If you haven’t done much trail riding, try the Mima Falls West Trail (4 miles), which takes you through verdant second-growth lowlands to lovely Mima Falls, a gushing 25-foot waterfall that makes for a lovely picnic stop. The South Divide (2.9 miles) and Greenline Tie (1.4 miles) trails are also easy for beginners or those looking for gentle rolling starts.

Intermediate riders will appreciate dropping into the Lost Valley Loop (10 miles), which cuts through a long, lush canyon on its way past Mima Falls and onto the McKenny Trail. Departing from the Fall Creek trailhead, most riders take it counterclockwise, which makes for a slow and steady ascent followed by a fast and furious downhill finale. Another good choice for a moderate challenge is the Wedekind Trail (6 miles), a thigh burner that gains 1,400 feet in elevation over a mostly uphill climb with rewarding peekaboo views through the forest along the way.

Once you’ve got your feet wet, it’s time to tackle the Capitol State Forest’s premier single-track trail, Greenline No. 6 (6 miles). Most riders take it downhill from the Capitol Peak trailhead; a series of switchbacks and roots keep riders honest. A few unwelcome uphill grunts make sure the heart is pumping, and some rolling downhill through clear-cuts yields fabulous views of Mount Rainier, the Deschutes River Valley, Mount St. Helens and even Mount Adams on a bluebird day. Take a break to drink in the view, because the merciless “Roots of Fury” section is up next, followed by the swift “Luge” run to close things out at the Fall Creek day-use area. Another more advanced ride worth checking off the bucket list is the Crestline Trail (3.9 miles), which offers a nice mix of heart-popping ascents connected by roller-coaster downhills.

Follow Interstate 5 toward Olympia and take exit 104 onto U.S. Highway 101 north. Follow it for 1.4 miles to the Black Lake Boulevard exit. Take Black Lake Boulevard SW for 3.6 miles as it turns into 62nd Avenue SW. Turn left onto Delphi Road SW. After 2.2 miles, turn right onto Waddell Creek Road SW and after 2.7 miles, bear right onto Sherman Valley Road. In 1.4 miles, turn left on Capitol Peak Road, which leads into the Capitol State Forest. You’ll need a Discover Pass to park in the Capitol Forest.

Related Content

Convenient trips are becoming increasingly popular

Take a flight, rent a van, learn a survival skill

Take a flight, rent a van, learn a survival skill

Sometimes the Garden Island needs watering, but that’s OK—there’s no wrong way to experience paradise

Tour some of the state’s most scenic falls on a weekend jaunt full of mist, moss and spruced-up photo ops