Make an afternoon of paralleling the spawning salmon run from downtown Olympia to Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls while enjoying the scenery and taking advantage of prime photography opportunities along the route. Every fall, Chinook salmon instinctively return from the Pacific Ocean through Puget Sound and up the connecting rivers and streams. We are very lucky that we can get a glimpse of that migration in Olympia and in Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls. Grab your favorite walking shoes and pack the kids in the stroller to follow the salmon. The three-mile walk from Capitol Lake to the falls is all paved, family-friendly and has great photo-ops along the way.

Olympia Salmon Runs
From the 5th Avenue bridge wooden walkway, peer down into the water and see hatchery Chinook salmon preparing to climb the fish ladder into Capitol Lake and make their way up to Tumwater Falls. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Viewing Salmon at the 5th Avenue Dam in Olympia

A good place to start is the 5th Avenue Bridge in downtown Olympia. From the wooden walkway over the dam, peer down into the water and see hatchery Chinook salmon prepping to climb the fish ladder into Capitol Lake and make their way up to Tumwater Falls. The salmon you see gathering below will swim through Capitol Lake, returning after having been gone 18 months to several years, growing stronger and bigger in the open ocean and Puget Sound.

Seasonal Stream Team pamphlets and laminated posters along the view bridge are great resources to learn more about salmon species on site. It’s amazing to consider they stop eating and devote all of their energy toward getting upstream to spawn. No matter how far they swam, they are thought to follow the sun, smell or possibly the earth’s magnetic field back to the exact stream from which they began.

Take the crosswalk south toward Capitol Lake and take note of great photo opportunities of the Capitol dome with the water in the foreground. Birds are frequent visitors, and even otters sometimes show themselves at the lake. The curvature of the lake wall, quaint lamp posts and benches are nice photo details too.

Olympia Salmon Runs
At Capitol Lake Interpretive Center, you’ll find restrooms and a scenic wooden dock that overlooks the lake where ducks frequent the area. Take caution, as the dock has no railing. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Following the Salmon Path Along Capitol Lake and up to Tumwater Falls

Take up your comfortable walking pace along the paved sidewalk that runs the perimeter of Capitol Lake along Deschutes Parkway. Restrooms are available at Marathon Park on the south side. At Capitol Lake Interpretive Center, you’ll find restrooms again and the next leg of your journey. A scenic wooden dock overlooks the lake there, and ducks frequent the area. Take caution, as the dock has no railing. Follow the paved pathway that diverts east from Deschutes Parkway under the Interstate-5 bridge to emerge at Tumwater Historical Park, where there are more restrooms and a playground.

From the grassy area near the Deschutes River, take a look across the water at the historic Olympia Brewery building. If the afternoon light is behind you, it should be unshaded and ready to have its picture taken. As you head south out of Tumwater Historical Park, follow Simmons Lane up the wooded hill with the river on your left and Deschutes Parkway on your right. Be on the watch for water views, wildlife or beautiful greenery along the walk. Joining the riverside trail means closer views of water and bridges both underfoot and overhead.

Olympia Salmon Runs
Tumwater Historical Park is a great place to look for salmon headed upstream and a good nature photography setting. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Photo Opportunities in Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls

Tumwater Falls cascades over an old dam and down through Deschutes River boulders surrounded by Pacific Northwest vegetation, and it’s all very picturesque. Many photo opportunities present themselves along the riverside trail. Impressive stonework installations are good photo spots, and Brewery Park has many pieces from Tenino Stone Carvers artisans. A stone half-wall by the visitor center is great for group photos or portraits, and carvings with the Olympia Beer logo commemorate the historic location.

Olympia Salmon Runs
From Tumwater Historic Park, the old Olympia Brewery building is visible and makes for creative photo opportunities. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Salmon at Tumwater Falls Hatchery

While the salmon have climbed three previous fish ladders, you can finish the hatchery Chinook salmon journey as you walk right over the length of the last ladder all the way to the viewing windows. Around the middle of September, you should be able to see salmon before they reach the holding tanks. Tumwater Falls Hatchery workers will then sort them for egg collection and fertilization of new salmon eggs to start the cycle over again. Catch a glimpse of this process in mid-September on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings through early October.

“It’s great for the public to understand how the salmon cycle works, how their life cycle works, where they’ve been, what they come back to, to understand the species and how they function,” says Lee Pilon, hatchery specialist at Tumwater Falls Hatchery.

Having made part of the salmon run and collected great photos, the return journey to downtown Olympia can be made by either backtracking or via public transportation from Capitol Boulevard adjacent to Brewery Park. Take advantage of the easy-access locations to see the salmon return this fall.

For more information about things to see and do in the Olympia area, please visit the Experience Olympia & Beyond website.