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Rock Candy Trailhead - Capitol State Forest

Our Hiking Time: 2h 30m
Total Ascent: 1000ft
Highest Point: 1500ft
Total Distance: 5.5 miles
Location: N 47° 1.902, W 123° 5.592
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoWhile snow will continue to keep many hikes out of reach for months to come, there are still plenty of low elevation hikes that can be accessed right now. A few weekends ago we found some time to head out to Capitol State Forest to explore some of the many trails in the area. We only had a chance to see a small portion of Capitol State Forest, but we saw enough that we'll definitely be back to see other sections of this sprawling forest.

Logging and the lumber industry loom large in the story of Capitol State Forest. Loggers have been knocking down its trees since the 1870s, back when this area of the country was still called the Washington Territory. Railroads and logging companies worked at a breakneck pace, chopping down forest as rapidly as possible, practices that ended up resulting in a series of forest fires that cleared tens of thousands of acres of vegetation. By 1933, the situation had become so dire that the legislature stepped in and purchased over 50,000 acres of what would become the Capitol State Forest to be managed as a commercial forest. In order to rehabilitate the land, the public was kept out of the area and the Civilian Conservation Corps was called in to plant millions of seedlings between 1938 and 1942.

By 1955 the area had recovered enough to allow public access and a long tradition of recreation in this managed forest began. Since that time, Capitol State Forest has only expanded, now boasting more than 90,000 acres and offering a wide variety of recreational resources. Riddled with forest roads, trails, and former railroad beds, Capitol State Forest attracts hikers, trail runners, campers, mountain bikers and off-road vehicle riders. Since 1975, the trails have been divided between motorized recreational use in the north half of the forest, and non-motorized recreation in the south to minimize interactions between equestrians and off-road vehicles. Today, Capitol State Forest hosts more than 800,000 visitors a year, and offers a little something for everyone.

This loop begins directly across the road from the Rock Candy  Trailhead parking lot, following the well maintained North Rim Trail into the woods. Continue along the wide trail for a few tenths of a mile to the junction with the Rock Candy Mountain Trail. Avoid the temptation to wander across the bridge, you’ll end up there at the end of the hike. For now, head right on the North Rim Trail as it begins its climb up the mountainside. The forest along the trail is fairly young, and evidence of recent logging is never too far off. As you press upwards the trail steepens and beings to switchback up to the shoulders of Rock Candy Mountain, ultimately reaching a forest road known as Army Road. This is the highest point on this loop, though there is little scenery to enjoy, recent logging activity has provided a view of the Black Hills to the south. Head left along Army Road to the Army Road Tie Trail and the shelter of the forest. Find the Rock Candy Mountain Trail almost immediately and follow it back to the trailhead.

While there isn’t anything particularly spectacular to see along this hike, this little loop is a decent winter option and is a great introduction to Capitol State Forest. These trails do see a lot of off-road vehicle traffic during the summer months, but they’re closed to motorized vehicles from November to May, making this a good time of year to do a little exploring. If you’re looking to expand on this route, the Department of Natural Resources offers a decent map to help you navigate the trails. If you haven’t given Capitol State Forest a visit, give this loop a try this weekend.

To get there, take I-5 South to Olympia and take Exit 104 onto US 101 North. Continue on US 101 North as it merges into US 8 after 6 miles. Take US 8 for 4.7 miles to Rock Candy Mountain Road. Turn left and follow the road a few tenths of a mile to the Rock Candy Trailhead and parking area. -Nathan

Download Capitol Sate Forest Trail Map

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Rock Candy


Don Strate said...

Came out Easter weekend with Sasha to get a little hiking in. It poured rain on Saturday so we eventually turned back after we were both soaked and it just kept raining harder. Tried again Sunday, this time it was beautiful weather and we made it quite a bit farther but the steepness of the trail eventually beat me so we didn't make it to the top but had a delightful day. Thanks for giving us a great reason to explore here.

Jer said...

Hi Don, I'm glad you enjoyed the trail and way to persevere and hike it again after some ugly weather! -Jer

RBlinzler said...

I would urge strong caution for anyone who is considering this hike. It is very poorly marked and we were informed, afterwards, the recent flooding was a factor in the poor signage.

We planned for a 2.5 hour hike, but had extra water, no flashlight and did not carry a map. Most of the cross paths and roads we came upon were unmarked. After nearly 4 hours of hiking we came upon a sign that indicated the closest point was 9 miles away and we were already running out of daylight.

We eventually had to call 911 and it was the Sheriff's deputy who informed us about the flooding and the fact that it had become a matter of routine for him to rescue hikers in that area.

Ginger+one said...

This is such a great resource!! I'm new to Wa. and I'm so glad I found your site. You should write a book!

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