At the base of the Puget Sound, where roads connect you to Portland, the Washington Coast, Olympic National Park and Highway 101, there is an overlooked and incredible forest waiting for you to explore. Known as Rock Candy Mountain, this destination offers a unique trail system that is a great spot for outdoor recreation enthusiasts who are looking for fantastic trails, stellar views and a dose of nature. Found just 15-minutes west of Olympia, Rock Candy – the 2,355-foot peak in Capitol State Forest – is quietly becoming a local favorite for all styles of outdoor recreation.
Rock Candy Mountain, which is the third tallest peak in the Capitol State Forest and the fifth highest named peak in Thurston County, has more than just a great view. On your way up and down, you’ll weave through stunning stands of trees, tall ferns and countless streams – the perfect combination of nature in the PNW. At the top of Rock Candy, you can see the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, making this a scenic spot to enjoy before retreating back down to the parking area. In the winter, visitors will find some snow, while the summer and fall months are warm and mostly dry. Like most trails in the region, the ground will be muddy and slick during the rainy months, but the mud and puddles are also part of the fun. While the remnants of logging can still be seen, the region is growing quickly, becoming wilder with every season.
Sections of the trails and roads weaving around the mountain are beautiful, standing as a testament to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t hiked, run or biked the area, check it out. Locals love the region for multi-use recreation as it welcomes bike, foot and ATV users. No matter how you explore the area, you too will be saying how much Rock Candy rocks.
Capitol State Forest is a gem of public lands and while you more than likely haven’t explored it, it should be celebrated around the state, as it provides multi-use activities for hikers, mountain bikers and those who ride motorized vehicles. The state forest has nearly 100 miles of trails that are open to motorized use, including the Rock Candy region. Open from May 1 to November 30 for motorized vehicles, the roads and routes around Rock Candy are a blast and need to be ridden. Full of dirt trails, thick forests and logged-out regions, these hills easily offer a full day of fun for all ages. On a motorized vehicle, the entire forest is accessible from Rock Candy, making this the closest and best option for starting a day long ride. We highly recommend the Rock Candy-Waddel Basin West-Twin Peaks-Larch Mountain-North Rim Loop, as it takes you to some of the highest elevation, puts in serious miles and lets you explore some ridiculously rad roads.
Hikers have been coming to Rock Candy in recent years, helping fuel the transition to recreation and fixing the reputation of Capitol State Forest. The seemingly endless acres of forest land have now become a nature destination close to the growing regions of the South Puget Sound. As the area continues to grow, both in population and in age of forest, Rock Candy and Capitol State Forest will become even more beautiful, popular and fun for outdoor recreation for the entire family.
Mountain bikers love riding at Rock Candy, accessing it from the more bike-friendly routes that start at the Porter Creek entrance, located along Highway 12 and the Chehalis River in Grays Harbor. Thanks to its proximity to Olympia, Rock Candy is seeing an influx in bike riders and the reports coming out of the trails are stellar, full of great riding and fun days. Keep in mind that if you want to mountain bike Rock Candy, do so from the western side of Capitol Forest, starting from the previously mentioned areas, otherwise you will have to maneuver around motorbike traffic.
While exploring Rock Candy is fun on wheels, trail runners around the state are flocking to the area, running the great trails and getting some serious elevation on their legs. The area is quite popular with the local Strava running group with The Outdoor Society. Many members create routes and post pictures from their adventures on the group’s Strava App page. For some, the route was a training ground for running Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. For others, it is a fun challenge and a place to enjoy time in nature.
For Brandon Barnes, a runner from West Olympia, Rock Candy is his go-to run because the climbing starts right out of the gate and doesn’t let up until you’re on the way back to the car. There is no warm up, just all work to the top of the mountain.
Barnes compares the run to a mullet hairstyle: “Rock Candy is business in the front and party in the rear, because you get right down to business as soon as you start,” Brandon laughs. “But, man, you can really cruise and have some fun on the way back down.”
To plan your trip and find inspiration on area restaurants and lodging, visit ExperienceOlympia.com.