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Every fall, Chinook salmon instinctively return from the Pacific Ocean, through Puget Sound and up the connecting rivers and streams. One spot to get a great glimpse of that process is in nearby Olympia. Make an afternoon of paralleling the spawning salmon along a paved, urban hike while enjoying scenery and taking advantage of prime photography opportunities. Grab your favorite walking shoes, pack the kids in the stroller and your day bag to follow the salmon. The three-mile walk down from Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls to Capitol Lake is all paved, family friendly and has great pauses for photography along the way.

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

Salmon Egg Harvesting at Tumwater Falls Hatchery

Start your journey at what is the terminus for Chinook hatchery salmon. See where tiny fry left the Tumwater Falls Hatchery holding pools at Brewery Park. You can follow the path they took to the 5th Avenue dam where they commenced their 1- to 5-year excursion through Puget Sound, into the Pacific Ocean and on to Alaska. Furthermore, you’ll possibly see other species such as pink, coho and chum salmon along with harbor seals and blue heron at the dam.

Returning Chinook originally came from eggs collected at Tumwater Falls Hatchery, which happens annually when the new cycle of salmon return. Hatchery workers sort them for the egg collection and fertilization of new salmon eggs to start the cycle over again. Catch a glimpse of this mid-September on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings through early October.

Following the salmon run along Capitol Lake in Olympia also means many opportunities for photography. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Following the Salmon Run to Downtown Olympia

As you head north out of Brewery Park, connect with Simmons Lane down the wooded hill with the river on your right and Deschutes Parkway on your left. When you reach the bottom of the slope at Tumwater Historical Park, you will find public 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.

Head north towards the Interstate-5 bridge and take up your comfortable walking pace along the paved path running under the freeway and along the river. Continue on to Capitol Lake Interpretive Center to find more restrooms and a picturesque dock where the ducks hang out. Take caution as the dock has no railing. Next, walk along the perimeter of Capitol Lake on Deschutes Parkway. Great photo opportunities of the Capitol dome towering over the lakeside forest should be noted. Restrooms are available again at Marathon Park on the south side of Capitol Lake.

Chinook salmon gather at the 5th Avenue dam in Olympia where they dodge seals and herons to muster up strength to jump through the ladder into Capitol Lake. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Viewing Salmon at the 5th Avenue Dam in Olympia

As you near 5th Avenue and pass along the lake, this is a great opportunity to take some great photos of the capitol building with the water in the foreground. Curvature of the lake wall, quaint lamp posts and benches are nice details. With birds as frequent visitors and even otters sometimes showing themselves at the lake, a zoom lens might be helpful.

Cross 5th Avenue to the bridge, dam and wooden pedestrian viewing bridge. Seasonal Stream Team pamphlets and laminated posters along the bridge are great resources to learn more about salmon species on site.

Herons waiting to eat fish at the Olympia 5th Avenue dam often sit still enough for their photos to be taken. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

From the wooden walkway, peer down and see hatchery Chinook salmon gathering, prepping to climb the ladder into Capitol Lake and make their way up to Tumwater Falls. The salmon you see gathering to pass through Capitol Lake are several years old, having spent time in the ocean and the Puget Sound.

Having followed part of the salmon run and collected great photos, the return journey to Brewery Park can be made by either backtracking or via public transportation.

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

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