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Hike of the Week for Friday, December 16, 2011

Priest Point Park

Make it your mission to hike this park

Article and photo by Craig Romano

Priest Point
The beaches and forests of Priest Point remain
much the way they did when Father Ricard
established his mission here in 1848.

Quick Facts

Location: Olympia, Washington

Land Agency: City of Olympia Parks and Recreation

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 350 feet

Notes: Dogs must be on a leash.

Access: From I-5 take Exit 105B to Plum Street. Continue north passing 4th Ave to where Plum Street becomes East Bay Drive. Follow East Bay Drive for 1.5 miles turning right into Priest Point Park. Proceed .2 mile turning left onto a bridge over East Bay Drive and reaching a parking lot shortly afterward.

Contact: City of Olympia; www.olympiawa.gov/community/parks

The Ellis Cove Trail begins a short distance north of the parking lot. Follow a sidewalk to the trailhead kiosk. While this hike is fairly short, you can easily spend all day roaming this 300-plus acre park. Rife with history and natural beauty, you’ll want to linger at its interpretive displays, old growth forests and quiet Budd Inlet beaches.

In 1848, Father Pascal Ricard built a mission near Ellis Cove, just north of what is now the city of Olympia. His aim was to convert the Squaxin people to Christianity. Many of the Squaxin people succumbed to disease and were forced to relocate to an island farther up Budd Inlet. Father Ricard's mission succumbed to obscurity, yielding to a new metropolis to be named for the fabled home of the Greek Gods.

Ironically, the point of land now named for Father Ricard, still bears some semblance to the way it appeared over160 years ago. Long after Father Ricard left the area and long before the reaches of Olympia extended beyond West Bay, some far-sighted people convinced the city to establish a park at this historic point. In 1905 Priest Point became Olympia's first city park, and I would add its finest. With limited development and an emphasis on preservation, Priest Point resembles a state park more than a city park. It consists primarily of forest containing huge 100-plus year-old maples, cedars and firs and stately madronas. The understory is lush. Today, Priest Point is a green swath of natural beauty on the fringe of urban sprawl.

There are several miles of trails within the park. This lollipop loop is a great way to begin your explorations. Follow the trail down into a deep ravine and then back up coming to a viewpoint and a junction shortly afterwards. Continue straight, dropping down to round Ellis Cove on a big boardwalk. At .6 miles reach a junction with a mossy bear-carved sign pointing directions. You’ll be retuning on the right, so continue left soon coming to a nice beach on Ellis Cove.

Explore the beach or continue—climbing up a bluff and staying left at the next junction. Meander through stately forest and come to another junction. The spur left drops down to the beach. Take the second trail right and once again descend into a cool ravine. Here you’ll come upon another junction. The trail left provides yet another access point to the beach. Explore it if you desire or continue right to complete the loop. At a junction stay straight and reach the main trail by the bear sign a little way beyond. Turn left to return to your vehicle.

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