Hiking the Mima Falls Loop in Washington’s Capitol State Forest (2021)
In the southeast corner of Capitol State Forest is a small (but beautiful) waterfall called Mima Falls. There are numerous ways to get to it, but one of my favorites is the Mima Falls Loop.
It’s the first hike I ever experienced in the pacific northwest and is one of the reasons I now call Washington home. It’s not the most scenic trail in the state, but it is a great place to enjoy the greenery and scenery of the PNW any time of year while keeping your body moving.
The Mima Falls Loop is an easy to moderate hike about an hour and a half south of Seattle, making it an excellent day trip whether you live in the area or are just visiting.
Along the trail, you’ll experience a small waterfall, various types of trees, mushrooms galore, and a short but fun adventure.
Pro-tip: If you’re looking for an out and back trail or are short on time, the Mima Falls East trail is easier, shorter (at 4.7 miles), and leads to the same waterfall. Instead of continuing on to the rest of the loop, simply turn around once you get to the falls and go back the way you came.
Mima Falls Loop Info & Highlights
- Type: Loop
- Length: 6.6 miles
- Elevation Gain: 915 ft
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Time Required: 3 – 4 hours
- Required Pass: Discover Pass
- Location: Capital State Forest
- Pet-Friendly: Yes, dogs must be on a leash
- Alltrails Link: Open the map
This trailhead is close to a shooting range, so you may hear frequent shots ring out at the beginning and end of your hike. There’s also a lot of horse poo along the trail so watch your step!
The trail can also get very muddy and a bit slippery due to rain and overall wet conditions.
Note: The trail is accessible for horses and motorized vehicles for part of the year, so make sure to watch out for that and always give them the right-of-way since they’re traveling faster than you.
Our Experiences – Nov. 2020 and Jan. 2021
We actually did this hike twice. The first time (November 2020), we were visiting Washington with the idea of moving up here from Kansas. During this hike, we actually got lost and ended up hiking an extra five miles on a pretty tough trail.
Check out the Alltrails map below (waypoint 3) to see exactly where we messed up!
We didn’t realize we were supposed to turn around after reaching Mima Falls (so don’t forget to do that!). Instead, we kept going on the Mima Falls West trail and before we knew it, we were up above the clouds. It was definitely a stunning view but waaaay more difficult than the actual loop.
☝️ The sight we weren’t supposed to see! *insert crying laughing emoji. If you’d like to see it for yourself, keep following Mima Falls West beyond the falls (approximately 2.5 more miles) for an intense uphill hike with stunning views above the clouds. You can turn back around whenever you’re ready to finish out the rest of the loop and get back to where you started.
After moving to Washington on January 1, we decided to go back and do the full loop (instead of getting lost). Unfortunately, part of the Campground trail was closed for active logging.
According to recent reviews, the trail is back open as of January 28, 2021.
There were a decent number of people, but not so many that it ruined our experience. Plus, most were wearing masks or at least pulled them up when we crossed paths. There were also several groups of equestrians on the trail as well, which explains all the fresh horse poo.
What to Take With You: My Top Gear Recommendations
This 6.6-mile day hike is short and sweet. But that doesn’t mean you should hit the trail unprepared. Here are my top gear recommendations for short hikes in Washington:
- Waterproof hiking boots: this trail gets a lot of moisture and tends to be pretty muddy (especially in the winter), so waterproof hiking boots are highly recommended. I personally wear Merrel’s Ontario Mid waterproof boots, and my boyfriend wears Danner’s Mountain 600 full-grain leather boots.
- Weather-appropriate clothing: during the rainy season, it starts out cold and can get pretty warm as you start moving around. This is especially true on a sunny day, so it’s important to wear layers that you can peel off as you go. You should also always be prepared for afternoon showers. I love my Columbia Arcadia jacket in the summer and my Roxy Billie jacket when it’s cold.
- Day pack: for shorter hikes, you can use any backpack you have. But you’ll be much better off (and have a better time) using a hiking-specific pack that fits wells. You definitely don’t need anything fancy & you can snag an excellent daypack for less than $100 (a few of our recommendations are even less than $25!).
- Water: since this hike is pretty short, you don’t need a lot of water. We took about 64 oz and that was more than enough for the two of us. You can either fill up your day pack bladder or snag a reusable water bottle and put it in your side pouch.
- Snackage: we didn’t end up eating anything while we were hiking, but it’s always smart to pack a few protein bars or another high-protein snack.
- A camera: I use my iPhone 11 and it works GREAT. It has an amazing camera and takes up virtually no space. Plus, you can use it to navigate the trail so you don’t get lost like we did 😉
Getting to the Mima Falls Loop Trailhead
The Mima Falls Loop trailhead is about an hour and a half from Seattle, an hour and fifteen minutes from Sea-Tac airport, and an hour and 50 minutes from Portland.
From Seattle and Sea-Tac airport, you’ll head south on I5 and take exit 95 Maytown Road SW. From there, you’ll turn left on Mima Road, right on Bordeaux, then right on Marksman Road. This leads you directly to both parking lots.
From Portland, you’ll follow the same route, except you’ll be going north on I5 to exit 95 Maytown Road SW.
- Trailhead coordinates: 46.9027, -123.06221
- Parking: there are two parking lots, an upper and a lower
- Facilities: Yes, there’s a bathroom near the trailhead
- Park pass: Discover Pass
A Discover Pass is required to park in both lots and you can’t buy one at the trailhead. However, you can snag one at most grocery stores on your way there, or buy one online and write your transaction number on a piece of paper to leave on your dash.
Day passes are $10 and annual passes are $35.
Note: Cell-phone reception is spotty on the way out, particularly after you get off the highway. But, my phone had no problem giving us directions all the way to the trailhead.
Mima Falls Loop Map & Waypoints
There are several junctions along the way, but the trail is pretty easy to follow. I’ve noted where we ran into issues (getting lost and the trail being closed), which way to go at each junction, and how to add a bit more mileage to your hike if you’re up for a longer adventure.
At the first junction (waypoint 4), you can go either way. The left route (Mima Falls East) is a quicker route to the falls, but it really doesn’t matter.
Going clockwise, you’ll start on Mima Falls East. You’ll follow it until you get to the Mima Falls West and Mima Falls Tie junction (waypoint 5). To see the falls, follow the Mima Falls West trail until you find the picnic table (waypoint 1). From there, it’s a short 30-second walk down to the falls.
After that, you’ll turn around and head back to the junction, taking the Mima Falls Tie until you get to the next junction (waypoint 6).
From there, continue on the Campground trail until you’re back to the beginning.
Want to Add More Mileage?
There are a few options. You can either continue hiking on Mima Falls West after the waterfall (instead of turning around) or take the McKenny Trail and Equestrian Loop which starts/ends at waypoints 6 and 7.
If you continue going along Mima Falls West, it gets more difficult with steeper inclines but you do hit some AMAZING clearings with great views.
Whenever you’re ready, you can turn around and head back to the loop so you can add as much or as little to your hike as you’d like.
What to Expect When Hiking Mima Falls Loop
Our experiences hiking the trail were amazing, despite the small mishap of getting lost. 😂
With that said, the trail is really well maintained so you don’t have to worry about getting lost as long as you remember to turn around after you see the falls.
If you park in the lower lot (we didn’t know about the upper lot), there’s quite a bit of incline at the very beginning but it’s a pretty short stint. From there, the trail levels out and you get a nice gradual incline/decline for the most part.
There’s also a decent decline for a hundred feet or so heading down to the falls.
But it’s definitely manageable and there are a ton of trees and rocks to hold onto as you make your way down.
The falls are nothing to write home about, but it’s a pretty sight and a nice place to relax for a while if it’s not too crowded.
You can even go for a little swim if you’re feeling adventurous on a nice day! We decided not to since it was in the 40’s and the water was VERY cold, but I imagine it’s a fantastic way to cool down in the summer.
The eastern portion of the loop is definitely more challenging, but it’s nothing too difficult or tiresome. We thoroughly enjoyed the slight elevation changes as well as all the plants, trees, and mushrooms along the trail.
Combined, they make for an excellent beginner-friendly hike through the forest.
Don’t forget to take a break and revel in the sunshine (if the sun’s out) peeking through the trees as you wind your way back to where you started!
Leave No Trace & Trail Etiquette
As with any hiking trail, there are regulations in place to keep you safe and protect the plants/wildlife you experience on the trail. From what we saw, this trail is very clean with minimal trash, so please do your part in keeping it that way.
Here are a few tips to minimize your impact and maximize your experience:
- If you bring something in with you, be sure to take it out with you
- Say “hello” and be friendly with other hikers on the trail
- Give horses and motorized vehicles right-of-way
- Wear your mask (over your nose AND mouth) when close to others
- Be conscious of social distancing
- Stay on the trail to preserve vegetation, trees, and plants
- Don’t feed or interact with wildlife
- Keep your pets on a leash
- Pick up trash if you see any to leave the trail better than you found it
- Use the restrooms provided at the trailhead
Places to Stay in and Around Capitol State Forest
Just stopping by? There are plenty of places to stay nearby, including several camping areas (may be closed due to COVID) within walking distance and various hotels approximately 20 minutes away in Tumwater and Olympia (our home base, woot woooooot!).
There are also a few RV parks off of I5 near Tumwater and Olympia.
You can camp in Margaret McKenny campground, Middle Waddel campground, Porter Creek campground, and Fall Creek campground. However, keep in mind that all Capitol State Forest campgrounds are closed from November 1st to April 30th for the winter season.
If you plan to camp nearby, check out our list of car camping essentials!
Other Things to Do Nearby
There are various hiking trails in Capitol State Forest, including three separate trail systems: McClane Creek, Fall Creek, and North Slope.
So far, this is the only hike we’ve done in the area.
The Mima Mounds preserve is also nearby, with a handful of short walking trails to see the Mima Mounds.
Looking for More Washington Trails?
- Twin Falls Trail – Moderate (1.5 hours away in Olallie State Park)
- Maaaany more to come!
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We’ll talk soon! Until then,