Trail Report: A Hike through Millersylvania State Park
Downed trees and limbs on a slippery, snowy trail couldn’t keep us from enjoying an afternoon hike eight miles south of Olympia, Washington in Millersylvania State Park. We explored the shoreline of Deep Lake, traversed an icy boardwalk over marshy land, and wandered in and out of forested areas for a total of five miles.
Abundant with wildlife history, Millersylvania State Park was willed to the state of Washington in 1921 upon the death of Frederick J.X. of the Miller family. The Miller family originally named the property “Miller’s Glade” but later changed it to “Millersylvania” which means “wooded glade.” Frederick’s will stipulated that the park be named “Millersylvania Park.”
Opened in 1924, many of the park’s features — trails, roads, picnic shelters, and more — were constructed by a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. Established in the park in 1933, the CCC camp finished construction in 1940, and the majority of those buildings remain today. Due to the well preserved CCC landscape, the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
Temperatures hovered just above freezing, with partly cloudy skies and a welcome break from snow. We were fortunate to be greeted by a park ranger, who shared a wealth of knowledge about the park’s history, trails, and wildlife. Armed with this information and a delight for the pleasant weather, we set off for the trail head.
Beginning along the shore of Deep Lake, the trail wound through picnic and day use areas. We watched as cormorants took breaks from fishing and rested on the buoy lines on the lake.
Ducks drifted effortlessly on the water’s surface while geese noisily announced their arrival by air. The ground was very wet from recent snowmelt. Red-breasted robins darted about, plucking juicy worms from the newly thawed earth. We spent a moment on the dock at the boat launch and appreciated the still waters of the lake and the quiet of our surroundings.
Melting snow covered the boardwalk portion of the trail. This wetlands area is the perfect habitat for small birds. While out of sight, their chirps, twitterings, and calls were evidence enough of their presence. Beyond the boardwalk, the path turned to packed earth covered in leaf litter. Hoof prints captured in the melting snow confirmed that we were not the only ones inhabiting this space. The rhythmic rapping overhead alerted us to a Pileated Woodpecker working for his meal.
The trees were tall here, and some quite old. The ranger pinpointed the spot on the map where we would find the largest tree. Indeed we saw the Douglas fir she had told us about, and while not as tall as some of the neighboring trees, it was bigger in circumference.
The sky alternated between clouds and blue skies. The breeze picked up slightly as we found ourselves again near water, this time Spruce Creek. The animal tracks here appeared to be beaver, and there was some corroboration in the small dam-like structure that had yet to be knocked down by park staff. Several mating beaver pairs call the park home.
We love hiking ridge lines and enjoying panoramic views from mountain peaks, but it’s just as satisfying to hike along a wooded trail. The quiet of a winter afternoon in the forest dissolved the day-to-day mundanity of work and schedules. The stresses of daily routine gave way to a calm inner sensibility.
Millersylvania State Park is much more than a park, more than a snapshot of history, more than a sanctuary for wildlife. If we surrender to it, it can be a sanctuary for the soul.
Stacy & Brandon are transplants to Washington state who spend their free time exploring, hiking, and camping all across the glorious Pacific Northwest. They started Pacific North Wanderers in 2015 to share their adventures and inspire others to enjoy the outdoors.