Places We Heart: Nisqually State Park

Last visit: August 13, 2019

Why we HEART: No crowds, lots of meandering trails, diverse foliage, river, hard to get lost

Watch out for: Horse poop, shooting galleries with broken glass


Whenever I visit Nisqually State Park, it feels like home, but in a dream. Home for me is the Midwest, mostly Illinois but also Iowa, Ohio, and Missouri. There are plenty cornfield jokes to be made here, but the Midwest is also home to deciduous forests, tucked away in pockets of undeveloped land, growing in the rifts between farmer’s fields, ringing the lakes and running the sides of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

The woods in summer in the Midwest are humid and leafy, thick with dangerous looking underbrush that always could be poison ivy (and often is.) It buzzes with mosquitoes, and it’s best to walk with a stick in front to break the spiderwebs draped across the trails.


Set in the valley just off Highway 7, Nisqually is a lowland park that slopes down towards a junction of the Nisqually and Mashel rivers. A main gravel trails leads to several narrow horse trails that wind through the woods, as well as long utility corridors. It’s never far from the hum of traffic, but the further in you go, the wilder it gets.


A trail down to the river is nearly overgrown with reeds and blackberry; even in the dead heat of August muddy slopes challenge your footing. It’s a favorite winter haunt for us, little trafficked, perpetually drizzly, with a mat of fallen leaves that, once again, bring me back to those smoky autumns of the Midwest, where every tree is the color of fire.


Of course, Nisqually is still distinctly PNW. Lush ferns, moss covered tree limbs, a perfect ring of evergreens encircling the parking lot.


The only caveat is that you very much have to NOT mind horse poop. Lucky for me (or not,) horse poop is one of the main draws for Aggie and Charlotte.

Also, swamps. 

One of the joys of visiting a place again and again is the new discoveries that open up on each visit. It took me multiple visits to even find a trail down to the river. And because I usually visit on dreary days, I never realized there was a view of Mt. Rainier from the park until my last visit.

Hello there, beautiful. 

I also discovered by reading the map that what I thought was the Nisqually is actually Mashel River.



Sometimes there is such a clamor for places with “views” (especially on the I-90 corridor) that the small things get left out. A journey is not always the destination; it is the meandering and the small wonders, the slugs and the ripe blackberries, the pebbles beneath the clear water. An old gate. A line of utility poles. A chunk of horse poop stuck in your dog’s collar.



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