Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mima Mounds

Trail through the blooming camas at Mima Mounds
2.5 miles loop, 50 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Washington State Parks Discover Pass required

The easy hike through the Mima Mounds is an excellent way to explore an intriguing geological landform and, in season, to see the most incredible camas blooms in western Washington State.

I visited the Mima Mounds on an early May weekend, which is roughly the time each year when the prairie erupts into riotous bloom. From Seattle, I followed I-5 south past Olympia to the exit for Maytown and Littlerock; coming off the freeway, I took Maytown Road west through Littlerock, bearing straight at all of the junctions in Littlerock to reach 128th Ave SW. This road ended at a T-intersection with Waddell Creek Road, where I took a right turn and continued briefly north to the sign for the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. Making a left turn here, I drove to the end of the narrow road, where there was parking for less than twenty cars.

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve is operated by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and is only slightly separated from Capitol State Forest, which protects the nearby Black Hills. As the land is operated by the State of Washington, a Discover Pass is required to park at Mima Mounds.

A paved, ADA-accessible trail led from the parking lot out into the prairie. At the very start of the trail, a concrete viewing platform with interpretative signage pondered theories of the mounds' origins and provided an elevated view of the mounds themselves. The mounds were each just a few feet tall and perhaps just 20 feet or so in diameter and stretched out seemingly in all directions. The mounds likely formed either during the ice age or in the intervening time and are actually spread over a much larger area than just the preserve; while most nearby mounds are covered by forest now, the mounds in the preserve are kept as open prairie. Native Americans burned the mound prairies regularly to prevent forests from developing in the mounds and harvested camas that grew in these open prairies for food.

Mima Mounds
The paved path continued on a half mile loop through the mounds. At the halfway mark through the paved loop, the single track South Loop broke off towards the heart of the preserve. Don't skip this loop. While I spotted only a smattering of blooming camas along the paved portion of the trail, the prairie was covered in the blooming purple camas. Desert parsley and buttercup added spots of color to the otherwise verdant grasslands. The South Loop Trail meandered through fields of mounds and blooming camas, with nice views along the way of the nearby Black Hills (including Capitol Peak) and the farther Willapa Hills. The preserve was surrounded by private property, made clear based on the presence of nearby houses and farms and from the neighboring shooting range, which made for a somewhat noisy experience.

Camas coat the Mima Mounds
Capitol Peak and the Mima Mounds camas bloom
Camas bloom
Camas bloom and the Willapa Hills