Seemingly visible from most stops along the Thurston Bountiful Byway, Mount Rainier is the icing on the cake when it comes to the beauty of the Byway’s great outdoors.
Discover the Thurston Bountiful Byway
By Jennifer Coleman
There’s a place at the Southern tip of the Puget Sound near Olympia where the road winds through scenic prairieland and bucolic pastures in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. The Thurston Bountiful Byway is just as its name implies – a bounty of natural beauty and close-knit communities that offer unique and authentic experiences in a rural landscape.
From Tumwater to Rochester, and all the way out to Yelm, the Thurston Bountiful Byway proudly displays its agricultural roots and small-town charm. There are pumpkin patches, lavender fields, Christmas tree and bee farms along the route. Craft beverages as well as arts and cultural sites can be found here as well. There is something for everyone along this byway.
Andrea Levanti, owner of InGenius! Local Artisan Gallery & Boutique and curator of the amazing work displayed there, has made this gallery a dynamic arts hub in the heart of Thurston County.
A new arts district is coming together in the town of Yelm, offering visitors a chance to see the works of local artists and makers. InGenius! Art Gallery & Boutique is located right in the heart of it with a gallery full of creative and fantastic pieces of art. A custom “hobbit hole” serves as the access between two creative spaces. Displaying everything from handmade jewelry to fine art, the gallery is conveniently located on South 1st Street, across the street from the Yelm Community Center with a city park and greenspace along with a large playground for kids.
If you’re hungry, head over to Pizzeria La Gitana for some mouth-watering wood fired pizza. The authentic flavors of Italy come through in their pizza which is made the old-world way in a very hot wood fire oven with specialized rocks that the pizza cooks on. The pizza comes out fast and hot, and if you choose, paired with a delicious side salad. The perfect place for a lunch break!
Voted “Best Pizza” in the Nisqually Valley, La Gitana’s authentic Italian, wood-fired pizza is a local favorite that will soon become yours. Photo ©Pizzeria La Gitana
For the craft beverage lovers, find nearby 507 Taproom and Filling Station. Serving up over 30 rotating taps of beer, cider, and non-alcoholic beverages this place is great. Fun fact: their location on E Yelm Avenue is in a repurposed bank building that includes a massive and spectacular mural of Mt. Rainier in the center atrium of the space. A gorgeous location to try a local beverage while enjoying some local art.
For those seeking a respite on the lake, Offut Lake Resort is just the place. This historic resort originally opened in 1905 and has a rich history. Currently owned and operated by the Pogue family for the past 25 years, Offut Lake Resort feels like a step back in time, where the bustle of the city fades as you camp and play among the trees. Families have returned to this lake resort year after year, many of them bringing in the next generation to enjoy an escape to the lake. Owner Becky Pogue has literally watched kids grow up, get married, then bring their own families back to enjoy the resort. Such is the lake life.
Cozy cottages and RV camping is available, along with fishing and boat rentals. The general store has everything from fishing lures, food, and flip-flops in case you find yourself in need. The Lady of the Lake Public House Restaurant welcomes visitors with classic American dishes in a serene setting on the shores of Offut Lake. A chat with owner Becky is especially nice if you get the chance, she’s a gracious host and you can just feel the love she has for the place. To learn more about places to stay along the byway, visit: www.experienceolympia.com/things-to-do/roadtrippers/thurston-bountiful-byway/
The town of Tenino, also known as “The Stone City,” bears a testament to its origins. Many of the buildings on the main avenue are made of sandstone that was mined from the local quarry. Today the old quarry serves as the town’s swimming pool, complete with a lifeguard and diving boards. Also nearby is Wolf Haven, a nationally recognized wolf sanctuary that rescues displaced, captive born wolves. The guided 50-minute walking tour offers visitors a rare, close-up view of these beautiful animals. To date, Wolf Haven has rescued and provided a lifetime home to more than 300 wolves!
Known for their hearty breakfasts and down-home service with a smile, a visit along the Thurston Bountiful Byway isn’t complete without a meal at the Sandstone Café.
When you visit Tenino, don’t miss the Sandstone Café on Sussex Avenue, offering a traditional breakfast menu to get you fueled up for a day of exploring. Try their berry & cream cheese stuffed French toast or the biscuits & gravy…you won’t be disappointed!
Heading out on old Hwy-99 SW takes you through the beautiful prairie. Miles of open fields with gentle knolls make up portions of the Thurston Bountiful Byway. The Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve near Littlerock has a paved, ADA accessible ½-mile walking path for an up-close glimpse of the mima mound landforms and widely spaced Garry oak trees. For a beautiful scenic drive, continue Hwy-99 SW past Grand Mound to Prather Rd SW and enjoy the graceful curves of the road as it winds through the woodlands and past Christmas tree farms. Continue to the small town of Rochester, which is home to Pacific Northwest Honey Co – a favorite local honey producer.
The Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve provides access to rare examples of mima mound landforms and Puget prairie grasslands.
Sample flavors at the honey bar and get up close to an active hive (safe behind glass). Owner and beekeeper Kevin Mills is passionate about the honey he produces at Pacific Northwest Honey Co and utilizes local farms to place his bee hives. His extensive knowledge about beekeeping and his dedication to his craft carries through in the delicious quality of honey and products available at the shop. Try the fireweed honey – which he referred to as “the champagne of honey” as well as the blackberry honey. A special blend is available as well, Bo’s Blend is made by one of the partners, Bo, who combines honey to make a truly unique flavor!
Sample local honey, pour your own jar, and learn about all things bees at the Pacific Northwest Honey Company in Rochester.
If you find yourself on the byway during the harvest season (September/October) be sure to swing by Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm for their Fall Festival which happens every Saturday and Sunday through October. There is a pumpkin patch, wagon rides, farm games, delicious homemade apple fritters and more at this family friendly farm. Also nearby, Rutledge Corn Maze has a huge pumpkin patch and seasonal corn maze to delight the whole family. For the older kiddos seeking some scary fun, the haunted corn maze is open on weekends in October, leading up to Halloween. Another great place to bring the entire family, Hunter Family Farm is the perfect place to hunt down a pumpkin, pet farm animals, and score your annual Christmas tree.
Pumpkins and more at Hunter Family Farm.
Ideal for a weekend ramble, the Thurston Bountiful Byway is kind of like a hidden gem, tucked just outside of the big city. Its charm is in its people, communities, and scenic beauty. Think of it as a road trip, food sampler and behind the scenes tour all in one – something you don’t want to miss!