The Olympic Discovery Trail—An Olympic Peninsula Gem

The Olympic Discovery Trail—An Olympic Peninsula Gem

When you’re enjoying the great outdoors on one trail or another, did you ever think about what it takes for that trail to even be there? Or have you thought about what it takes to maintain it? I can tell you from personal experience, there’s A LOT that has gone on behind the scenes and continues to do so. This spans many, many years, resulting in the trail experience you have when you’re on it. Read on to learn how the Olympic Discovery Trail has come to be and why it’s an Olympic Peninsula gem that you won’t want to miss.

Birth of the Olympic Discovery Trail

When you come to the Olympic Peninsula and head out on the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), the who, what, when, where, and how of it amounts to hundreds of stories. There have been critical moments, inspiring leaders, and lots of labor by a team of caring volunteers. The construction of the ODT has stretched out over the past 35 years and is now over 75% finished. This important Olympic Peninsula gem was born in September 1988, when the Peninsula Trails Coalition (PTC) began the valuable work of building the ODT.

Photo of Volunteers working on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Rails to Trails

When the railroads left the peninsula, and trail advocates couldn’t convince communities to convert the abandoned corridor in one grand sweep, it set the stage for a long, piece-by-piece effort. The trail traverses across wonderfully diverse lowlands tucked between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Difficult at first, early isolated pieces of trail were achieved when the stars aligned, and a route became available paired with the necessary funds to design and build. These “orphaned” segments of trail and former railroads slowly became more numerous, became “squeaky wheels.” They began to be connected and grew to become meaningful pieces of trail. More and more people enjoyed them. Trail events started happening. And the ODT grew into an Olympic Peninsula gem that people supported.

Photo of bicyclist riding on former railroad on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Part of the Puget Sound to Pacific Trail (PS2P) and Great American Rail Trail

Today, three and a half decades later, this unfolding story of the Olympic Discovery Trail has led to 92 miles of “official” ODT—along what eventually will be about 135 miles long. Not only that, the ODT is now integrated into a larger regional trail, the Puget Sound to Pacific Trail (PS2P) spanning from Bainbridge Island to LaPush, and to the cross-country Great American Rail Trail.  These expansive successes have now also led to the receipt of a $16 million grant that will help plan and design what will be needed to fill in the remaining miles in the PS2P.

Photo of bicyclists riding their bikes through mountain tunnel on the Olympic Discovery Trail.


While it may take another 20 years for those missing trail gaps to get planned and designed, land still needs to be acquired and more trail miles built. There’s no question the hundreds of volunteers spurring this progress will keep at it. So, next time you’re enjoying the forests, lakes, streams, farmlands, trail towns and mountain views the Olympic Discovery Trail enables you to discover, keep in mind all the amazing things that made it all happen. It is truly an Olympic Peninsula gem.

By guest blogger Jeff Bohman, PTC President