Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail (KCST) will be open this year from November 4th to December 3rd. The Trail is open to the public on weekends from 10am to 4pm. The Trail is open for school field trips on weekdays. Only buses and scheduled/school field trips are authorized beyond the gate on weekdays. All others can still access the trail by parking on Old Olympic Hwy and walking 0.5 miles to the trailhead. Public visitors are authorized to drive beyond the gate and park at the trailhead 10am-4pm on weekends in November. Please see information below for full details.
Our annual Salmon Celebration is back and will be held on Saturday, November 18th at KCST from 10am-1pm. More details to come.
Docent Training (see details at bottom of page) will be on Saturday, October 28th.
- 10/10: 0 live, 0 dead
- 10/18: 6 live, 0 dead
- 10/27: 1,223 live, 2 dead
- 11/01: 1,366 live, 9 dead
- 11/09: 8,678 live, 27 dead
- 11/16: 9,032 live, 485 dead
NOTE: Weekly fish count data come from WDFW. Total run-size is released by WDFW in summer of the following year. Chum live for 5-14 days after spawning, so weekly counts do not equal total run size.
WHAT: View spawning chum salmon in their natural environment. About 24,000 adult chum salmon return to Kennedy Creek each year to spawn. Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail (KCST) features several viewing stations and options to walk 0.1 to 0.5 miles on our well-maintained (but unpaved) trail, educational signs, and trained volunteers available to answer questions.
WHERE: W Old Olympic Hwy, Olympia, WA 98502 (halfway between Shelton and Olympia between mileposts 356 and 357). Here is the pinned Google Maps location.
WHEN (public): 10am-4pm on weekends in November (2023 public viewing will run Nov 4-Dec 3). Dates vary slightly each year based on when the fish are expected to arrive, but the peak of the run is typically in mid-November.
WHEN (guided school field trips): weekdays in November (2023 field trips will run Nov 6-Dec 1). See full information below for how to schedule your group’s tour.
HOW: Access to KCST is FREE for everyone. The gate is only open to the public on the dates listed on this page. Parking is extremely limited, so plan to carpool. If the parking lot is full, you may park on the logging road as long as you don’t block the road.
NOTE: No Dogs Allowed on Trail for 2 reasons: 1) salmon carry a microorganism that is deadly to dogs and 2) this is a Natural Resource Conservation Area and the goal is to protect sensitive habitat and species.
Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail – Full Details:
The Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail (KCST) is our region’s premiere salmon-viewing experience. KCST has been open since 2000. KCST is open to the public annually on weekends in November. Field trips for school groups can be scheduled for weekdays in November. Visitors learn more about the salmon life cycle and observe chum salmon spawning and courting behaviors. Thanks to our volunteer docents, no questions go unanswered and all visitors get a rich Pacific Northwest experience.
In any given year, the spawning chum salmon population here can reach as high as 80,000 fish. Normally, the range is between 20,000 and 30,000 spawners. These spawning adults can produce approximately 30 million to 60 million eggs annually; not all eggs will survive to become fry or adults. Each female lays about 3,000 eggs, but only 2-3 individuals will survive and return to the natal stream where they were hatched to create the next generation of salmon.
KCST is located on the ancestral grounds of the Squaxin Island Tribe. Long before the trail we know as The Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail existed, another trail passed this way. It began in the Sawamish/T’Peeksin village, which stood near the mouth of Kennedy Creek. The villagers, ancestors of today’s Squaxin Island Tribe, knew the creek as the “Place of the Singing Fish”, called that for the multitudes of frogs that would sing along the creek on spring nights. The trail was used for gathering food, basket-making materials and hunting. The trail stretched from Totten Inlet to Summit Lake, and was part of a trail network that connected the villages of the south Puget Sound and the Pacific Coast to one another.
Millions of salmon returned to the streams each year, providing one of the most essential food sources for the people of this village, and other Puget Sound tribes. In The Place of the Singing Fish, chum were the main salmon species to spawn the creek, just as they are today. The Sawamish/T’Peeksin people built rock weirs at the mouth of the creek to catch the fish, which were then preserved by smoking. The abundant oil in the chum was utilized as a lubricant to move large logs used to build canoes and houses. The Sawamish/T’Peeksin people viewed the salmon as kin. Today’s Squaxin Island Tribe continues the traditions of their ancestors each year during the First Salmon Ceremony.
Over-fishing and habitat degradation throughout the 20th Century turned the once abundant Kennedy Creek into a small chum run that averaged 1,000 fish and spent the majority of the summer as an ATV track. In 1998, things changed for the better when the Squaxin Island Tribe began closely monitoring fishing in Totten Inlet. At the same time the Taylor family (of Taylor Shellfish) signed a 20-year lease with the Kennedy Creek Management Committee and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG) to restore the creek as a chum spawning ground and to develop an interpretive trail for public use. Today the trail acts as an interactive learning site to view the incredible annual spawning event of the returning chum salmon. Returns now average 18,000-30,000 fish. In 2019, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased over 600 acres of land containing prime chum spawning habitat from Green Diamond Resource Company to preserve and protect vital habitat in the watershed and restore ecosystem processes. In 2020, DNR purchased the land that contains the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail from Taylor Shellfish. The Kennedy Creek estuary is part of a 200-acre Natural Area Preserve managed by DNR since 1999. Above the estuary, the corridor all along Kennedy Creek (about 1500 acres) was designated as a Natural Resource Conservation Area by DNR in 2016. The land within this NRCA is a mix of private and state landowners.
Access to KCST is FREE for everyone. The Trail is supported directly by visitor donations, the annual fall “Chum, Chowder & Chocolate” fundraiser and small local grants. The land is owned by Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who graciously partner with us to bring this unique salmon viewing opportunity to the community.
Please see below for open dates and times.
NOTE: DOGS are NOT allowed on the trail. Salmon carry a microorganism that is DEADLY to dogs. Please review our dog policy for more information. Additionally, the gate remains locked during the off season.
For the 2023 season, KCST will be open November 4 to December 3.
The gate will be open to the public on weekends and open by appointment for scheduled field trips during weekdays.
Chum salmon usually begin returning to Kennedy Creek in late October. Spawning can be observed until mid-December in most years. The peak viewing is usually in mid-November.
What days will the gate be open to the public?
The Trail is open to the public on weekends Nov 4-Dec 3. The gate will be open from 10am-4pm for public parking at the trailhead on the following dates:
- November 4, 5
- November 10 (Veterans Day – school holiday), 11, 12
- November 18, 19
- November 24 (Day after Thanksgiving), 25, 26
- December 2, 3
The Trail will be closed on Thanksgiving (November 23, 2023)
The gate is locked promptly at 4pm.
Please note that on weekdays, only scheduled field trip groups are authorized to drive through the gate to the parking area. This is so that we can accommodate buses and school children visiting KCST. You are welcome to park on Old Olympic Hwy and walk up the road on weekdays though.
We offer FREE guided tour field trips for youth and adult groups Monday-Friday 9am-4pm during the spawning season. In 2023, we are scheduling field trips between Nov 6-Dec 3.
Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail gives students an opportunity to watch spawning Chum salmon in their natural habitat. It provides an ideal field trip opportunity for your students and is designed for group learning. Visitors learn about salmon and environmental stewardship through a series of interpretive signs along the trail. It is an excellent way to give kids a real-world connection to concepts they are learning in the classroom. We often have salmon carcasses available at tables in the parking lot for students to participate in adult-led hands-on dissections (gloves provided) if you would like to budget an extra 20-minutes or so.
Trail visits typically take about 1.5 hours. If you would like more time, please contact us to see what options are available. Typically, we request that you don’t arrive more than 15 minutes early because our parking lot is very small and there may not be room for your group until earlier groups have departed.
We ask that your group (school classes, homeschool groups, scouts, senior centers, etc.) have at least 8 participants to schedule a tour. For groups of over 25, we will schedule more than one docent/staff, which is why we ask that you sign up each group of 25 as their own reservation. A parent to student ratio of 1:10 is recommended for your visit to the trail.
Visits to KCST are free, however schools are responsible for their own bus transportation costs unless otherwise arranged. We occasionally have limited funds to assist high-poverty schools with transportation reimbursement.
Sign-ups open on September 1st at 9am. Please use the Google Appointment Scheduler below to sign up for Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail school tours.
Time slots fill up VERY quickly. Limited parking as well as volunteer and staff capacity means that we cannot accommodate everyone who wants to visit unfortunately. We encourage you to sign up early. Due to the popularity, we also cannot accommodate most change requests and cancellations due to weather may not be able to be rescheduled.
Field Trip Scheduling Notes:
- Please do not register more than 1 class (max 25 students) per time slot. We do not have the staff or parking capacity to accommodate more visitors than what we are offering here.
- If you have multiple classes you are taking for field trips and would like them all to arrive at the same time, please register for consecutive time slots with your earliest slot your desired arrival time. For example, if you have 3 classes and would like all classes to start their tours at 10am, please select the 10:00am, 10:30am, and 11:00am slots for that day and write in the NOTES that you will all be arriving at 10:00am. If there are not enough consecutive arrival slots for all of your classes, that means we do not have the ability to host your group that day so please select a different day or consider splitting your students into 2 groups. Half could visit the Squaxin Museum while the other half are at KCST then switch. For example, you could have 2 classes in the morning (register for the 10am and 10:30am slots) and 2 classes later (register for the 12:00pm and 12:30pm slots) or whatever split works for your bus schedule.
- Each tour lasts 1.5 hours. Please plan to arrive during the 15 minute time slot you are signing up for. So if your appointment is for 9:00-9:15am, that is your arrival time, then your tour would last 1 to 1.5 hours, with a departure time of 10:30-10:45am.
- The peak of the spawning season typically occurs in mid-November, but environmental factors greatly influence the timing and abundance of salmon. In most years, the first fish start arriving in the creek in late October and by mid-December the fish have all spawned and died. If there is a dry October, this timing may be delayed by a week or two.
- As parking at the trail is limited, please make arrangements for your chaperones to carpool/ride the bus as much as possible.
- Please review the information on our website prior to arrival for a better idea of what to expect, lesson resources, etc.: https://spsseg.org/kennedy-creek-salmon-trail
- We encourage KCST visitors to also visit the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Museum. It is only a few miles away and an excellent opportunity to link salmon and Since Time Immemorial curriculum with the history and culture of the indigenous people of the land that have stewarded Kennedy Creek for thousands of years. We hope to secure funding to help pay for students to include a visit to the Museum as part of their Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail field experience. If you have multiple buses taking students to KCST, I would highly recommend that you arrange for 1 bus to visit KCST while the other bus visits the Museum then swap activities so as not to overwhelm either one of the sites.
- Bus funding: we have applied for grants for the 2023 season and are waiting to hear back on whether we will be able to cover bus expenses for Title 1 schools and possibly even all public/tribal schools that visit us this year. Stay tuned for an update when we hear back in late September.
A Google Appointment Scheduler calendar will be added here for tour sign-ups starting September 1st at 9am. We will only be accepting field trip reservations through the Scheduler this year, not via email like in years past. Of course, please feel free to email if you have questions or difficulties.
UPDATE 11/3/2023: We are fully booked for field trips for this season and no longer accepting reservations. Please visit on a public-access weekend day or check back next September to sign up for KCST 2024. Thank you!
From south (i.e. Olympia): Go north on 101. At Milepost 357, turn left onto Old Olympic Highway. Continue on Old Olympic Highway until you see the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail Signs on your left. Go up forest road 2700 for .75 miles. Turn right into the Trail parking lot.
From north (i.e. Shelton): Go south on 101. At Milepost 356, turn right onto Old Olympic Highway. Continue on Old Olympic Highway until you see the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail signs on your right. Go up forest road 2700 for .75 miles. Turn right into the Trail parking lot.
Unfortunately, there currently are no Public Transportation routes that service KCST.
DO NOT drive through the gate except for weekends/open to the public days in November OR if you are here for a scheduled tour. The gate must remain closed and locked at all other times and we don’t want you to get locked in.
There are no permanent facilities at KCST. During the salmon viewing season (late October-early December), we bring in portable toilets (one regular and one ADA-accessible) as well as a hand-washing station. There is no potable water. There is no garbage service here–please “Pack it in, pack it out.” We often have 3-4 picnic tables available for visitor use, but they are uncovered.
Parking is very limited. Please carpool if possible.
The majority of the Trail is compacted gravel and mostly level, except for one gravel bar access that is downhill a bark-surface trail. This is not an urban environment and due to its location within a floodplain in a Natural Resource Conservation Area, there are no plans to pave it. Please see the map above for the routes that we consider ADA-accessible and which section is not.
Junior Biologist Workbook for Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail
If you’d like your students or kids to complete this workbook and earn a Junior Biologist sticker, please print it out ahead of time and bring with you. We hope to update this workbook this next year so stay tuned for a new version to match our new signs! Ask a docent for the stickers.
Pre-Visit Handouts to Review
- Trail Etiquette
- Land Acknowledgement of the Squaxin Island Tribe
- Spawning Behavior Handout
- Spawning Behavior Handout (Spanish)
- Intro to Salmon at Kennedy Creek (3-minute video)
- Chum Salmon Spawning Behavior (4-minute video)
- Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail Virtual Tour (19-minute video)
- Salmon Life Cycle Lesson
- Salmon Life Cycle Lesson (Salmon in the Schools) (30-minute video) + Salmon Science Journal
- Salmon Life Cycle Guessing Game Cards
- theFrizzlives Salmon Life Cycle Song (4-minute video)
- SciShow Kids Salmon Life Cycle (5-minute video)
- Salmon Life Cycle Animation (6-minute video)
- Salmon Food Web Lesson
- Hooks and Ladders Salmon Survival Game
- What is a Watershed Lesson (missing water cycle worksheet)
- Wet Watershed Activity (missing the What is a Watershed worksheet)
- Salmon Story Bracelets
- Local Pacific Salmon Species Lesson
- Keying Out Five of the Local Pacific Salmon Species Activity
- Salmon Species Lesson (Salmon in the Schools) (23-minute video) + Salmon Science Journal
- Clean Water Kitsap Juvenile and Adult Salmon ID Posters
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada Juvenile Salmon Species Coloring Sheet
- Salmon Species Bookmarks (page 12 in Salmon Science Journal)
- Salmon Habitat Lesson (Salmon in the Schools) (35-minute video) + Salmon Science Journal
- Edible Salmon Habitat Activity
- Salmon Haiku Poem Lesson/Activity
- Trout Unlimited’s Salmon Survival Math Game
- Since Time Immemorial – Honoring the Salmon – Lesson 1
- Data on KC chum escapement numbers for students to use to make graphs…?
- Salmon puzzle
- Stream simulation table
- Battery-powered microscopes and stream bug ID kits (we can also lend you macroinvertebrate collection equipment)
- Silicone fish for Gyotaku printing (ink and rice paper not included)
The Trail is a community supported and volunteer based program. Each year over 50 volunteer docents donate approximately 600 hours specifically to the program. The Trail is open to the general public every weekend day in November as well as Veteran’s day and the day after Thanksgiving. During the week, the Trail is reserved for school groups and classroom visits. Classes range from preschool through college.
SPSSEG searches continually for diverse and stable funding to keep this program thriving. We write grants, host fundraisers, and ask our supporters to help fund the Trail. In past years, KCST has been supported by grants from the Squaxin Island Tribe, the Dawkins Charitable Trust, the Boydston Foundation, the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, the Jem Foundation, and donations from generous individuals.
SPSSEG uses these funds to help coordinate teachers and school field trips, organize and support over 50 volunteers docents, and maintain the Trail. A $75 donation will support 10 student visits. All donations are tax deductible.
Please help keep the Trail alive and at its educational best!
Donate and Become a Kennedy Creek Chum today!
- SPAWNER: Over $1,000 per year
- OCEAN ADULT: $750-1,000 per year
- SMOLT: $500-750 per year
- FRY: $250-500 per year
- ALEVIN: $100-250 per year
- EGG: $25-100 per year
*** 2023 UPDATE: Docent Training will be held on Saturday, October 28th from 9am-1pm. RSVP required (email )***
Docents are integral to Kennedy Creek and as one long-time docent put it “you don’t know what a good time is until you’ve poked a salmon carcass with a bunch of curious 4th graders.”
All the information you’ll need as a trail guide is covered during your training and is found in the docent notebooks we provide you with. All you need to bring is your enthusiasm and a good rain jacket!
What does it take to be a Docent?
Out Volunteer Docents come from all backgrounds. You don’t have to be a fish scientist to talk about salmon! If you are interested in getting outside, facilitating awesome outdoor learning and fostering a love of conservation, restoration and healthy ecosystems in our youth, then YOU are ready to be a Volunteer Docent at Kennedy Creek.
What do Docents do?
Docents are integral to keeping the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail running. We have both weekday and weekend opportunities. Weekday volunteers lead 1.5 hours tours to school groups where they answer questions about the salmon life cycle, habitat, and spawning. Weekend volunteers interact with public visitors by answering questions at viewing stations, sharing learning resources, and pointing out the best viewing opportunities.
How do I become a Docent?
If you would like to volunteer as a Docent this year, please RSVP to Megan Brady, KCST Coordinator at (360) 701-6907 or by email at to get on our docent email list. Attending Docent Training is optional for returning docents, but it is required for new docents.
Docent Training is scheduled for October 28, 2023 from 9am-1pm. RSVP required.
What is covered at Training?
- Volunteer registrations & background checks
- The salmon life cycle
- The history of KCST
- Salmon anatomy
- Healthy habitats and why they matter to salmon
- Guiding like a pro
- And more!
What should I bring to Training?
- Layers (It’s fall in the PNW!)
- A camp chair
- A pen or pencil in case you want to take notes
- Your enthusiasm!!
What does SPSSEG provide at Training?
- Hot water and cocoa/cider/tea packets
- BBQ lunch
- Docent Information Binders
- Docent swag 🙂
Already a Docent?
Docent contacts, training materials and season schedule can be found on the
Docent webpage (please have your password ready!)