Theler Wetlands─Enjoy the sounds and smells of spring at Hood Canal

A pair of hikers get ready to explore the Theler Wetlands.

A pair of hikers get ready to explore the Theler Wetlands.

Quick Facts

Location: Kitsap Peninsula

Land Agency: City of Belfair, Washington

Roundtrip: 3.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 50 feet

Contact: Mary E. Theler Wetlands and Community Center (360) 275-4898

Notes: Trail open dawn to dusk. Dogs are prohibited.

Access: From Bremerton head west on SR 3 to Belfair. Proceed one mile beyond the junction with SR 300 to the Mary E. Theler Community Center and trailhead.

Spend a couple of hours or all day exploring a wildlife rich estuary at the farthest reaches of fjord-like Hood Canal. Let eagles, osprey, herons, otters, and deer captivate you along the way as you explore grassy wetlands along the Union River.

Among the many legacies that Sam and Mary Theler left to the town of Belfair was 70 acres of land to the North Mason School District; that became the Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve. Serving an educational role for area school children, the wetlands have also become the area’s prime hiking destination. Students of all ages and walks of life will appreciate and enjoy this preserve.

Start by passing under the welcome arch and proceeding .25 mile to the Wetlands Project Center. If open, plan a visit to gain a better understanding of the complex ecosystem you are about to explore. Children—heck adults too—will appreciate the hands-on exhibits.

Several trails radiate from the Wetlands Center. All are pleasurable to walk and are wheelchair accessible. The Sweetwater Creek and Alder Creek trails make short quarter mile loops. The South Tidal Marsh Trail extends .25 mile onto a boardwalk into Hood Canal. It’s advantageous for spotting birds among the grasses and reeds—and ideally positioned for viewing the Olympic Mountains in the background.

The Union River Estuary Trail offers the longest and best hike in the preserve. Along an old dike the trail elbows across open wetlands; with tidal marsh on the left, and freshwater marsh on the right. Through a tunnel of shrubs and along farmland, the trail makes a beeline for the mouth of the Union River. In a .5 mile reach the river. The trail then turns right to hug this nutrient rich waterway for one more mile. At the trail’s terminus are two short spurs. The one left leads to the river’s edge for prime waterfowl and salmon spawning viewing. Return to the Theler Wetlands at different times of the year to fully appreciate the life cycles at work in this ecologically important preserve.

Theler Wetlands is one of 125 featured hikes in my Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula Book.

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