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The Nelson Ranch hosts a small, experimental vineyard which is fun to tour. (Image: Rebecca Mongrain/Seattle Refined)

Your next weekend trip should be to the Thurston County Bountiful Byway

Outside of Olympia, lays 68,000 acres of beautiful farmland in Thurston County. Most visitors to Thurston County bypass most of this abundant area by flying past on I-5. The Thurston County Bountiful Byway will surely lure visitors and locals off the Interstate and onto the Byway where they can discover all the wonders with a self-guide tasting trip tour by car, rail or bike.

Established in 2014, The Thurston Bountiful Byway was first conceptualized in 2011 by country commissioners who wanted to bring attention to the bounty of agriculture this land provides from farmers markets, wineries along with farms that produce meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables. The 62-mile route encourages travelers to leave I-5 by traveling along Highway 101 from Mud Bay, along Capitol State Forest, across south county, north to Yelm and ends at Nisqually on Highway 510.

Road signage, a self-guided tour and map connects visitors with locally-minded businesses, farms, distilleries and wineries. For visitors interested in doing the Byway by bike, online bike maps are provided atThurstonBikeMap.org ThurstonBikeMap.org. Visitors can also rent bikes for free from the Tenino Yellow Bicycle Project.

The Byway can be easily driven in a day but with so many places to visit, visitors might want to take a long weekend to explore all the great producers. The western leg is great for hiking and catching a glimpse of the Mima Mounds - low, flattened, circular to oval, domelike, natural mounds that are composed of loose, often gravelly sediment. Millersylvania State Park is a fantastic starting point for hikes and nature exploration.

Farms such as the Nelson Ranch who has been in business for over 150 years can be found along the western leg. Nelson Ranch uses sustainable farming practices to raise their free range cows who are born and raised in South Thurston County. This fifth generational farm prides themselves on raising grass fed beef with no antibiotics or feed additives. They sell their beef by the quarter or half share and are taking orders for the fall now.

The southern side of the Byway meanders through small towns, wineries and antique stores. A stop into Sandstone Distillery is a must. The craft distillery creates small batch, hand-crafted spirits; featuring whiskey, vodka, gin and bourbon from Washington-sourced grains. The grains are freshly ground and artfully fermented into spirits. Their Stone Carver White Whiskey was the winner of DOUBLE GOLD at the 2016 Seattle International Spirits Awards.

Along the eastern leg which turns north in Yelm and ends at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is another great nature area with hikes and beautiful farms such as the Evergreen Lavender Farm. With over 11 varieties of lavender, the farm is a wonderful place to meander among the lavender plants, check out the bees and partake in some house made lavender lemonade.

Another great stop along the Thurston Bountiful Byway is the Helsing Junction Farm. The CSA Farm runs for 20 weeks from mid June to mid October and makes deliveries as far north as Lynnwood. Their shares include full farm shares, snack shares, a cheese share program along with a delightful flower share program.

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