Geography of Thurston County, Washington

By | April 4, 2024

Thurston County, located in the western part of Washington State, is a region of diverse landscapes, rich biodiversity, and vibrant communities. From its temperate rainforests and sparkling lakes to its bustling urban centers and scenic waterways, Thurston County offers a unique blend of geographical features and cultural attractions that define its environment and shape its identity.


According to Justinshoes, Thurston County spans approximately 774 square miles (2,005 square kilometers) in western Washington. It is bordered by several other counties, including Mason County to the northwest, Pierce County to the northeast, and Lewis County to the southeast. The county’s landscape is characterized by a mix of urban areas, suburban developments, rural communities, and natural habitats.

The western part of Thurston County is located within the Puget Sound Lowlands, a region of rolling hills and valleys that extends from the shores of Puget Sound to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The county is also home to part of the Nisqually River watershed and several other river systems that flow into Puget Sound.


Thurston County experiences a marine west coast climate with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean moderates temperatures year-round, resulting in relatively mild and consistent weather patterns.

Summers in Thurston County are typically warm and dry, with average high temperatures in the 70s to 80s°F (21-27°C) and low humidity levels. Occasional heatwaves can occur during the summer months, but temperatures are generally comfortable, especially near the coast.

Winters are mild and rainy, with average high temperatures in the 40s to 50s°F (4-10°C) and frequent precipitation. Snowfall is rare in the lowland areas of Thurston County but can occur in the higher elevations of the Cascade Mountains to the east.

Spring and fall are transitional seasons characterized by mild temperatures and changing weather patterns. Spring brings blooming flowers and the return of migratory birds, while fall brings cooler temperatures and colorful foliage.

Rivers and Lakes:

Thurston County is traversed by several rivers, streams, and lakes, providing habitat for fish and wildlife and offering recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Some of the notable rivers and waterways in Thurston County include:

  1. Nisqually River: The Nisqually River flows through the western part of Thurston County, originating from the Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier and emptying into Puget Sound. The river supports populations of salmon, steelhead, and trout and offers opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching.
  2. Deschutes River: The Deschutes River flows through the eastern part of Thurston County, originating from the southern slopes of the Olympic Mountains and joining the Capitol Lake in Olympia. The river provides opportunities for fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing, with scenic views of the surrounding countryside.

In addition to its rivers and streams, Thurston County is also home to several lakes and reservoirs, including Black Lake and Long Lake. These water bodies provide additional recreational opportunities for swimming, boating, and picnicking, and they serve as important habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic species.

Forests and Natural Areas:

Thurston County is home to several forests and natural areas, including the Capitol State Forest and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. These protected areas provide habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, as well as opportunities for hiking, camping, and nature photography.

The county is also known for its temperate rainforests, particularly in the western part of the county near the coast. These lush forests are characterized by dense vegetation, towering trees, and abundant wildlife, including deer, elk, and black bears.


Agriculture is an important industry in Thurston County, with crops such as berries, vegetables, and nursery plants contributing to the county’s agricultural economy. The fertile soil and mild climate of the Puget Sound Lowlands are well-suited for farming, and agriculture has been a traditional way of life in the region for centuries.

In addition to crop farming, Thurston County is also known for its livestock production, including dairy farming and poultry farming. The county’s farms and ranches contribute to the local economy and provide employment opportunities for residents.

Communities and Economy:

Thurston County is home to several cities and towns, each offering its own unique blend of urban amenities, cultural attractions, and outdoor recreational opportunities. The county seat and largest city is Olympia, known for its historic downtown district, government buildings, and waterfront parks.

Other communities in Thurston County include Lacey, Tumwater, and Yelm, each with its own distinct character and sense of community. These towns serve as centers of commerce, education, and culture for residents of the surrounding area.

The economy of Thurston County is diverse, with key sectors including government, healthcare, education, and tourism. Olympia serves as the state capital of Washington, with government offices, agencies, and institutions providing employment opportunities and driving economic growth.

Healthcare and education are also major employers in Thurston County, with hospitals, medical centers, and colleges providing essential services and employment opportunities for residents. Tourism is a growing sector, driven by the county’s natural beauty, outdoor recreational opportunities, and cultural attractions.


In summary, Thurston County, Washington, is a region of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and economic opportunity. From its temperate rainforests and scenic waterways to its bustling urban centers and rural communities, Thurston County offers a unique blend of geographical features and cultural attractions that make it a desirable place to live, work, and visit. With its diverse economy, strong sense of community, and abundance of natural resources, Thurston County remains a treasured destination in western Washington.