Discover the Olympic Peninsula
Washington’s Adventure Route
Now that the Stay Home order has lifted and many counties are beginning to reopen, people are anxious to hit the road for a much needed and long overdue getaway. While the most popular destinations—the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge, and Mt. Hood—are true local treasures, this may be a good time to avoid the crowds and discover some lesser known hidden gems here in Western Washington.
The Olympic Peninsula is the pointed chunk of land on the map between the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. Here you’ll find yourself transported into a mystical realm of wild ocean with rugged coastlines, mountain ranges with snowy peaks and glaciers, moss draped rain forests, towering trees, tranquil lakes, enchanting waterfalls, and roaring rivers echoing the myths and legends of ancient peoples. This is a true destination for stunning natural wonders and recreation sites for beach combing, forest bathing, nature hiking, lake and bay paddling, whale watching, healing hot springs, and relaxing and recharging. It’s also a delectable region for tasting! For a culinary adventure and delicious way to experience the Olympic Peninsula, the coastal and marine landscape is dotted with quiet communities and charming small towns offering up delicious Olympic Coast Cuisine from their wealth of local food and fare sourced from the land and sea.
Much of the Olympic Peninsula can be accessed via Highway 101 which loops around the Olympic Peninsula with access to lush rainforests, quiet lakes, pristine beaches, and charming coastal marine towns along the way.
Highlights of the Olympic Peninsula
Olympic National Park
You literally can’t miss this sight since the sprawling Olympic National Park dominates this region on the map with nearly one million acres of wilderness with diverse topography and unique ecosystems. The four regions of Olympic National Park include the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the temperate rainforests of the west side, and drier old growth forests on the east side. At almost 8,000 feet, Mt. Olympus oversees all of this as the tallest peak in the Olympic Mountain Range. But you don’t have to scale Mt. Olympus to find a majestic view. At over 5,000 feet, Hurricane Ridge is said to be the best way to access the park and offers the most majestic viewpoints of the mountains and valleys. The Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center is about 17 miles south of Port Angeles on Hurricane Ridge Road.
The lore of ancient inhabitants says the Hoh Rainforest is home to spirits. Here you can walk among some of the world’s tallest trees and maybe even the thickest moss you’ve ever seen. The Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Nature Trail are two short hikes through a green ethereal canopy. The 5 Mile Island Trail is a deeper forest hike following the Hoh River through the stillness of giant cedars, spruce, and fir trees. Quietly observe the kingdom of Pacific tree frogs and banana slugs. Also watch for sightings of Roosevelt elk. Hoh Rain Forest is located on the west side of Olympic National Park and can be accessed by Upper Hoh Road off of Highway 101 about 20 miles south of Forks.
The Quinault Valley is a wilderness gateway to alpine meadows, lakes, and peaks. The Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive is a great way to experience the wonder and majesty of the Quinault Valley. The 31-mile excursion will take you around Lake Quinault and up the Quinault River into Olympic National Park, then back around the other side. You’ll see waterfalls, giant forests, and the towering peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Watch for wildlife too—bald eagles and black-tail deer, or even a bear, or bobcat.
Lake Quinault is the Southern gateway of the Olympic National Park. This quiet lakeside community surrounded by temperate rain forest trees is known as the Valley of the Giants with its six champion conifer trees recognized as largest living of their species in the United States. Only the redwoods and the sequoias are taller. The lake itself is a true vacation destination surrounded by resort lodges, vacation cabins, and campgrounds. Hiking trails will take you to some of the most notable of the rainforest giants. Stop to relax beside the lake at the 1926 the historic Lake Quinault Lodge which stands frozen in time among these towering trees.
Seqium & Dungeness Valley
Known for its wealth of maritime history and, of course, the prized crustacean—Dungeness Spit has the distinction of being the longest natural sand pit in North America. There are about 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, and 8 species of marine mammals to observe in the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge. The New Dungeness Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses in the Northwest and can be reached by a hiking trail that begins in a lush forest and descends to the beach for 5.5 miles with the lighthouse at the end. You can find Dungeness Spit off of Highway 101 just north of Sequim.
If fields of lavender make you think of the south of France you’ll know why the Sequim-Dungeness Valley is called “America’s Provence.” With the Olympic Mountains to block the rain, local farmers figured out they have the ideal climate for growing lavender. Every summer the communities host lavender festivals and the numerous lavender farms invite visitors to experience the beauty and fragrance of the Sequim Lavender Trail. (www.sequimlavender.org)
Sol Duc Valley
The Sol Duc Valley is carved by the Sol Duc River which is a key highway for Coho salmon. The Salmon Cascades Overlook is a popular fall destination to see Coho leap the falls. This area is also known for the healing waters of natural hot springs, which ancient inhabitants of the valley believed were created by dragons. From Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort take a short hike through old growth forest to reach the magnificent Sol Duc Falls overlook. The waterfall splits into several channels as it cascades over the 48-foot drop into a rocky canyon.
Nestled in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains is Lake Crescent, a deep and crystal-clear lake carved by glaciers and surrounded by old growth forests. Hiking trails here climb into the mountains or explore lowland forests and streams. The hike to Marymere Falls is a favorite here, as is the Spruce Railroad Trail. Historic Lake Crescent Lodge built in 1915 maintains the charm of a turn-of-the-century resort. Around the lake are campgrounds, boat launches, picnic areas, and beaches. About 18 miles east of Lake Crescent is Port Angeles, a bustling coastal town and maritime community with a historic downtown and charming waterfront with shops, eateries, galleries, and bookstores to lose yourself for days. (www.visitportangeles.com)
A primary agricultural area in the northeastern Olympic Peninsula, Chimacum Valley is known as a local food basket and farm-to-table paradise. The valley is home to many modern small farms, farmsteads, a full-service farmstand grocer carrying locally produced goods, and a community farmers’ market contributing a variety of delectable delights for the area. Take a tasty detour and follow the Cider Route through the valley to Port Townsend (www.opciderroute.com). This historic Victorian seaport and arts community with its vibrant arts, culture, and dining scene is a destination unto itself.
About ten miles south of Port Townsend you’ll find Port Hadlock-Irondale, a waterside treasure with maritime history, beaches, artisan food, and the world renowned Northwest School of Wooden Boats. The twin islands, Indian Island and Marrowstone Island, across the bay are accessible by boat or car. Between the two islands, the inlet of Mystery Bay is a great place to paddle around. Find a military fort, a lighthouse, and more at Fort Flagler Historical State Park at the top of Marrowstone Island. Another ten miles south is the transformed former logging and shipbuilding town of Port Ludlow set on the peaceful Ludlow Bay against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks with magical views in all directions. Hiking, paddling, fine dining, and cider tasting are just a few of the pleasures to be found here. Not far from the natural sandy beaches and the Port Ludow Resort and Marina is a championship 18-hole golf course.
During these fast-changing times, please check your destination for guidelines, closures, and updated hours.