I have lived in Oregon for 28 of my 37 years. When I was a child, my family took us on trips all over the Pacific Northwest—to watch sheep being born at Oregon State University, to see the ash and sediment left behind by Mt. St. Helens, to visit the Maryhill Museum’s Stonehenge memorial. We wandered through Shaniko and visited family in Yakima and rode the alpine slides at Mt. Hood.
But somehow, in all that time, I never made it to the Olympic Peninsula until this spring. This was a tragic oversight, because the Olympic Peninsula combines all of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest gifts—seafood, forests, rippling water and a heaping dose of quaint charm.
First, the facts. The Olympic Peninsula is huge and virtually every inch of it beautiful and interesting. The center of the peninsula is dominated by Olympic National Park and surrounding national forestland. You can spend three days or three weeks and still have dozens more spots to explore.
Cutting over from I-5 near Olympia, one mandatory stop on the way up Highway 101 on the eastern side of the peninsula should be Hama Hama Oyster Co. The rustic seafood spot on the shores of Hood Canal serves up grilled oysters, local beer and other delicacies. Nearby are two of the area’s twenty-two waterfalls, many of which are easily accessible from roads.
If the goal is a quiet, romantic weekend, the Inn at Port Ludlow has you covered. The property, tucked away on a quiet marina, has water views, a rocky beach to stretch your legs and fine dining in The Fireside, its on-site restaurant. Pick from locally caught seafood—the scallops are divine—to pair with a glass of Washington wine while resting in front of a double-sided floor-to-ceiling fireplace. And if you’re traveling with a four-legged friend, know the pup will be well cared for with chef-made treats and pet-friendly rooms.
Near Port Ludlow are several farms available for tours, including the Finnriver Farm & Cidery, which makes fruit wines and hard ciders. The property is open daily for cider tastings and offers music and other specials, like crepes, on the weekends.
Less than 20 miles up the road lies Port Townsend, one of the most adorable small towns in America—the whole city is a National Historic Landmark built on a Victorian seaport. Farther west lies Port Angeles, the largest city on the peninsula. It’s the spot to catch the ferry to Victoria, BC, but it’s much more than that—check out the hip Next Door Gastropub for a beer and a burger, Turnip the Beet for some veggie options, or Coyote for barbeque. The city’s farmers market is small but mighty, and its downtown is filled with locally owned shops, including two great bookstores—Port Book and News and Odyssey Books & Gifts. Squeeze in a quick trip through the Webster’s Woods Art Park, an outdoor art installation that will have you craning your neck in all directions to find the art hidden among the trees.
If you’re a fan of the Twilight books or movie series, a must-see on your tour through the peninsula is Forks and nearby La Push. The setting for the travails of Bella, Edward and Jacob, Forks in particular has capitalized on this craze, and beginning in May, the Rainforest Arts Center opened a permanent collection of props, costumes and other pieces. You’ll know you’ve reached the Center and its display, called Forever Twilight in Forks, when you hit the town’s only stoplight. Over in La Push, Jacob’s neck of the woods, are some truly spectacular beaches. Huge downed trees lay strewn in the sand, while rock formations jut out of the water. If you can get a day without fog, hightail it that direction.
It’s easy to visit the peninsula and not find time to venture into the national park, but that would be a huge mistake. There are no roads crossing the park—this wilderness is a United Nations-designated World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, and it is a great spot for a backpacking trip, camping and long hikes. The variety of ecosystems in this park can be shocking—travel from a rain forest to some of the 70 miles of wild coastline to snow-topped mountains.
If driving, there are plenty of places to get a taste of the wilderness. Hurricane Ridge offers stunning views of the mountain range and is only about 17 miles south of Port Angeles. The Hoh Rain Forest, where between 12 and 14 feet of rain fall each year, is one of those places that makes you search for more words to describe the shades of green you’ll see. Several hikable trails start from the forest’s visitor center—the Hall of Mosses is a 0.8-mile loop that provides visitors with a glimpse of the many ferns, mosses and tall trees that cover this area.
Nearby are hiking trails that lead around the national parkland, including to Sol Duc Falls. About 5 miles down the road from the resort is a viewing area where Coho salmon, migrating to spawn, jump a small cascade.
The park and surrounding national forest contain five lodges and resorts as well as hundreds of campsites, primarily available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Should “rustic” not be your thing, check out Lake Quinault Lodge. The lodge, built in 1926, is stunning—the grounds are even more splendid. A large lawn with a smattering of Adirondack chairs slopes down to the lake, where you can rent kayaks or swim off the dock in the summer. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset, cocktail optional.
Hama Hama Company
Next Door Gastropub
Finnriver Farm & Cidery
WHERE TO STAY
Inn at Port Ludlow
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
Lake Quinault Lodge
WHERE TO PLAY
Webster’s Woods Art Park
Rainforest Arts Center
Olympic National Park