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Olympic National Park is the crown jewel in the landscape of the Pacific Northwest and a highlight of any trip to Washington state. But the entire Olympic Peninsula is rich with travel opportunities for many kinds of excursions. These include active backpacking adventures, relaxing nature-bathing leisure trips and gatherings with girlfriends in small coastal towns glimmering with Puget Sound personality.
Rugged beauty will meet you at every turn on the Olympic Peninsula. Picturesque towns on Puget Sound, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, the temperate rain forests, tidepools, waterfalls and wild coastal beaches create an unforgettable bonanza of travel experiences.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Olympic Peninsula?
Summer is high season out on the Olympic Peninsula, so make plans and reservations well in advance. Off-season travel is rewarded with fewer crowds, lower rates, easier reservations, stunning greenery, and fantastic storm-watching. (Yes, storm-watching is a thing out here!)
During my late March trip, I got to witness snow up high and misty sun showers down below. Rain gear and layers make any time of year a fine time to explore the unparalleled beauty of the Olympic Peninsula.
Read on for a handy guide to a loop trip around the Olympic Peninsula. Or, pick and choose the highlights that most appeal to you, and drop them into your own itinerary for this Washington wonderland.
Get ready for an unforgettable landscape you’ll want to return to again and again.
SheBuysTravel Tip: This is an east-to-west loop description, for those of you starting from the Seattle area. Heading here from Olympia or Portland? Simply read from the bottom up for a west-to-east loop in the reverse direction.
Landed at Seattle International Airport and need an overnight stop in order to rest up from travel? Hitting the Seattle area via car and want a break before heading farther westward? Or, want a cozy destination perfect for a weekend away with a loved one? Gig Harbor is a beloved coastal hamlet on Puget Sound for many reasons.
With waterfront walks and views that will drop your jaw, and plenty of local shops and eateries to savor along the way, Gig Harbor is a stroll-and-be-satisfied kind of place.
First up: For us, it was getting some long-awaited oysters and Puget Sound cuisine! The Trolley at the Boatyard delivered fabulous pan-seared, lightly breaded oysters right next to the boat docks. Ambiance and delicious nibbles all in one stop!
SheBuysTravel Tip: The highlight for some of the Olympic Peninsula is its remote character and its correspondingly non-guaranteed cell service. I use Verizon, and personally was able to use my cell phone throughout my trip to some, non-streaming extent. Other carriers will not have coverage. If you plan to do remote hiking or camping or have particular personal medical situations, you might consider bringing a Garmin device.
Things to do in Gig Harbor
After getting food fueled we walked next door to the famous Skansie Brothers waterfront park, site of one of the area’s historic net sheds. Perfect for picnics, outdoor play, and a lazy afternoon, this park has restrooms, a splash pad during summer, and hosts the local farmers. market.
While in the neighborhood, don’t miss a visit to Harbor Wildwatch, a local nonprofit devoted to education about the preservation of the Puget Sound marine environment. It hosts beach walks in the area, and this brick-and-mortar headquarters has hands-on exhibits perfect for little ones who want to get up close and personal with marine plants and creatures.
Want to make a craft memento to commemorate your trip, or set up a fun group activity during your stay? Don’t miss Jasmine Schmidt’s AR Workshop, a 5-minute walk from the waterfront in “downtown” Gig Harbor.
An arts and crafts DIY-with-guidance space, Jasmine’s local installation of the national AR Workshop network recently won its “best local branch” award. She’s created a vibrant community hub for artistic creation and gives back by hosting events for local schools.
Stop in and hear her great story, and support this local creative endeavor while you’re in town. Jasmine’s hospitality, personal passion story, and positivity made me love Gig Harbor even more.
Fun for Adults in Gig Harbor
Need a great read for your Olympic Peninsula journey? Before leaving town stop in at Invitation Bookshop and let them help you find a local author selection, a regional guide book, or maybe a great classic novel.
The Heritage Distillery Company tasting room right in downtown Gig Harbor may prolong your stay, with its top-notch quality and distinctive flavor combinations.
For The Love of Spice is another place to linger. Discover easy ways to enhance your home cooking with their fantastic oil selection and spice extravaganza.
Things to do with Kids in Gig Harbor
Check out the Harbor History Museum, a 20-minute walk up the waterfront from Skansie Brothers Park.
A short drive to the “uptown” area of Gig Harbor is Ocean5, a multi-platform entertainment outing for the whole family (think: bowling, laser tag, arcade, magic shows!).
Forget some car-trip toys and activities for the kids? Locally-owned Teaching Toyand Books in the uptown shopping center has you covered.
Where to Stay in Gig Harbor
Loving Gig Harbor so much you want to stay over? Or need a night to recover from travel before hitting the road again?
I was lucky to enjoy the locally-managed Best Western Wesley Inn & Suites, easy walking distance from the waterfront, and a cozy place to rest and recharge after a long journey across the Cascades from eastern Washington.
Helpful staff, large rooms, and good outdoor patio make it a great landing spot after a day of sightseeing.
With two National Historical Landmark Districts, a rich maritime history, Victorian architecture, and bustling food and arts communities, Port Townsend is another beloved Puget Sound town. This picturesque coastal hamlet is about 1.5 hours up the peninsula.
Just stopping for a couple of hours? Head to downtown and stroll the locally-distinctive shops and eateries near the waterfront.
Kids clamoring for their own kind of thing? Everyone will be delighted with a stop at Elevated Ice Cream & Candy Shop and then blow off some steam at the lovely waterfront Chetzemoka Park.
Fort Worden Historical State Park
Ok, readers—ever since my Olympic Peninsula trip I’ve been dreaming of Fort Worden Historical State Park and the different kinds of trips I’d like to get back there for:
- An easy outdoor-wonderland trip with family
- A secluded girls-only trip for re-connecting
- A weekend solitude sojourn for my own well-being.
Fort Worden is perfectly suited for each of these kinds of travel yearnings (and more!).
A former military base now repurposed for dozens of travel-friendly activities—outdoor recreation, family reunions, retreats, special events, beach-combing, classes—Fort Worden is a fantastic base for a Port Townsend vacation.
Set on the Strait of Juan De Fuca, with views of both the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges, Fort Worden’s location lets you gaze upon the majestic natural landmarks of Washington.
With hundreds of acres of green space, miles of fabulous beaches (without crashing surf, and child-friendly), tons of walking and biking paths, and a wide array of unforgettable lodging options, Fort Worden is a great rinse-and-repeat kind of destination. Once you’ve come here, you can come back every year to create and recreate memories with friends, family, and loved ones.
Its enduring beauty and amenities let you visit without a lot of planning—simply show up year after year, and receive its bounty of natural and historical treasures.
The Lavender Capital of North America (festival in July!), and popular pastoral destination for Seattleites, you’ll probably find Sequim (pronounced like “Squim”) locals most excited to tell you about the Olympic Game Farm. (In fact, people in Port Townsend were already talking to me about it!)
Initially operated as a home for animal actors for Walt Disney Studios, upon the passing of Walt Disney the game farm was converted into a conservation location for the animals, and then opened as a way for people to see large, “wild” animals in a non-zoo setting.
A drive-through-only game park, visitors can purchase bread to feed to the animals as they approach your (slowly moving) car. (Not all animals can be fed — one section of the driving tour is “viewing only” — e.g. wolves, tigers, and bears!)
This is definitely an experience that has to be seen in order to be believed. Personally, I’d recommend having one adult who’s in charge of driving and another who’s in charge of passing out the bread.
And be warned—these animals know the drill! They will stick their heads in and try to get that loaf of bread in your lap!
Where to Stay in Sequim
Need an overnight stop for your loop journey? I can recommend the Holiday Inn Express & Suites. A perfect pool for kids, and super handy Black Bear Diner next door.
I happened to be traveling with my 4-year-old, and the reality is that playing in the human-made fountains and landscape of the diner were as enjoyable for her as the natural wonders of the rest of the peninsula.
But the best highlight was hotel employee Christine—she makes balloon animals for the kids every morning and fruit art in the water dispenser every day for the rest of us. She gets the ebb and flow of travel with children and simply is a rockstar at her job.
A short hop on the 101 westward from Sequim takes you to Port Angeles, another Olympic Peninsula coastal town steeped in history and PNW vibes.
The gateway town to Olympic National Park, you’ll notice a distinct landscape change as you approach Port Angeles. Tucked in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, you’ll literally see the mountains-meets-the-sea phenomenon for which the entire peninsula is known.
The vibe of Port Angeles is different from Gig Harbor and Port Townsend. Its proximity to logging history and industry, and its location further inland, bring a grittier layer to the natural splendor surrounding it.
Washington’s contribution to a PNW aesthetic is of course the lushness of its forests and the sea-to-summit grandeur of its mountains, but it also shows up in the coffee & craft beer-infused seasons of rain, drizzle, and hard manual work. Port Angeles keeps it real.
Travel highlights here—aside from being a portal to the National Park Service’s Olympic National Park—are the harborside Feiro Marine Life Center and the easy access right beside it to the Olympic Discovery Trail. At Feiro you can enjoy hands-on exhibits featuring the marine life of the surrounding waters—the center’s aquariums are literally filled with water, sea flora, and sea creatures from the surrounding Salish Sea. How cool is that?!
101 Westbound Side Trips: Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent
For a first-hand experience of Port Angeles’ sea-to-summit location, head to the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park. With mountain meadow hiking trails in summer and skiing in winter, Hurricane Ridge boasts crazy cool views and Olympic Mountain immersion.
SheBuysTravel Tip: In winter, the road is often impassable. Best bet: use the convenient park-sponsored shuttle from Port Angeles.
Westward on the 101, as you head toward the coast, you’ll hit Lake Crescent about 30 minutes from Port Angeles.
Stay at the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, or enjoy a hike on one of the many trails around the lake, or out to Marymere Falls.
I drove this stretch of the 101 in late March and got lucky with the staggering natural phenomenon of witnessing new snow falling up high in the fir tree forest, while at ground/lake level we enjoyed a warm sun shower.
If you haven’t been gasping at the beauty on your drive so far, here’s where you might start being converted to the Olympic Peninsula’s special landscape magic.
With longstanding roots in the peninsula’s logging history—and more recently as the setting of the Twilight book series—Forks has a vibe all its own. The Timber Museum here and the Rainforest Arts Center’s special Twilight exhibit (don’t miss the annual Twilight festival in September!) offer a quick hit on the historical and contemporary lore of the area.
Forks is also home to your best chance for re-provisioning out on the peninsula, where services can be few and far between. Forks Outfitter Thriftway at the end of town is the place to stock up for your coastal section of this loop trip.
As you head towards the coast, the shift from Olympic Mountain power to ocean vistas and unruly beaches is remarkable.
It’s also a good time to gain some understanding of the relationship between the 8 Native American tribes on the peninsula and Olympic National Park land. To travel here is to be a guest on the ancestral lands of native peoples.
To the extent that you can learn as you go, take the time to stop at tribal visitors centers, and talk with locals, you will be making connections that can offer respect for the complex history of this land.
It would be hard to find a more spectacular introduction to coastal Olympic Peninsula than Cape Flattery. It’s the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States, on the Makah Reservation. A short hike leads to a viewing platform, where you can witness the joining of the Strait of Juan De Fuca and the Pacific Ocean.
Quillayute, WA Beaches
From Forks out to the coast, through Quileute (pronounced like “Quayl-uuwt”) tribal land, is just a 20-minute drive. Here you’ll find a series of beaches: Rialto Beach, First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach.
If you’re new to the coastal beach scene of the PNW, take note: This is not the calm and breezy sunglass and lifeguard world of southern California beaches. This is the potentially stormy, wavy, and surf-crashing world of Washington beaches. Respect the ocean’s power out here!
Yes, you will often have calmer days and the ability to beach comb and stroll at your leisure. You will also need to be aware of weather forecasts and tide charts. Let me say that again: Check the tide charts. Low tide is your friend, rising tide is your warning.
If you’re experiencing poor cellphone connection, reach out to local businesses and hotels — people understand the need to know when the tide will be high and when it will be low and are happy to share the info.
Where to Stay in Quileute
Want to stay somewhere special? As in, “Wow, I’ll never forget this place. Ever.” Then I can recommend to you the Quileute Oceanside Resort. Beachside lodging gives you a front-row experience of the unique history and legacies of this land, as well as stunning beach walks and sunsets.
With two lodge buildings, a variety of cabin styles (perfect for a special romantic getaway), and a new RV resort, Oceanside Resort offers a great balance of accommodation value and spectacular setting.
Inland Side Trip: Hoh Rainforest!
The Hall of Mosses Trail. If you live in Washington, or maybe even in the PNW more generally, this is sort of a touchstone of the state. You’ve either been to it and revere it. Or, it’s on your list of “not to be missed” and will be getting to it.
I can safely say: This is one of those famous destinations that is not overrated.
And, as such, when we showed up in late March after a fluke late-winter snow, the parking lot was already packed. The place is that much of a pilgrimage place. So, plan accordingly!
The Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center is about 1 hour from Forks, on an inland route. You’ll get stunning views of the Hoh River en route, and a visually stunning introduction to the flora of the temperate rainforest for which this area is justly famous.
If you’re here in the summer, the Hall of Mosses Trail will be packed. No way around it. Getting to the trailhead early is your best bet to enjoy a less-traveled trail. But, in general, just be prepared to share the trail with people, and enjoy the many occasions you’ll have to stop along the trail and gape at the moss wonderland. Take your time with this trail, and savor its verdant beauty.
Beachcombing, Tidepooling, Storm-Watching at Ruby Beach and Kalaloch Beach
You’ll find two of the PNW’s great beaches along this stretch of the peninsula—Ruby and Kalaloch Beach.
Ruby Beach is about 30 minutes south of Forks, or, if you’ve done the Hoh Rainforest side trip, about one hour away. Justly featured in many of “the greatest” lists and picture essays about Washington Coast beaches, Ruby Beach is mesmerizing. It has shoreline sea stacks, gorgeous woods hugging the beach, and tidepool opportunities. It’s also a great option for storm-watching during winter or, if you get here at high tide. A line of parking spots along the cliffside entrance driveway let you park and gaze for hours upon the Pacific’s vast size and crashing surf.
Kalaloch Beach is just south on the 101 from Ruby Beach and easy to combine with it. It offers viewing platforms for storm-watching, while a short hike leads to yet another majestic beach, with tidepool opportunities and lengthy beach walking at low tide. (See a theme here? )
SheBuysTravel Tip: It bears repeating for each of these beaches: Know your tides! It will enhance your ability to see more features, catch some great tidepool action, and keep you from getting marooned when the tide comes in.
Inland Side Trip: Quinault Lake, WA
Ok, from the wonders of Ruby and Kaloloch beaches, you have options. Got time? Take an inland side trip to the marvelous Quinault Lake, about 45 minutes’ drive from Kaloloch Beach. Got time, money, and reservations? Stay at the unforgettable Quinault Lodge on the lake. One of the great lodges in the National Park system, its setting and back lawn offer an unforgettable stay.
I’ve been to Quinault Lodge in the summer (very tricky to get reservations in high season) but any time of year at the lake is stunning. As soon as you accept that rain and mist are our necessary friends on the peninsula, the more expansive your travel options and delight will become.
No motorized boating on Lake Quinault means you’ll enjoy serene kayak opportunities, or lake-gazing days from the great lawn of the lodge. Lake Quinault and its surrounding area is also a hiker’s dream, with many levels of trails and lots of chances to be immersed in the surrounding rainforest.
Moclips, WA Beaches
Just over an hour from Kaloloch Beach south on the 101 (and 45 minutes from Lake Quinault), you’ll have passed around the coastal Quinault Reservation and hit the stretch of southern beaches on the peninsula.
This is where you’ll find miles and miles of perfect beach-walking, packed-down sand, especially at low tide. The gradual slope of the shoreline leaves wider swaths of land to explore—it’s literally a sand road, as cars are allowed on the beach.
Mocrocks Beach, Seabrook Beach, and, a bit further south, Pacific Beach, line the 101 and make great beach-day playgrounds. Mocrocks lies below towering cliffs, a stunning juxtaposition.
Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips
Looking for an unforgettable couple’s getaway locale? Or that special place your family can go to year after year? Then Ocean Crest Resort is your place. With its cliffside location, jaw-dropping views, and magical staircase to the beach, Ocean Crest has deep roots in Moclips.
Opened in the mid-20th century as a fledgling passion project by the Curtwrights—with host Barbara cooking and serving her famous clam chowder from a fire pit by the original cabins—the resort has expanded and upgraded over the decades to become the place to dine and stay on the southern Olympic coast.
With a variety of room options, onsite pool and spa, and onsite restaurant with enchanting views and food, Ocean Crest is a respite of delight. I could have stayed there gladly for a week—a month?!—and can’t wait to get back to enjoy it for a romantic holiday.
Three members of the family still work at Ocean Crest and have many stories to share about the resort’s special history. Resort manager Alexie Owen and General Manager Jess Owen are fantastic hosts and stewards of this distinctive property.
Jess’s spot-on tip: In an age of online booking, call them up in order to make a connection and let them help you find the right room to match your vacation desire.
Just Beyond the Peninsula: Mermaids & Tokeland
While technically beyond the Olympic Peninsula, I’d be remiss not to include a couple of Washington state highlights that are just down the 101, about an hour from Moclips around the bend from Aberdeen on Gray’s Harbor Bay.
At Aberdeen you’ll shift to Highway 105, a lovely coast-and-bay drive that takes you into prime oyster territory
International Mermaid Museum & Westport Winery
Need an attraction for little ones who are enamored with sequins, stories, and magical creatures from the sea? Don’t miss the International Mermaid Museum and its homage to mermaids and mermen.
Want to create a special event with live mermaid action? Contact Olive at The Seattle Mermaid School and prepare to be wowed by her gracious mermaid vibes and fabulous event creations.
Need some adult fun too? Right next door you’ll find the lovely Westport Winery and Ocean’s Daughter Distillery. They share outdoor grounds and gardens with the museum, so it’s truly a one-stop shop for a car trip break that will delight the whole crew.
Hop back on the 105 southbound for about 30 minutes along the coast, to a little place called Tokeland, a hamlet on a spot of land stretching into Willapa Bay, just past Shoalwater Bay and Shoalwater tribal land.
Rich with bay beauty, bird migrations, miles of tidal walking paths (and mud! Bring your muck boots!), complex history, oyster and razor clam bounty, and stunning skies, this niche of Washington state is off the beaten path in the best kind of way.
It’s a great place to end a long road trip, or to visit by itself and burrow for a while in its cozy splendor.
The Tokeland Hotel & Wandering Goose
Once in a while, there’s a place you’ll hear of, that will be recommended to you, and then when you get there you’re like, “Ohhhhhhhh, I get it now. This place IS all that.”
The Tokeland Hotel and its onsite restaurant (better: “fresh-comfort-beautiful-food-paradise) The Wandering Goose combine to offer that rare kind of non-chain experience: A celebratory, restorative locale away from home that honors both our wanderlust and our yearnings to root and burrow.
Stay for a weekend, a week, maybe even a month! I knew instantly this is one place I’ll head back to when I can get away for a solitude sojourn, especially in the misty off-season when bay walks and tea/coffee time are in peak form.
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