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Olympic Peninsula Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway


Nature Beckons
Hidden Treasures of Washington's Olympic Peninsula
By Deborah Ashin


Snow-capped mountains
Snow-capped mountains

With its lush rain forests, rugged beaches and majestic mountains, Washington's extraordinary Olympic Peninsula offers a rainbow of vacation experiences and wilderness adventures. Because this compact geographic area boasts a variety of weather zones and multiple terrains, you can enjoy a range of outdoor experiences and spectacular scenery in just a few days.

Imagine snow skiing, cycling, fishing and surfing, as well as visiting lavender farms and soaking in hot mineral springs — all in just 72 hours! The Olympic Peninsula offers experiences for everyone. It's ideal for a family vacation whether your passion is tranquil nature walks or exhilarating kayaking excursions. The area's rainy reputation — the Hoh Rainforest receives the most rain of any region in the continental United States — creates the Olympic Peninsula's lush vegetation, lakes, waterfalls and rivers. Yes, it's wet but winters are surprisingly mild and summers generally pleasant. This makes the peninsula visit-worthy in all seasons — provided you pack a raincoat or keep an umbrella handy.  Several areas actually receive less rain than one might expect, since they are sheltered from storms by the mountains. Miles of beaches and diverse wildlife fill any visit to the Olympic Peninsula with surprises.

Lodging options reflect the diversity of the area's geography: You can camp out on the beach, relax in a beautiful rustic lodge or stay in an exquisitely restored Victorian mansion. Dining in the Olympic Peninsula also offers a range of culinary adventures. If your focus is on eating locally, this region is home to organic farms, dairies, cheese producers, cideries and wineries. Wild mushrooms, cranberry bogs and an abundance of seafood, including oyster flats, clam beds and wild salmon runs, inspire local chefs to create what foodies call Olympic Coastal cuisine.

Several festivals celebrate the area's natural culinary abundance, including Brinnon's ShrimpFest over Memorial Day, the annual CrabFest held every October in Port Angeles, Sequim's Incredible Edible Festival in September and a Taste of the Peninsula in November. To create a food-focused itinerary, check out olympicculinaryloop.com

With the area's stunning natural beauty, year-round special events and numerous opportunities for outdoor activities, there's a reason why the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington State's most precious treasures.  You can pack a lot of activities into two nights and three days, or take it slow and savor just a few things along the trail.

OLYMPIC PENINSULA ITINERARY: DAY 1

Driving from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula is easy, but it's also possible to arrive by plane.

If you want to get there quickly, local airline Kenmore Air, collaborating with Alaska Airlines, flies four to six times daily directly into Port Angeles' William R. Fairchild International Airport. From here you can take a guided excursion with All Points Charters & Tours, or rent a car to continue your peninsula journey.

If flying doesn't appeal, there are three driving options from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. The most direct route is to take U.S. Interstate 5 through Olympia, the state capital, and then head northwest on U.S. Highway 101, which crosses the beautiful Hood Canal. Hood Canal is not a man-made canal, but a fjord Mother Nature carved at the end of the Ice Age when the glaciers retreated from Puget Sound. Follow Highway 104 across the Canal until it joins scenic Highway 101.

If the tide is low, be sure to stop at a turnout and watch the "pebbles" on the shore; they're likely to be oysters. Clams and mussels can also be found in abundance, with many beds along Hood Canal "farmed" by commercial or native Indian operations. Enjoy freshly harvested seafood at restaurants in Quilcene or Brinnon, known as Emerald Towns of the Olympic National Forest and check out Hood Canal Seafood, Whistling Oyster Bar or the Geoduck Tavern. While in the Brinnon area, pull over and stretch your legs with a short walk to Rocky Brook Falls. The area has one of the richest marine environments in the world, supporting an intricate web of living creatures: more than 200 kinds of fish, fourteen species of marine mammals, 31 species of waterfowl, 57 species of birds, hundreds of types of shellfish, anemones, sea stars, worms and other invertebrates, diverse communities of algae and eelgrass all live here in ecological harmony. The waters of the Hood Canal offer some of the best diving on the peninsula.

From Hoodsport, head to Camp Cushman and Recreation Park, a 500-acre campground in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. With spectacular vistas of snow-capped mountains, the park offers miles of nature trails, water skiing and boating in Lake Cushman. For a different perspective, visit Dosewallips State Park for breath-taking views of Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains. The elegant Alderbrook Lodge is a lovely place to spend the night. On day 2, your journey will continue to Port Townsend or you can continue driving and spend the night there instead.

If you choose either of the other travel options, you will take a different route, but add a ferry boat ride to your adventure, also ending up at Port Ludlow. Both ferry routes have frequent departures, generally every hour, but check specific schedules at www.wsdot.wa.gov. One route leaves the waterfront in downtown Seattle and docks 30 minutes later at Bainbridge Island, a second departs from Edmonds, 18 miles north of Seattle, and arrives 15 minutes later at Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Drive aboard one of the serene Washington State ferries that are part of the state-run ferry system — elegant white vessels with two-story double car decks, and then stroll around the deck to enjoy beautiful water views. When you drive off the ferry, take Highway 305 to Highway 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge, which leads to Port Ludlow.

Resort at Port Ludlow
Resort at Port Ludlow
This peaceful recreational and retirement community is popular with boaters and golfers, thanks to a 27-hole golf course. Built on the shores of Ludlow Bay, it offers refined hiking on wooded trails and paths. You can also dig for clams and oysters along the beach, and drive or cycle through the scenic countryside. Condominiums at the Resort at Port Ludlow are available to rent for small groups or for family vacations. Rooms at the romantic Inn at Port Ludlow have mountain or water views. In the evening, dine on Dungeness crab cakes, cold-water prawns, and pan-roasted salmon at the Inn's Fireside Restaurant. Your other option is to continue driving another 30 minutes and stay in the charming Victorian seaport of Port Townsend. Considering spending the night in a cozy B&B in one of the restored Victorian mansions or find a welcoming room at the historic Manresa Castle Hotel and Inn with its lovely gardens.

Continue to Day 2

MORE OLYMPIC PENINSULA INFORMATION



* Mountain image by www.nps.gov/olym

(Updated: 10/12/12 DL)


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