Wednesday, January 18, 2017

10 Things to do on the Olympic Penninsula This Spring

Winter is over, and the warm spring air is melting the snow off the peaks of the Olympic Range. The streams, creeks, and rivers tumble down the mountain valleys filling the lakes that ultimately drain into the Pacific Ocean and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The Olympic Peninsula truly is Washington State's wild frontier. With a narrow band of land wrapping around the peaks of the Olympic National Park, driving the 101 loop is an experience unmatched by other drives within the state. Everything from wild elk herds walking the city streets of Sequim to the crashing of the Pacific Ocean carving away the land in a never ending dance with the shore. 

One could drive the Hwy 101 loop in a casual, leisurely 7-hour meander and still see sweeping vistas, pounding seas, rivers of glacier melt and towering forests of fir and pine. Though it would be a pretty drive, you would be missing out on so much that the region has to show you. We recommend spending 3 or 4 days to take in our favorite sites off this amazing land. Following are the top 10 things to see and do on the Olympic Peninsula. It was difficult narrowing the list down because there are so many beautiful stops on this iconic loop to choose.
Our trip will start in the city of Olympia, the state capital, and we will weave our way up Hwy 101 North to Port Townsend.  From there we will follow the Hwy 101 loop almost exclusively and eventually end our trip in Ocean Shores.
We recommend getting a bit of an early start when you begin this drive to prevent feeling rushed and missing out on the scenery. The first leg of your journey will take approximately 3 hours. It is only a two-hour drive from Olympia to Port Townsend, but you are going to want to stop along the way and enjoy the scenery. Make sure your camera is charged because there will be several opportunities to take pictures along the way. 

1. Hoodsport Winery

Your first stop is going to be Hoodsport Winery located in Hoodsport, the gateway to the Staircase of the Olympic National Park. Hoodsport Winery is a small award winning winery located on the rural Olympic Peninsula. From the winery, you have a majestic view of the Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains, just as the bottle label depicts. A pioneer in the Washington State wine industry, Hoodsport Winery originated in 1978 when there were only sixteen wineries in the state. Washington now has over six hundred wineries. This unique winery offers not only some of the best wine offerings on the Peninsula, but you will also want to check out their other items as well. If you are a fan of locally roasted coffee, you are in for a treat. If chocolates are your thing, they have you covered. And while you are trying to figure out what jam or gift baskets to take home, don't forget you are right next to the Hood Canal with incredible natural beauty so you may want to get the camera ready.

2. Octopus Hole Conservation Area

Octopus Hole is a designated conservation area 5 minutes up the road from Hoodsport. The site is marked with conservation signs, an old sign from Mike's Dive Shop (now closed), and two limited parking areas on both lanes of the highway. Octopus Hole is very popular with scuba divers who enjoy diving the walls associated with the site to view various underwater creatures, including but not limited to Lingcod, Giant Pacific Octopus, Wolf Eel, Sea Cucumber, and Nudibranch. The walls on this site are accessible as shore dives. To access the area on the Hood Canal from the highway, you must straddle the Highway 101 guard rail, then walk down the crude steps to the shore, some 20–30 feet below. There is no fee to access this site, which is publicly accessible.

3. Port Townsend, Washington

A bit of an hour drive North of Octopus Hole is the City of Port Townsend. This historic city is not on Hwy 101, but it is worth the 15-minute detour onto State Route 20 at Discovery Bay. There is no one place to visit on this stop, the town itself is the thing to do.

Founded as "The City of Dreams" in 1851 because of the grand dreams of the coming railroad, Port Townsend has become the West Coast mecca for wooden boat fans and those that have a love of art. With the many art galleries, locally owned shops, and historic buildings, this stop on our journey deserves more than just a quick drive through. If you choose to get out of the car and walk the streets you will be greeted with friendly people, street performers busking on the corners, and if you are lucky, you will see some of the local steampunk contingency walking the streets in all their sci-fi Victorian finery. 

There is never a shortage of activities here, either. Spring and Summer are the perfect time for whale watching tours offered by Puget Sound Express. If you happen to arrive on a day when the Port Townsend Farmers Market is open, you will be in for a treat. The scent of locally grown herbs, fresh spring flowers, home baked goods, and sounds of live music fill the air. 

So grab a cup of coffee to go, stop by Water Front Pizza for a slice and explore the city for a bit. And if you see a man wearing a top hat and using a 6-foot tall walking stick with a skull on top, stop and ask him to tell you a story. Grymm Dupp, the local haunted historian, just loves talking about the Twisted History of his chosen home.

Swan Hotel Penthouse
We recommend the night in Port Townsend to be able to take advantage of all this city has to offer. Considering the many choices for lodging, you can find just the right place to rest your head, but we do have a couple of suggestions for you that you are sure to love. 

The Swan Hotel, located at the end of downtown's Water Street is a real treat. When making your reservations, ask for rooms A7 or A8 for they afford breathtaking water views. For a few more dollars the spacious Penthouse Suite is perfect for those that want to pamper themselves. 

The Bishop Victorian Hotel is Port Townsend's number one rated hotel for a reason. Beautifully restored, this 1891 3-story brick building will allow you to experience the past and the present at the same time. Spacious, clean, and dog-friendly, they serve a continental breakfast delivered in a basket to your room every morning. Check out is 11 am at both hotels, but tomorrow there are several miles to travel, so consider checking out around 8 or 9 am, grab breakfast and hit the road.

4. Railroad Bridge Park

After leaving Port Townsend, you will find yourself back on Hwy 101 heading west to the city of Sequim. Sequim is a town that is world renowned for its many lavender farms and the yearly Lavender Festival. If you are lucky while you are here, you may get to see the resident Roosevelt Elk herd grazing in the fields surrounding the town. A city that is coming into its own, Sequim has been everything from a heritage farming community to a location where people from around the country have decided to retire. With a temperate climate, beautiful views of the Olympic Mountain Range and miles of beaches, Sequim is a paradise for those that want easy access to the wilds of the Penninsula without leaving the city. When approaching Sequim from the highway, you will notice how this community has held onto its past while still embracing modern conveniences. 

You will find Railroad Park at the end of Hendricks Road off Priest Road; turn left at Wal-Mart and follow the signs. 
Railroad Park in Sequim, Washington
When you arrive, the first thing you will see is the dominating railroad trestle that crosses the wild Dungeness River. The bridge is now part of an extensive walking and bike path. Keep an eye out for jumping fish in the river and Bald Eagles overhead. When sitting on one of the benches on the trestle, you will forget that you are in the middle of a city. The bridge is a great spot just to sit and take it all in. Don't forget, though; we still have more miles to travel, and losing track of time is easy to do here. 

7. Hurricane Ridge
No trip to the Olympic Penninsula would be complete without a trip to Hurricane Ridge, just outside of Port Angeles. When you leave Sequim, drive west on Hwy 101 for about 20 minutes or so to the city of Port Angeles. A former lumber and mill town, Port Angeles lies between jagged mountain peaks and the Salish Sea. 

This mountain peak offers spectacular views of the Olympic National Park, as well as year around activities such as hiking, skiing, and snowboarding. When standing on the viewing deck, you'll be surrounded by rugged and wild mountains. There are several hiking trails for short excursions as well as walks that take you into the heart of the park. If you chose the longer trails, you might have to add a day onto this excursion. 

When driving the winding road to the summit, be sure to be on the lookout for the abundant wildlife in the fields and hills. Observant passengers may get to see deer or the occasional mama bear showing baby bear where the best treats are hiding. When you get to the summit, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for chipmunks, squirrels, eagles and other wildlife common to the area. On your drive back down the mountain, several pullout lots will give opportunities to take in more of the awe-inspiring mountain views. This is the stuff writers write about and painters paint! 

As much as we enjoy Hurricane Ridge, it is time to head down the mountain back to Port Angeles for lunch, and then we head to our next destination. When you get downtown, find a parking spot and start your hunt for a restaurant or cafe to recharge your batteries. The city offers everything from Chinese food to seafood and everything in between. Just go for a walk around town until somethings calls to you. We promise something will. 

6. Marymere Falls / Lake Crescent

Continuing on the 101 loop, about 20 minutes west of Port Angeles is Lake Crescent. Known for its brilliant blue waters and exceptional clarity, is the gem of the region. The lake itself is tucked into a 12-mile long valley and is over 600 feet deep. The winding road has several turnouts so you can stop and enjoy the view.

Located in a popular recreational area and home to many trails, including the Spruce Railroad Trail, Pyramid Mountain Trail, and the Barnes Creek Trail to Marymere Falls one could spend an entire day exploring the area. Here are a couple of our favorites:

Marymere Falls at Lake Cresent

The Spruce Railroad Trail follows the grade of what was once the tracks of a logging railroad along the shores of the lake. Following this trail on the north side of the lake, one can find the entrance to an old railroad tunnel as well as "Devils Punch Bowl," a popular swimming and diving area.

The hike to the falls is only 1.5 miles from the Storm King Ranger Station. Though not the largest falls in the state, they are one of the most beautiful cascades of water you will see. The viewpoint on the hillside looks down on the falls, which occur as Falls Creek plunges through a notch in the cliff. The lower platform gives a view directly opposite the base of the falls. Marymere Falls, named in honor of Mary Alice Barnes, sister of Charles Barnes, a member of the Press Expedition of 1889 is well worth the visit.

When we visit Lake Crescent, we just have to stop and enjoy the view from Lake Crescent Lodge, which you just may want to do if you have the time.

After spending some time admiring the lake, it is time to continue west past the lake and head to Forks, Washington for some dinner and a good night's sleep. By the time you make it to Forks, have dinner and check into your room, it will have been about an 8 hour day. We have provided some links for your Forks dining and lodging options.

8. Hoh Rain Forrest

Entering the Fairy Lands
Approximately one hour from Forks is the Hoh Rain Forest. The forest in and of itself is worth the drive. The reason we save this for the last day of our trip is so we can time it as our first stop of the day. We could easily spend an entire day in this rain forest. Yes, we did say RAIN FOREST!

For most of the drive, after you turn off the highway onto Upper Hoh Road, you will be following the deep blue-green waters of the glacier runoff of the Hoh River. Fed by streams and snowmelt as well as the melting ice of the Blue Glacier on Mt. Olympus, this truly is a spectacular river.

As incredible as it is, you still have not reached the best part of this morning's drive. A few miles up the road you will notice the vegetation changing. The trees here grow bigger and hanging from the branches are long tangled bunches of green moss. With over 200 inches of rain a year, the plant life has taken full advantage of the rainfall. It is almost like driving back in time to the era of dinosaurs. There is a small fee at the ranger gate, but that only means you have arrived. Try and get there early because this time of year parking can be difficult. 

The Hoh Rain Forest is alive with all manner of trees, mosses, ferns and fungus. Weaving through all of this are miles of walking trails that give you a chance to take it all in. The trails are well maintained and relatively easy to walk. Please, stay on the trails because the forest is thick and stepping off the path may cause you to get lost. Scattered along the trails are information stations highlighting the story of the forest. Pay close attention to your surroundings because every time you turn your head, there is more to see. If you have little children with you, challenge them to find the unicorns and fairies. That is our daughter's favorite part of visiting the Hoh Rain Forrest. She caught a glimpse of a unicorn last year. (I saw a unicorn's butt, Daddy!) 

9. Coastal Beaches

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After leaving the Hoh, it is a 45-minute drive to the iconic Washington Coast. The Pacific Coast is truly a landscape like no other in Washington. The first beach you will come to is called Ruby Beach. Depending on when you arrive, parking can be a bit of a hassle so you may have to make a loop or two around the parking lot. After you park, this may be a good time to take advantage of the public restrooms in the parking area because there are no facilities on the beach. 

The trail to the beach is about a quarter mile long and relatively easy though a little steep in a couple of spots. This walk is a feast for the senses, as you will hear the crashing waves and smell the salty ocean air.
When you get to the bottom of the trail, there will be a plethora of driftwood logs clogging the way that you will have to step over before you are on the beach. 

The breathtaking shore is the first thing you will notice as the trail opens onto the beach. Scattered on the sand are perfectly flat, round skipping stones. The stones eventually give way to a sandy beach, and this is where the name comes into play. The beach is called Ruby Beach because of the ruby-like crystals in the beach sand. Sea stacks of eroded bluff stand guard over the beach. When the tide is out it is possible to walk up to these sea stacks and explore the nooks and crannies for a myriad of sea life in the tidal pools.

It is hard to admire the crashing waves just off shore because there is so much to see in the rocks littered around these islands. Don't get to caught up on this one beach, though; there is more to see down the road. A little further south is...well, South Beach. It is a public access beach and campground. The shore is easier to get to than Ruby Beach and offers a full 180-degree unobstructed view of the coast. Miles of walking and beach combing are available here. The water is a bit cold during the spring, but it is still fun to get your feet wet and feel the pull of the water on the sand you are standing. It is not recommended to be on this beach during stormy weather because of the driftwood logs riding the high tide line. After you get your feet wet and have a conversation with the Pacific Ocean, if she will let you tear yourself away, we have on more stop to make before we call it a day. Time your departure from South Beach with enough time to reach Ocean Shores well before

10. Ocean Shores Sunset

It is an hour and a half drive from South Beach to Ocean Shores, Washington and we deviate off Hwy 101 for this leg of the journey. Drive 45 miles south on 101 until you reach Humptulips. (Yes, that is the name of the town such as it is.) Turn onto Kilpatrick road to Ocean Shores for another 29 miles. Upon arrival, stop at the local grocery store on the main drag of town and pick up some food for a beachfront picnic.

Ocean Shores has a coastal highway that is literally...well, the coast. In this part of the state, you are allowed to drive right on the beach. Find a spot and park facing the water and enjoy the fading light of day. Be mindful of the tides as they can sneak in and can make driving difficult. Break out the picnic supplies and wait. It is well worth it; I promise you. Truly, a rare opportunity to sit on the sand or in the comfort of your car and watch the sun kiss the ocean goodnight. 

When the sun goes down, and it is time to leave the beach, you will be happy to know there are several hotels right on the water from which to choose. Again, it is recommended to make reservations in advance. Also, up the road from Ocean Shores is the Quinault Beach Resort Casino that offers a spa, fitness club, slots and card games as well as a restaurant. Regardless of where you stay in Ocean Shores, make sure you ask for a beach side room so you can wake up to the beauty of the ocean and the smell of the salt breeze.

We hope to see you around this season and when you take this trip, share some of your pictures and thoughts with us along the way.