Western Washington State is incredibly green, and yes, it’s very rainy, that’s why it’s so green (duh!), but there’s more variety than you might realize. In one long drive along Highway 101 around the Olympic Peninsula, you’re guaranteed to find something that appeals to everyone in your car.
Olympic National Park occupies the majority of the peninsula’s interior, and it has more than enough mountains for any ambitious hiker. The Olympics really make East Coast mountain ranges look like hills that haven’t finished growing up yet. There are wonderful views from Hurricane Ridge of snowy peaks and lush green forest covering nearly one million acres. Especially if you’re visiting in fall, winter, or spring, just remember that the higher you go in the park, the more snow you’ll find.
Lake Quinault is understated compared to the majestic peaks of the Olympics, but it’s peacefully gorgeous in its own quiet way. Situated next to the Quinault Indian Reservation, it’s the sort of place where you could just stare into the water for a couple of hours and not know where the time went. There are trails running alongside, and again, the flora here is impossible verdant, but it’s a rainforest after all. If you’re making a longer trip, consider staying overnight at the Lake Quinault Lodge, which is incorporated beautifully into the surrounding landscape.
While you’re in the area, there’s no reason not to walk over to the world’s largest Sitka Spruce tree, which is 191 feet tall, nearly 18 feet in diameter, and around 1,000 years old. Again, it makes East Coast trees look like toothpicks.
Ruby Beach is a breathtaking stretch of Pacific Ocean. It may be too cold and slightly too rocky to lay out like you would in Florida, but it’s spectacular nonetheless, an ideal place to stop for a picnic, do some bird watching, and wander along the coast.
Dungeness Spit is another excellent strip of rugged beach, jutting off the peninsula’s northern coast. It’s one of the world’s longest natural sand spits, and it’s longer than it looks (five miles and growing due to winds and bluff erosion), so if you’d like to walk to the end and back, give yourself several hours, and remember that during high tide, there might be some spots that are harder to cross. When you enter the park, there’s a $3 fee per group, and at the end, you’ll find a lighthouse that offers tours.
Port Townsend is a great place to stay the night or just finish your drive around the peninsula. The Victorian architecture is very charming, the main drag is walkable, and there are enough shops, restaurants, and bars to keep you busy. Check out the sunset from the balcony of the waterfront pub Sirens.
What’s your favorite spot on the Olympic Peninsula?