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For many this summer, flying to a destination vacation is likely off the table thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Analysts have advised that air travel demand won’t go back to pre-outbreak levels until at least midway through 2021. So, that means the return of the Great American Road Trip.
One of the most popular road trip routes in the Pacific Northwest is Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic Peninsula lies northwest across Puget Sound from Seattle and contains Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary. From waters teeming with wildlife and tide pools to explore, to snow-capped alpine peaks, to the largest temperate rainforest, the Olympic Peninsula is a great place to build memories and safely during these uncertain times.
With over one million unspoiled acres, the Olympic Peninsula is the perfect option to explore outdoor points of interest while avoiding crowds of people. The Olympic Peninsula is full of things to do. You can go hiking on Hurricane Ridge, forest bathing in the Hoh Rainforest, wander along the coast at Ruby Beach, or sample your way through the small towns of Sequim or Forks. The low density of people in most of these areas make for a safe and peaceful environment during your trip.
This is truly a year-round destination with highlights that change depending on the season. In the winter months, you’ll avoid the crowds and have the national park to yourself, including the winter ski area at Hurricane Ridge. In the fall, after the crowds have dispersed, you’ll find abundant wildlife and a kaleidoscope of autumn colors, including salmon jumping in the rivers. The spring brings baby animals to the forefront, along with forest wildflowers. The summer months bring warmer weather and crowds, although the weather is fairly mild year-round.
What Route Should You Take?
Now that you’re totally set and psyched to do an Olympic Peninsula road trip the question is: where? Below you’ll find a few spots and stops I recommend that will help you avoid crowds and maintain the safety of you and your family. Most of these are towns and some are natural wonders you should experience during your time in the area.
There are two ways to get to the Olympic Peninsula for a road trip. The first is by ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island (or take the Kingston-Edmonds ferry). If you choose this, I recommend going around the Olympic Peninsula in a counterclockwise direction. The second option is to take I-5 south from Seattle and head West on WA-16 across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
No matter which option you choose, you will quickly leave the stress of the city behind.
I have also added some suggested Inns to stay in for safer, socially distanced accommodations. Staying in an Inn offers you the opportunity to stay small and stay safe, avoiding the crowds at a traditional hotel. Most Inns have enhanced cleaning protocols, private entrances, socially distanced meal options, mask policies, as well as self-check in and check out.
Recommended Outdoor Points of Interest:
A must see on your itinerary would be the Dungeness Spit. It is 6.8-mile long sand spit jutting out from the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula in northeastern Clallam County, Washington, USA, into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is the longest natural sand spit in the United States. The body of water it encloses is called Dungeness Bay.
This spit is home to miles upon miles of sandy beaches and is a great place to spy shorebirds wheeling. You’ll also likely spy harlequin ducks and plovers, as well as dippers, and of course the ever-present seagull. The best time to visit Dungeness Spit is at low tide, when there’s more land to walk on. If you’re here at high tide, simply be aware of the driftwood – it may not be as sturdy as it seems.
Inside the area of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, you will find numerous lush green trails that will take you to the New Dungeness Lighthouse.
The lighthouse at the New Dungeness Light Station was the first U.S. lighthouse completed on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It has operated continuously providing navigational aids to ships plying the waters of the Strait since its lard oil lamp was lit for the first time on 14 December 1857. The Lighthouse is one of the very few that allow families an opportunity to be Lighthouse Keepers for a week. In 1993, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is located near the tip of the five-mile-long Dungeness Spit near Sequim, Washington. There is a small gift shop and museum located on the Lighthouse property where you can pick up some Lighthouse swag.
If hiking to the Lighthouse has you worn out, there is a beautiful Bed and Breakfast located within minutes of the Dungeness Spit. Ambiance Bed and Breakfast is conveniently located 26 minutes from the Spit.
Ambiance Bed & Breakfast stands tall at an elevation of 1900 feet on top of Lost Mountain. At this elevation, you will experience panoramic water views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria B.C. to Mt. Baker. Private, large (king-size) suites beautifully decorated. Come take in the fresh mountain air available to you just 10-minutes from Hwy 101 in Sequim, the half-way point between Port Townsend and Port Angeles, Washington.
Olympic Game Farm is a great stop to get up close with wildlife and see where Walt Disney filmed many of his western-themed television shows and movies from the 1950s through 1970s along the Dungeness River. See animals and experience their world through education and observation.
Many of their animals are native to the Northwest region. Visitors can choose a walking tour, or a driving tour. Walking tours are seasonal. The driving tour allows you to embark on your own self-guided tour.
The tours consist of 84 acres of terrain filled with wildlife. Most of the animals are not hesitant to come right up to your car for a slice of bread! This tour takes about one hour. Your admission allows you all-day access, so take your time and drive around a few times! They also have a gift shop and seasonal concessions.
After a fun filled day at the Game Farm, check in for the night at the beautiful Sea Cliff Gardens Bed and Breakfast.
This two-acre Victorian Bed and Breakfast is located about 15 minutes from the Game Farm. They have an ideal location surrounded by nature, standing atop a 130-foot cliff above the Strait of Juan de Fuca with beautiful views of the ocean and Vancouver Island. The elegant gardens on the property add even more character to this lovely bed and breakfast.
If your road trip timeline allows it, I highly recommend adding Hurricane Ridge to your itinerary. This slight diversion into the Olympic Mountains is great if you love hiking and is one of the easiest ways to access the Olympic National Park. The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is 17-miles south of Port Angeles along Hurricane Ridge Road.
My suggested accommodations near the Ridge, would be the centrally located George Washington Inn & Estate, Domaine Madeleine and Five Seasuns Bed and Breakfast. Each of these locations are located within minutes from Hurricane Ridge.
George Washington Inn, a luxury bed and breakfast inn just minutes from Port Angeles and Sequim, sits on a high bluff along the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The 10-acre estate offers luxurious lodging near the Olympic National Park along with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, the Olympic Mountains, and the lavender farm on the estate. With easy access from Seattle or Victoria, cherish a romantic getaway in the finest lodging near Hurricane Ridge, the gateway to the million-acre Olympic National Park.
Domaine Madeleine has set the standard for casual luxury on the Olympic Peninsula for over 30 years. Located high on a bluff, the inn boasts sweeping water views of the San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker, the Dungeness Spit, and Victoria BC. Featuring a collection of intimate suites and cottages set among old growth trees with private gardens and hidden pathways, the property is a true getaway. The accommodations include exterior entries, reserved gated parking, luxurious amenities and extras, on demand streaming movies, free super-fast Wi-Fi, and delivered breakfast options for private in-room dining. Concierge services include recommended day trips.
Five Seasuns Bed and Breakfast. This Bed and Breakfast is centrally located in-town, minutes from the Hurricane Ridge Entrance of Olympic National Park, 10 blocks from the Ferry Terminal to Victoria, BC, and close to downtown Port Angeles shopping and restaurants. A welcoming oasis in a historic 1926 home with comfortable unique rooms, gourmet 3 course breakfasts, and relaxing lush gardens.
Nestled in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains, Lake Crescent lies about 18 miles west of Port Angeles. The pristine waters of this deep, glacially carved lake make it an ideal destination for those in search of natural beauty.
Lake Crescent has many hiking trails, some of which climb the surrounding mountains, and others that explore the lowland forests and creeks. The hike to Marymere Falls by way of the Barnes Creek trail, is a favorite, as is the Spruce Railroad trail that runs along the north shore. There are plenty of picnic areas around the lake. Fairholme, Bovee’s Meadow, La Poel, and the North Shore all have tables.
Many people enjoy going out onto the water during the summer and fall. Boat launches are located at both the east and west ends of the lake.
A beautiful place to stay near Lake Crescent would be Maitland Manor, a luxury bed and breakfast hotel in one of Port Angeles’ historic homes. You’ll enjoy the cozy charm of Victorian architecture blended with updated decor and amenities. And all rooms include private bathrooms, flat screen TVs, plush bathrobes, and luxurious bedding.
Choose from an ocean or mountain view for your stay. Plus, a three-course gourmet breakfast, high speed Wi-Fi, and off-street parking are all included. Their breakfasts alone are worth staying for.
Rialto Beach is a highly rated favorite in Olympic National Park due to its easy, drive-up access, which enables adventurers of all ages to walk alongside massive sea stacks, enormous driftwood logs, and watch the Pacific Ocean waves crash into the shoreline.
The most popular activity at Rialto Beach is the 4-mile round trip hike to “Hole in the Wall,” which can only be safely accessed during low tide. It is adjacent to Mora Campground in the Olympic National Park near the mouth of the Quillayute River and is composed of an ocean beach and coastal forest. This is a great place to explore tide pools, sea stacks, driftwood, and roam among old growth forests.
I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention Forks on any road trip itinerary. I didn’t include it on the map above because it isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to be a “Twi-hard,” I think they’re called?
If you are still a massive Twilight fan, Forks is a must-see along with. You can stop at a variety of intrepid businesses still capitalizing on the moment of glory Forks has enjoyed thanks to the books/movies… Don’t be surprised that it looks nothing like in the movies!
Make sure you pick up a copy of Stephanie Meyer’s new book “Midnight Sun”. It is a retelling of her best-selling novel “Twilight” from a vampire’s point of view. You can even visit the beautiful Miller Tree Inn in Forks, which has been designated the “Cullen House” as it closely matches the description in Stephanie Meyers Twilight series.
Forks, Washington, USA, is in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula, between the Olympic mountains and the Pacific Ocean beaches. Forks and the surrounding area provide you with an impressive array of recreational options as you explore the Northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest.
This 2,000 square mile area is bordered on the north and west by over 100 miles of saltwater shores, and to the south and east by alpine meadows and rain forest valleys. Over 200 miles of wild rivers crisscross the region, providing healthy runs of native salmon and steelhead.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the great wonders of Olympic National Park, and a must see during your road trip. Throughout the winter season, rain falls frequently here, contributing to the yearly average of 140 inches (3.55 meters) of precipitation each year. The result is a lush, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous species. Mosses and ferns that blanket the surfaces add another dimension to the enchantment of the rainforest. The Hoh lies on the west side of Olympic National Park, about a two-hour drive from Port Angeles and under an hour from Forks.
A great place to stay during your visit to the Hoh would be the beautiful Miller Tree Inn. For over thirty years, the Miller Tree Inn has been a home away from home for tourists who visit year-round to explore the rainforest and the wild beaches of the west Olympic Peninsula. From October through the end of April, the Inn also becomes a haven for fishermen pursuing steelhead and salmon on the five pristine local rivers.
All rooms have en suite baths, and some also have a jetted tub. Each has a refrigerator, dining table, easy chairs or a sofa, coffee maker, TV, and DVD player. The refrigerator is stocked with complimentary soft drinks, snacks and cookies. Wi-Fi is available throughout the building. The Miller Tree Inn is located about 45-60 minutes from the Hoh Rainforest.
One of the most popular places to stop at on the coast is Ruby Beach. Located Along the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula, Ruby Beach is home to a stunning coastline and beautiful beaches. Ruby Beach is a stretch of classically rocky Washington beach where the Pacific Ocean pounds into the Olympic Peninsula. Here, you can walk among the sea foam, spot marine creatures on the rocks, and admire sea stacks standing out in the tumultuous water. It’s a perfect spot for an afternoon of exploring if you love marine life and the sound of the waves.
I hope that you get the chance to enjoy some or all these recommended places. With breathtaking views, mild weather, low people density, and numerous outdoor places to visit, it’s easy to see why this area is so popular. If you’re interested in some of the other stay small, stay safe accommodations available on the Olympic Peninsula, check out our search engine at My Favorite Inn.