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"From Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula" Olympic National Park Transportation Tip by glabah

Olympic National Park Transportation: 7 reviews and 11 photos

  Getting There from Seattle involves Ferry Trip
by glabah
  • Getting There from Seattle involves Ferry Trip - Olympic National Park
      Getting There from Seattle involves Ferry Trip
    by glabah
  • Tacoma Narrows Bridge is Only Route with No Ferry - Olympic National Park
      Tacoma Narrows Bridge is Only Route with No Ferry
    by glabah
  • Port Townsend Ferry Views may be Spectacular - Olympic National Park
      Port Townsend Ferry Views may be Spectacular
    by glabah
  • Port Townsend is Attractive Older Port City - Olympic National Park
      Port Townsend is Attractive Older Port City
    by glabah

It should not be that difficult to go between Seattle and Olympic National Park. After all, you just take the most direct route, right?

Wrong! The most direct route, and the route that Google Maps and your GPS is most likely to send you, is north to Edmonds and the Edmonds - Kingston Ferry. This would be the fastest route - if it were not for the fact that everyone else's maps, GPSs and phones are sending them this way too. It is not unusual, especially during the peak tourist season, for there to be more than a 90 minute line for the ferry here. Furthermore, this route lacks a lot of the scenery that some of the other routes would take. For example, it skips the entire western edge of Olympic National Park that faces Seattle, as this route delivers you to the north side of the Olympic Peninsula.

Those who are the most familiar with this web site should be already well aquanted with the quandry that faces the pleasure traveler: the best way is seldom the fastest way. This is the case for this route.

Here are a few alternatives to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route:

Downtown Seattle -> Bremerton Ferry and west from Bremerton to the section of highway 101 that runs from Olympia north to Port Townsend (note: do not continue all the way west on Highway 8 unless you want to do the Hwy 101 Olympic Loop in the clockwise direction). Bremerton has some odd little museums and attractions that are worth half a day of diversions - especially the fountains if it is a hot summer day. See my Bremerton page. From here, you can go west and north and hit such places as Staircase and other scenic sections on the west side of Olympic National Park. Highway 101 can be slow in a few places through here, but there are scenic locations so it should be taken as a place to take your time. You might want to stop and at least look at one of the small shelfish stores through here.

From Bremerton you can go north on highway 16 directly to Port Townsend and the north side of the Olympic Peninsula main tourist areas. However, I suggest instead taking highway 3 to the south side of Hood Canal and the continuing to highway 101. This is a slow but scenic route, and there are sections of these roads that have not changed since they were paved in the 1930s - which means if you are driving a recreational vehicle or motor home, or get stuck behind one, you are most likely going to take a while on this section of road. However, when they were built it was never intended that this part of the highway be fast. It is where you go to look at the scenery, and if you want to get there fast take highway 16 directly north.

Seattle -> Burlington -> Deception Pass -> Whidbey Island -> Port Townsend. This route really sends you off in the wrong direction at first - halfway to Canada! However, Deception Pass State Park is one of the most spectacular state parks in Washington. Along the western edge of Whidbey Island, there are other state parks with beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains on a clear day, and this gives you a perspective of the scale of the area you will be entering. Plus, many of these parks are attractions in their own right. From north to south, see my Deception Pass State Park page, my Fort Ebey State Park page, and my Fort Casey State Park pages. From Fort Casey you can take the ferry to Port Townsed, which is a reasonably well preserved older town and well deserving of all the tourists that visit every year. When you visit Olympic National Park, you do not really get a good sense of the sheer size as it is all much too close. However, from the distance of, say, Fort Ebey or Deception Pass it is possible to really appreciate the sheer size of the mountain range. On this route, you may also wish to make a slight detour up to Anacortes, if odd small towns interest you. If you have several days or a week to spare, you could also go west from Anacortes for a visit to the San Juan Islands.

Seattle -> Mukilteo -> Whidbey Island -> Port Townsend. This is similar to the above but is somewhat more scenic as it goes north on Whidbey Island and skips the trashy suburban sprawl along Interstate 5 between Seattle and Burlington. You can go north to Deception Pass if you want to, or explore Oak Harbor, or Coupville, or Fort Ebey or other places.

Seattle -> Bainbridge Island Ferry -> Bainbridge Island -> Port Townsend doesn't really give you anything more than what you would see from the Edmonds -> Kingston ferry, except that it gets you out of downtown Seattle without having to go north first, and it avoids the very unattractive drive northward on Interstate 5. Bainbridge Island has become a bit of a suburban center of sprawl too, but for now it has at least retained more of its rural charm than the mess along Interstate 5 north of Seattle has. Also, this route allows you to visit Poulsbo, should eccentric small towns be of interest. A few small attractions exist along this route as well.

Seattle -> Tacoma -> Tacoma Narrows Bridge -> Gig Harbor -> Highway 101 up to Port Townsend. This route runs you through the ugly suburban mess south of Seattle. However, it also allows you to visit a few places that may be of interest in Tacoma. These include the Museum of Glass (you can watch them make real glass artwork in their shop) and the Tacoma Art Museum and the Washington History Museum. Various things also exist in Point Defiance Park, which is close to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. This is the second generation of bridge that existed here - the first bridge collapsed due to a resonant frequency problem that was built right into the bridge, and activated when wind of a certain speed hit the bridge from the wrong direction. Gig Harbor has a reputation of being an interesting place to stop on your way through, but I have not yet been there. Some of the people on Puget Sound prefer this route as it avoids any of the ferry crossings.

Downtown Seattle -> Tacoma -> Olympia -> Highway 101 north to Port Townsend. This route gives you the maximum exposure to the ugly suburban sprawl along Interstate 5. However, along with the above attractions in Tacoma you can also visit the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and downtown Olympia (an attractive small town that also happens to be the capitol), and allows you to get on Highway 101 as it goes north out of Olympia - right at its northern starting point - meaning it is the only way from Seattle to say that you have driven the entire length of highway 101. (If you don't understand why a highway that goes north out of town has its northern terminus in a city that is an hour south of Seattle, you have to look at a map to understand). Much of this section of highway 101 is reasonably scenic, though a lot of it also goes through commercial forest land. There are some access points to the far eastern edge of Olympic National Park here so you may want to explore these as an option. There are also a few smaller state parks and other small attractions.

Variations: Once you have crossed Puget Sound from Gig Harbor or Bremerton, I suggest taking route 106 west to the southern end of Hood Canal before going north on highway 101. This is a slower route than highway 16 directly north from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but it gives better scenery and allows you to visit more of the western edge of Olympic National Park. To do this you would go on highway 106 just after getting out of Gig Harbor, or take highway 3 southwest out of Bremerton.

Mode: TO
Type: Car/Motor Home

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jan 25, 2015
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