"Suggested Olympic Peninsula Loop" Olympic National Park Off The Beaten Path Tip by glabah

  Beaches with Mountains: Typical Olympic Peninsula
by glabah
  • Beaches with Mountains: Typical Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park
      Beaches with Mountains: Typical Olympic Peninsula
    by glabah
  • Port Townsend is Somewhat Preserved Old City - Olympic National Park
      Port Townsend is Somewhat Preserved Old City
    by glabah
  • Many Areas are Heavily Logged; Hwy 101 Scenery - Olympic National Park
      Many Areas are Heavily Logged; Hwy 101 Scenery
    by glabah
  • Extent of Mountains from Fort Casey Ferry (left) - Olympic National Park
      Extent of Mountains from Fort Casey Ferry (left)
    by glabah

[My original intent for this tip has changed over time. Originally it was to point out some of the lesser visited locations in Olympic National Park and thus the category of "Off the Beaten Path" but now it has turned more into a suggested loop of everything.]

In recent years, the entire Olympic Peninsula has become a much more busy tourist attraction compared to what it once was. It has certainly become a very discovered place now, especially since the "Twilight" series focuses on Forks and other areas on the wet side of the mountains.

One of the important things to understand about the Olympic Peninsula is that Highway 101 mostly goes through national forest (NOT national park) and private land that is not preserved. Instead national forest land is subject to commercial logging or development. Thus, while parts of highway 101 are scenic, what you see from this highway is mostly the least scenic what the Olympic Peninsula has to offer. Photo 3 shows an example of what happens in many places near highway 101 - you want actual national park land and not the commercial forest land.

However, despite the level of traffic to the National Park, there are still many areas on the Olympic Peninsula that are lesser visited places. While many of these are not strictly inside the national park boundary, they are on the Olympic Peninsula and thus not that far away, and really should be visited all as a single Olympic Peninsula / Olympic National Park trip or trips.

This list is a basic list of suggestions for those making a loop of the Olympic Peninsula, possibly as part of a north to south west coast trip. Obviously, you would reverse these instructions for travel coming from the south.

Some of these places are inside the national park and require the national park entrance fee. Others are just communities on the peninsula. State lands now require a state parks parking fee if you come by car. National Wildlife Refuge lands also sometimes require a fee.

To get here from Seattle, see my Seattle to Olympic Peninsula tip as there are various ways.

+ Port Townsend is a logical stop between Seattle and Olympic National Park proper. It became a preserved historic city, sort of by accident. See photo 2. On summer weekends it has many tourists, but it still a pleasant place. It is a trip by ferry from Whidbey Island and the Deception Pass State Park area, and is northwest of the Poulsbo area. The downtown area has a number of odd hotels in the old apartment buildings above the stores, and if possible economically and schedule wise it would be good to spend a night in one of these. Just north of town is Fort Worden State Park, which has an artists community and a youth hostel as well as camping facilities.

+ Once you are in Olympic National Park, the mountains are too close to really see their true expanse. Therefore, if you haven't had a chance to see the mountains from the water, it may be worth considering a walk-on round trip ferry ride from Port Townsend to Fort Casey. The views from the ferry are worth the trip if you haven't seen them already.

+ Sequim is known for its lavender industry, but is rapidly becoming a place of suburban sprawl.

+ North of Sequim is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, whose name is synonymous with Dungeness Crab. It requires a $3 per family fee, and has decent beach views, though the beaches have wild water and lots of driftwood.

+ Port Angeles is an old sawmill town, and in the town proper there isn't a huge amount to see. However, it is likely your least expensive place to stay for access to the north part of Olympic National Park. Going south from town goes directly to Hurricane Ridge, which is the most popular single location in the park.

+ Hurricane Ridge is one of the most popular places to visit in Olympic National Park due to the views of the snow capped peaks it allows. It requires national park entrance fees. The road to the top is closed much of the year due to heavy snow at high elevations, so check the national park web site before getting your hopes up about it being open.

+ The Makah Indian Reservation and its Museum and Cultural Center is in Neah Bay. This is as far northwest as you can go in the state of Washington without a boat, and once here you might want to visit Cape Flattery but you need a Makah Recreation Pass. You can't get to this city on highway 101, as it takes a shortcut very far inland. Instead, you must take a series of local roads that end at this furthest tip of the rock we call the Olympic Peninsula.

+ Ozette: Ozette also has a First Nations Museum and tribal center. It has been said that the one in Ozette is better than the one at the Makah tribe itself, but the fact is that both are important places. Approximately 500 years ago, a huge landslide destroyed part of the village of Ozette, burying several of the very large cedar longhouses that made up the village, and preserving in a mud casing all of the wood artifacts from the pre-contact age of the tribe. Many of these have now been moved to the Makah center near Neah Bay (above). I have not been out to the far reaches of the Peninsula for a very long time, but I highly suggest examining the possibility of visiting both locations. http://www.makah.com/ozettesite.html

+ Hoh Rain Forest: fairly deep into Olylmpic National Park off the through roads, this is one of the famous rain forests in the park. The most tourists visit in the summer, when things are dormant due to a lack of water. The wet months are when the rain forest wakes up.

+ Queets Rain Forest: south and west slightly from the Hoh.

+ Quinault Rain Forest: still further south, and not in the national park boundary. Instead, it is within the national forest and requires a different set of fees.

These are only a few suggestions for those going down the west coast, and leaves out many, many places of potential interest.

If you are continuing south along the coast, see my Southwest Washington Coast tip.

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  • Updated Dec 11, 2014
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