Olympic Peninsula Road Trip: Beautiful Towns and Best of Olympic NP
Doing an Olympic Peninsula Road Trip is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful towns and Olympic National Park near Seattle. Four days on the Olympic Peninsula should be perfect for getting in some good hiking, waterfalls, some beautiful towns and quiet relaxation. Adventures on the Olympic Peninsula are an easy long weekend getaway in Washington or a series of awesome road trip stops along the way.
The Olympic Peninsula is known around the world for its beautiful mountains, its beaches and the Twilight Saga. Well, there’s more to it than that. We’ve spent countless days exploring the OP and not just visiting our old favorite haunts we’ve known all our lives, but also exploring places that are new to all of us. That’s the joy of the Olympic Peninsula and why we’ve got a handy guide to get you familiar with our favorite region of the Pacific Northwest.
So, why visit the Olympic Peninsula over the Oregon Coast or the Eastern Seaboard? Well, quite simply there are fewer tourists here and more opportunities to be in the middle of nature with nobody around. The quietest place in the on earth (in nature) is here. The original metropolitan center of the Puget Sound area is on the OP. The largest successful dam removal project in the USA is on the Peninsula. So many reasons to visit and enjoy an Olympic Peninsula road trip!
What you'll find...
- Starting Your Olympic Peninsula Road Trip
- Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Itinerary
- Visit Beautiful Port Ludlow
- Where to stay in Port Ludlow
- Explore Victorian Port Townsend
- Discover Sequim: the sunniest place in Western Washington
- Port Angeles: the Olympic Peninsula’s Adventure Hub
- Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Stops on the Wild Coast
- Rainforest Hikes on the Olympic Peninsula
- Hood Canal and Lake Cushman
- Olympic National Forest Waterfall Road Trip Stops
- Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Add-ons
- Short Day Trips to the Olympic Peninsula
Starting Your Olympic Peninsula Road Trip
You can drive to or take a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula depending on your starting point.
If you’re visiting Seattle and want to explore the OP you can hop a ferry from either downtown Seattle or from Edmonds. You’ll have to drive about a half hour to cross the Hood Canal Bridge and from there either head south along Hood Canal towards Lake Cushman and the Pacific Ocean or head north to loop around the Olympic Mountains on Highway 101. The other option from Seattle is to drive around through Tacoma, but that takes forever with Tacoma’s awful traffic.
If you’re coming from the north, such as Victoria or Vancouver BC, you’ll also need to take a boat. From Victoria BC, you can drive onto the Blackball Coho Ferry for an hour and a half boat ride into Port Angeles. From Vancouver BC you’ll need to cross the border into the US up near Blaine/Bellingham and then drive south towards Whidbey Island. Head through Anacortes and across Whidbey to the Port Townsend ferry. Boom! You’re on the Olympic Peninsula!
Tip: for either the Coho (Victoria) or WSF boat (Whidbey Island) you can make reservations for your preferred sailing. We highly recommend reservations for either otherwise you’re at the mercy of every other traveler.
When to do an Olympic Peninsula Road Trip
The obvious answer of when to do an Olympic Peninsula road trip is in the summer, but the actual best time to visit is late spring. Those of us that live in Washington State know that May is our best month. In May, the sun shines 80% of the time, we randomly get days over 80 degrees (26 C), and it’s 80% less crowded than the summer time. This is also before road repairs and construction are under way on Highway 101. Shoulder season on the Olympic Peninsula is heaven on earth, basically.
Olympic National Park is wonderful to visit in fall too, and is one of the most beautiful National Parks for falls colors. Mid to late October is the best time for fall foliage and to catch the Roosevelt elk being most active around the area. Driving through fall foliage on an Olympic Peninsula road trip is unique and one of the best things to do in Washington in autumn.
BONUS: if you plan your Olympic Peninsula road trip for early autumn, the Jefferson County Farm Tour is a great way to explore from Quilcene to Port Townsend and everywhere in between. Highlights include Kodama Farm and Food Forest and Yaks in the Craddle Farm.
Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Itinerary
Since we are both from the OP and also vacation here on the Olympic Peninsula, we are happy to provide a great road trip itinerary for exploring and enjoying everything in the area. Our road trip plan will take you through our favorite beautiful small towns, show you the best of the Peninsula’s nature, and ensure an unforgettable time exploring our backyard.
These are the best stops to make as you travel around Washington Highway 101 and its off-shoots. You’ll find that one night in each main town is fine, but if you can stretch how long you can be on the Olympic Peninsula and actually have a home base, you’ll find that there are some wonderful beautiful cabins on the Olympic Peninsula
Visit Beautiful Port Ludlow
Any road trip should begin with good food and relaxation. Since most travelers will be coming from the Seattle area to start their Olympic Peninsula road trip, the first stop we have is for a perfect PNW activity and lunch. The Resort at Port Ludlow is set on the most quiet, beautiful little bay with a marina, Inn and the Fireside Restaurant. If the weather is great, pull into Port Ludlow for a little kayaking with seals and otters, watch for bald eagles, then enjoy a meal at the Fireside. If you’re totally in love with the place, stay the night (based on availability).
Note: Port Ludlow is a favorite PNW local getaway, so if you happen through on a weekend in the spring or summer, it may be buzzing with locals having their own weekend trips on the Olympic Peninsula. Book early if possible.
Where to stay in Port Ludlow
The Inn at Port Ludlow is a part of the Resort at Port Ludlow. It’s very beautiful and is often full with a strong return guest clientele, which means that it is a great place. There are lots of things to do in Port Ludlow around the the resort area, including kayaking, boating, hikes and really wonderful chef-prepared meals. Book the Resort at Port Ludlow here!
Explore Victorian Port Townsend
The next stop on our Olympic Peninsula road trip is a day in Port Townsend. Established in the 1800s as the primary seaport for the Puget Sound (prior to the railroads declaring Seattle as such), the town was built to be beautiful and have all of the features of a keystone city: Victorian downtown, mansions uptown, amazing courthouse complete with looming bell tower…and a castle. Eventually Fort Worden was built and then eventually decommissioned… but then became the backdrop for the movie An Officer and a Gentleman.
Today, it’s got everything that a tourist could want. Local beer (PTBrewing), local wine (Fairwinds Winery) and cider (Alpenfire) are available throughout the town. The Northwest Maritime Center is right on the water and ready to pull you into wooden boat culture. Fort Worden State Park has beaches, woods and WWII bunkers for exploring, as well as the Point Wilson lighthouse, the Marine Science Center and the most amazing field for flying kites. I won’t get into all of the shops in downtown Port Townsend, because that’s its own day, but hit up what I just mentioned and kids and adults are set for fun.
Tip: if you can set aside two days for the Port Townsend area you’ll be good to go. It’s the perfect seaside town for relaxing and exploring, and weekends really are best. Check out this cool food tour of Port Townsend.
Where to stay in Port Townsend
There are several adorable Victorian hotels in the downtown area of Port Townsend, and then several cute bed and breakfasts in Uptown, but our pick for PT is actually staying at Fort Worden, either in the barracks or in the Officer’s Quarters. We’ve stayed in both and loved the unique accommodations.
Discover Sequim: the sunniest place in Western Washington
Sequim is a hidden gem in Washington (said as “skwim”). Everybody has heard of it and yet few have made the trip with the intent of exploring and enjoying Sequim. It’s actually the sunniest place in western Washington due to the rain shadow effect and being located alongside the Olympic Mountains. This awesome weather means that strolling downtown Sequim or visiting lavender farms is nearly guaranteed to be a fun, beautiful experience.
For some great escapes into nature, the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is our top pick. It’s gorgeous. An enormous sandbar stretching out from the Olympic Peninsula, the Dungeness Spit stretches 7 miles out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, punctuated with a perfect lighthouse. It’s one of the best beaches on the peninsula and even in the winter, it’s a favorite destination for locals. It’s a required stop on your Olympic Peninsula road trip.
Besides the Dungeness Spit, the historic downtown and the lavender farms, our other favorite highlight of Sequim is Carrie Blake Park. Located at the east end of town, it’s the perfect stop for families. With two play grounds, ball fields, a wetland walk, Japanese garden, amphitheater, and our favorite, the dahlia garden.
Where to stay in Sequim
We always enjoy the ease and consistency of Holiday Inn Express locations (we love IHG properties), of which there is one in Sequim (Book the Holiday Inn Express Sequim here!). There are a number of B&Bs as well, some even at lavender farms. Do a quick Sequim hotel/B&B search for more recommendations.
Since either Sequim or Port Angeles are likely to be your overnight location for a portion of your Olympic Peninsula road trip, it may be worth it to spend a few nights. There are lots of vacation rentals in Sequim, so if you find a beautiful cabin or a house that looks out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, make it your home for a few days while you explore Olympic National Park.
Port Angeles: the Olympic Peninsula’s Adventure Hub
If you grew up on the Olympic Peninsula like we did, you don’t usually think of Port Angeles as the most incredible place on a road trip, but it’s actually an amazing hub for adventures. The town itself isn’t all that remarkable, even though they are really fixing up the waterfront and downtown areas, but the endless outdoor activities fully make up for the not having an exciting, cute town vibe like Port Townsend.
Note: if you want to abandon your Olympic Peninsula road trip for a few days, you can catch the MV Coho ferry to Victoria BC. It’s a beautiful city with great food and iconic sights. There are so many things to do in Victoria!
Whale Watching off the Olympic Peninsula
Visiting the Pacific Northwest, whale watching is a must. Port Angeles is an ideal place for it due to its position on the bottleneck of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are a few approaches to whale watching.
- Set up a chair on a bluff or beach and wait for the whales to swim by, hoping to catch a glimpse
- Hire a random guide in a marina in Sequim or Port Angeles to take you out on a small boat and hope that they are whale-wise and responsible
- Spend the extra money to go on a whale watching expedition with a company that guarantees sightings.
It sounds weird that they can guarantee sightings, but here’s why: the reputable companies all work together to share whale locations as they’re spotted, thus making for quicker sighting and more positive guest experiences, thus building their businesses and awareness of whales and their plight. It’s a great set up/system that they have.
Since the tour companies are regulated and the Fish and Wildlife rangers are out in their boats monitoring, the whales are treated well and given wide berth for going their own way. The experience is great and there’s nothing like seeing the wonder in your child’s eyes when an orca jumps out of the water in front of them.
Tip: excursions are typically 4-5 hours, but it’s worth the time to be on the water and see such amazing sea life and sights. And there’s no shame in being prepared with a little entertainment for younger kids, as boat travel isn’t always the most exciting part of the day.
While there aren’t any tours out of Port Angeles that specifically aim to kayak with orcas, it’s always a possibility on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A sea kayaking tour is the perfect opportunity to try your luck with paddling with whales.
Check out our top picks for Kayaking in the San Juan Islands for more whale encounters!
Hiking at Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Going from the sea up to the mountains, Port Angeles is the gateway to Olympic National Park. Directly up the hill from the town is the Hurricane Ridge entrance to the park. Here you’ll find some incredible, breathtaking views and hiking trails. Wildlife and wild mountains make it the perfect contrast to the city below. In the winter Hurricane Ridge is open for sledding and cross country skiing, so if you’re doing your Olympic Peninsula road trip off season, you may find yourself having the time of your life in snow.
If you are interested in guided hiking at Hurricane Ridge, there are actually quite a few guides that go out of Port Angeles up into Olympic National Park. It’s always nice to have a knowledgeable guide, especially somewhere as rugged as Hurricane Ridge.
Where to stay in Port Angeles
There are actually a lot of roadside motels in Port Angeles, many aren’t super nice, so finding a B&B is our best recommendation.
Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Stops on the Wild Coast
Something wonderful about the OP is the mix of landscapes, and that includes the wild coast. The Olympic Peninsula has an even mix of beaches and rocky coastline, much like the Oregon Coast.
Best Wild Beaches on the Olympic Peninsula
We’ve always lived by the beach, so love spending time in and on the water, but nothing is quite like the wild beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. Such cool beaches: enormous drift wood at LaPush or the Dungeness Spit, the softest sand and beautiful sea stacks at Salt Creek, endless flat beach and cool features at Kalaloch and Ruby Beach.
What makes the beaches on the Olympic Peninsula so fun and different from much of the Oregon coastline is that they are playable with kids. The sand isn’t dry and blasting your eyes with from the wind. The shore is gradual, so there’s lots of space to relax. The waves aren’t the size of tsunamis straight from Japan so you can actually play in them when it’s warm (but the water is still cold).
The beaches of the Olympic Peninsula are great for spotting wildlife too. We get a lot of seals all around the Puget Sound area, and the sheltered beaches on the Peninsula are prime places for raising young seal pups. Also, we’ve seen grey and humpback whales just from the shore on several occasions; you just have to keep a look out.
Tip: bring binoculars year round to watch for passing grey, humpback and orca whales. We’ve been able to see whales with the naked eye in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and off the beaches of Olympic National Park.
Best Tide Pools for Road Trip Stops
We’re a bit obsessed with the ocean and not actually being a mer-family we have to enjoy it in ways other than living underwater. Luckily, our kids are just like us dads. They love to play in the water and sand, but now they’ve been exposed to something even better: tide pools!
Tide pools, for those who don’t know, are the low spots in rock outcroppings that are full of water after the tide goes out. This means that there is an environment that can hold life even at low tide. Since you won’t be snorkeling on your Olympic Peninsula road trip, tide pools are the next best thing.
For a child who loves the sea, this is the perfect spot to see all of the tiny friends that normally are out in the water. We often see hermit crabs, anemones, sculpin (fish), chitons, huge barnacles feeding, limpets, mussels… Also, the rocks are home to many pelagic seabirds, so it’s great for bird watching at low and high tides. The tide pools on the Strait of Juan de Fuca are really fantastic. They are easy to traverse as an adult or child, or as a parent wearing a baby in a pack (with caution).
RULE: do not take anything from a tide pool. Example: an empty snail shell might actually be a hermit crab’s home. Would you want somebody to take yours?
Tip: the best shoes for tide pooling are sandal-type shoes with a little traction. They’ll provide good footing on the rocks and then dry fast.
Alternative plan: if the Olympic Peninsula isn’t close enough when you’re visiting Seattle or Portland, check out Whidbey Island’s tide pools, or if you’re south, the Oregon Coast has a plethora of opportunities for them.
Road Trip Stop at Cape Flattery, the Northwesternmost Point
When it comes to the most gorgeous jagged coastline, you have to hike to Cape Flattery. This is totally out of the way as it’s quite far off Highway 101 but it really is stunning and should be added to a visit to Salt Creek.
Never have I seen ocean water as beautiful as at Cape Flattery. The hike out to the cliffs is easy and goes on boardwalks through the coolest moss-covered coastal forest.
And if you’ve driven all the way out to Neah Bay, you can also set aside a few hours (in summer) to hike out to Shi Shi Beach. Such unique rock formations!
Where to Stay on the Wild Olympic Peninsula Coast
You have options ranging from small B&Bs and roadside motels to lodges within Olympic National Park, so depending on your budget you’ll no doubt find something that will work.
We prefer camping at Kalaloch or Salt Creek when we getaway to the Olympic Peninsula, but if you’re coming from out of state, that might be too complicated. If you do opt for camping, know that YOU NEED RESERVATIONS. There are usually a few first come first served campsites, but don’t risk it.
The towns of Joyce, Forks or La Push all have lodging options for this part of the Olympic Peninsula. If you’re visiting in summer on the weekend, you’ll NEED to book in advance. In spring and fall things are still fairly quiet so you can be a little more free flowing with your plans.
Rainforest Hikes on the Olympic Peninsula
One of the best stops on an Olympic Peninsula road trip is the rainforest. The Olympics are where the mountains literally meet the sea. What this means is that you can either hike hike or walk hike. For hardcore folks they can traverse the Olympic Mountains from all sides, climbing Mt. Rose or heading up out of Staircase by Lake Cushman, or doing Hurricane Ridge out of Port Angeles (see above). Both of these areas have rainforest at the lower elevations.
For those of us with kids or that want the best experiences without straining ourselves, we’ve got two great recommendations: Sol Duc Falls or the Hoh Rainforest.
Hiking at Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park
The hike to Sol Duc Falls is rather easy and is immensely beautiful. All mossy from start to finish and fairly level, it’s about an hour’s hike in and the falls at the end are one of a kind. Rushing from the dense forest into a mossy gorge, Sol Duc Falls has no match in Washington State. It’s a road trip stop you can’t miss.
Epic Rainforest at the Hoh River
The Hoh Rainforest is one of our favorite places because it makes us feel like we’re walking with gnomes. I know, silly, but when you’ve got little kids to entertain along the way, it’s nice to be able to look for gnomes. The Hoh is so dense with moss and fallen trees that it’s almost like another planet. The streams are full of algae and other plants; they look like alien rivers.
The Quinault Rainforest is also absolutely incredible for the lush forests and totally PNW experience in Olympic National Park. While both locations are on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula, they are very different. The Quinault is not as popular so it’s less crowded, but it doesn’t have the unique feature trees that the Hoh does. It’s a good stop if you’re going all the way around on Highway 101 for your Olympic Peninsula road trip.
Tip: despite being called a temperate rainforest, the Hoh can actually be rather hot and dry in summer. Be prepared with lots of water and the energy to carry little people, as the mugginess can be draining.
And another tip if you want to go hiking with toddlers and younger children: for little kids, having an actual hiking child-carrier is very helpful and will make you all feel much better about your adventure when you realize how much more comfortable it is than just a standard baby pack, such as a Bjorn or Ergo. Kelty Kids, Osprey and REI all make great child-carrier hiking packs if you need to invest in one. These are out two top picks:
Where to Stay Near the Hoh Rainforest
The Kalaloch Lodge is kind of rustic and wind-beaten, but it’s in a great location right between both the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests. There are lodge rooms or cabins, so depending on your length of stay and number in your party, you’ll have several options. RESERVE IT HERE. The National Park campground is also very near, and that’s where you actually can access the famous Tree of Life on Kalaloch Beach.
Hood Canal and Lake Cushman
As you continue your Olympic Peninsula road trip down Highway 101 it loops back on the south side of the Olympic Mountains. Follow the highway north to Hood Canal and Hoodsport. Even though it’s called “Hood Canal” it’s not actually a canal, but a naturally occurring arm of the Puget Sound, like a fjord.
Stop at Potlatch State Park for some beach time where it’s all rocks and oysters, but it’s still swimmable. The water of Hood Canal is much warmer than the water out at the coastal beaches. It’s actually amazing.
Stop at Lake Cushman
Lake Cushman is a manmade lake above Hood Canal, technically in the town of Hoodsport. Surrounding by vacation homes and hiking trails, Lake Cushman is absolutely beautiful as the Olympic Mountains tower above it. Our family loves Lake Cushman for our annual family reunion trip. Whether you want to camp at Big Creek Campground near Staircase or get a vacation home with direct access to Lake Cushman, there are lots of options for adding it to your Olympic Peninsula road trip.
Hiking at Staircase, Olympic National Park
Although the south side of the Olympic Mountains are known for their epic, straight up hiking trails, the Staircase Rapids trail is much easier and beyond compare in beauty. An easy loop, you’ll find enormous fallen trees, emerald green swimming holes and perfectly still forest streams that look make-believe.
Visiting Staircase in fall is ideal for both beautiful hiking AND to see the herds of Roosevelt Elk come down the valley. Fall is mating season, so things can get a little intense with the elk. Be sure to keep your distance and observe from afar.
Olympic National Forest Waterfall Road Trip Stops
Clearly we have a problem with waterfalls and have to stop all all of them. As you round out your Olympic Peninsula road trip, take time to stop and enjoy the Olympic National Forest (not park).
Murhut Falls and Rocky Brook Falls are both beautiful stops, not too fall off of Highway 101, just west of Hood Canal. You’ll have a short hike to Murhut Falls but are rewarded with a quiet double waterfall deep in the woods. Rocky Brook Falls is just off the road, so a five minute walk will get you right to the swimming hole and picnic spot.
Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Add-ons
You’ll see that Highway 101 is actually shaped like a lasso, so it starts at the Washington/Oregon border and then loops around the Olympic Peninsula. After you’ve done the main loop in our Olympic Peninsula road trip, you can head south to Ocean Shores and Montesano. This part of Washington is much more of the local getaway than the epic sights of the main OP. Ocean Shores is the beach town people from Seattle or Tacoma head to in the summer. Montesano is cute and historic, making a nice afternoon stop along your drive.
If you would like to continue down the Washington Coast towards Oregon, there’s another peninsula that’s fantastic to visit: the Long Beach Peninsula. We consider this part of the state an extension of the Olympic Peninsula, so it’s an easy addition to your road trip. The Long Beach Peninsula is home to the fishing village of Westport, WA, famous for its deep sea fishing charters. Keep going and you’ll come to the cranberry bogs and Lewis and Clark National Park.
Comprised of both National Park sites and Cape Disappointment State Park, Lewis and Clark National Park includes lighthouses, biking trails and many historic sites along the Columbia River.
Short Day Trips to the Olympic Peninsula
There is, of course, far more to do and see on the Olympic Peninsula. Native American culture thrives in several areas, so watch for totem poles. The Twilight Saga was filmed on the OP and going out of Port Angeles and Forks, you can go on Twilight themed tours. There are some beautiful National Park lodges to visit or stay at from Lake Quinault or Kalaloch up to Lake Crescent. And camping! Everywhere! Seriously, you could do a two week vacation here easily and everybody in the family will have an amazing time.
We have all kinds of other ideas for visiting the Olympic Peninsula including more hiking recommendations and options for where to stay. If we were to break down the must-see sights for a tight vacation schedule, here’s what we’d say to do:
- Port Townsend – Victorian charm, great food, local beers
- Hurricane Ridge – hiking and epic views across the mountains
- Sol Duc Falls – the most lush waterfall trail on the Olympic Peninsula
- Cape Flattery – the Northwestern-most point of the continental USA, incredibly beautiful
- Ruby Beach – sea stack, tidepools, beaches, driftwood, eagles…
- Hoh Rainforest – between the elk and the epic moss-covered trees, it’s a must.
So are you totally ready to explore the Olympic Peninsula on an epic road trip? If you ever have any questions, we know our way around the OP really well and have tons more to share. Send us a note if you need hiking, kayaking, lodging, dining, or just relaxing recommendations. We’ve got you covered!
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