Olympic Peninsula Cape Flattery

Go World Travel is reader-supported and may earn a commission from purchases made through links in this piece.

When my eight-year-old granddaughter visits Seattle from Arizona, her hands fly to the velvety moss when we go for walks. It is as unfamiliar to her as Arizona’s prickly pear cactus is to us.

Her hands explore every texture and hue, from limeade green to chocolate fudge brown. It’s like she’s discovering an alien world when it sprouts ferns and morphs into lichen.

You can discover the magic of moss on a trip to the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Much of it is a rainforest where moss is in its natural element. It clusters in the dense woods of pine, maple and hemlock.

This isn’t just any road trip. It’s a mossy, bison-licking, nature-loving, adventure-packed and culture-infused road trip.

 So Much to Do on the Olympic Peninsula

Olympic Peninsula Rain Forest
Olympic Peninsula Rain Forest.
Image by Andrew Hhmfe via Unsplash

As you venture deeper into the Olympic National Forest and Park’s lush rainforests, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Jurassic Park sequel, minus the dinosaurs. Towering cedar, spruce, and fir trees surround you, creating a canopy so thick the sun struggles to peek through.

The birch trees are draped in white lichen-like ghostly apparitions. Forest burgeons with waterfalls, glaciers, flitting birds, massive elk and shimmering salmon.

Visitors can swim, surf, paddleboard, kayak, raft, dive and fish in rivers, lakes and salt water. Back on land you can bike, golf and hike or pick berries, mushrooms, oysters and clams.

Powered by GetYourGuide

Plus of course, being in the Pacific Northwest means whale watching is also a popular pastime. There is even geocaching to hunt for hidden treasures.

Native American heritage of the area offers museums and cultural experiences. The 330-mile Olympic Peninsula loop crosses over or is a short drive away from reservations. There you can visit tribal centers, museums and art galleries to immerse yourself in the rich history of the region.

Take a Week to Drive the Loop

Port Townsend
Port Townsend. Photo by Andrew via Unsplash

The Peninsula’s boundaries are the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and Hood Canal to the east. It could be a three-day drive, but you’ll want to stretch the driving loop to at least a week.

Whether you’re crossing the majestic Hood Canal Bridge, strolling through the historic streets of Port Townsend, or chasing waterfalls at Falls View Campground, every turn leads to another enchanting surprise.

Start in Seattle and proceed north on I-5. Then take exit 177 for the Edmonds ferry to Kingston. When disembarking, follow Highway #104 to Port Gamble.

Slow down at the first picket fence to delight in the meticulously maintained homes, charming throwbacks to the 1850s, renovated into antique shops, import stores and a general store/café. Enjoy a bite there and wander through its museum.

Stay on Highway #104 to the Hood Canal Bridge and marvel at the view from this 1,490-mile floating bridge. Follow #104 to #101, the primary loop route. Towering overhead are lofty firs and mossy deciduous trees that donate their leaves to Mother Nature in the fall. She rewards them for their gifts with bursting buds in the spring.

Read More: Lots to Love about Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula

Diversions Lead to Great Excursions

Graysmarsh Farm, Sequim
Graysmarsh Farm, Sequim. Photo by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

Shortly after joining #101, take a diversion to head north on #20 to Port Townsend–antiquated, lively and culturally rich. It’s one of many locations that entice drivers away from the already-enthralling Olympic Peninsula route. The Victorian homes are lovingly restored, and the city boasts well-preserved late 19th-century buildings.

Now double back to join #101 west to Sequim which basks in this rainy state’s version of a sunbelt. Small parks invite a stroll through downtown. Lavender fields, with their intoxicating aroma, surround the town. Stop at Graysmarsh Farm to pick a variety of berries and buy fresh produce.

Dungeness Spit jutting out from Sequim offers the opportunity to be a lighthouse keeper for a week. Get ready for some close encounters with curious deer and don’t miss the Olympic Game Farm where big cats and Kodiak bears lumber about. Thrill in the wait for zebra, yaks and bison to lick your car windows in hopes of a hand-out.

Planning a last-minute trip to Washington?

Top Experiences and Tours in Washington:

Where to stay and transportation in Washington:

Hike Hurricane Ridge for Stunning Views

Head farther west to Port Angeles where sections of its famed underground include a self-guided walk. But what’s imperative here is to divert south onto Hurricane Ridge Road for 17 miles.

Hurricane Ridge is the most accessible mountain area within the Olympic National Park and reveals rows of rippled peaks that stretch toward the sapphire sky and plunge into emerald valleys.

Take a short hike above Hurricane Ridge’s parking lot to view sub-alpine flowers like pumpkin-orange cosmos and lavender foxglove. Hike higher for a 360-degree view in clear weather of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and glacier-clad Mount Olympus where low-lying clouds often dapple among the peaks.

At a picnic lunch table among the rustic-red Indian paintbrush and fuchsia fireweed, you may find a deer sniffing your food. Listen for a marmot’s whistle. If you mimic him, he’ll whistle back.

Roosevelt Beach, Olympic Coast Natural Beach Sanctuary.
Roosevelt Beach, Olympic Coast Natural Beach Sanctuary. Photo by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

Dig Into the History of the Region

Return to #101 West to Lake Crescent nestled among the giant fir and hemlock trees. The lodge on the shores of this azure lake dates from 1915. Beyond it, veer north on #113 which connects to #112 where the fishing communities of Clallam Bay, Seiku and Neah Bay beckon.

The bonus of this diversion is the Makah and Ozette Reservations. The Makah Cultural Center displays artifacts unearthed from its 16th-century village.

Double back to rejoin #101 to Forks. Visit the Timber Museum, John’s Beachcombing Museum or pay homage to Twilight by viewing Bella’s trucks at the Visitor Information Center.

Highway #110 West at Forks is a worthwhile diversion to La Push where you can spot gray whales from mid-February through late May.

Red Beaches and Towering Trees

Quinault Cultural Center and Museum, Taholah
Quinault Cultural Center and Museum, Taholah.
Photo by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

Now drive #101 south to Ruby Beach to observe sand that at times offers the illusion of containing ruby-red crystals. Next is Kalaloch, an engaging beach community with a lodge and cabins, and then you’ll cross the Quinault Indian Reservation to serene Lake Quinault.

Take the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive, a 31-mile circuit where thundering waterfalls and behemoth trees greet you. The world’s largest trees live there: western cedar, mountain hemlock, and Sitka spruce.

Be sure to stop at the rustic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926, a perfect spot to relax and soak in the coastal beauty.

Logging Towns and a Fish Hatchery

Head south to the former logging towns of Hoquium and Aberdeen perching on Gray’s Harbor where another alluring side trip is to take #12 west. Connect then onto #109 where Ocean Shores, Pacific Beach, Copalis, Ocean City, Seabrook and Moclips offer hiking, swimming, surfing, flying kites and camping on the Pacific Ocean.

The Moclips fish hatchery invites visitors to tour the facility and enjoy displays of Native American culture. There is a more extensive display at the small Taholah Museum a bit farther north. It has a collection from the seven Quinault tribes.

Chain saw carver, Ocean City
Chain saw carver, Ocean City. Photo by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

On to Hood Canal

Now back to #101, the bottom of the loop, traversing east through Montesano and veering north to Shelton. Farther on is the southern tip of Hood Canal at Union. Hood Canal is rich with sandy beach trails oysters, clams, sea birds and roaring waves that pummel the air with boisterous crashes.

Don’t head home yet. Alderbrook Resort is worth a stop. It’s a woodsy, family-friendly resort hotel that has eye-catching views of the Olympic Mountains.

To continue the loop, drive north on #101 to enjoy the historic logging communities of Hoodsport and Brinnon. The best campsite on this tour is Falls View Campground nearby which features a 120-foot waterfall.

At Quilcene visit the historical museum, oyster farm or Whitney Gardens before heading east on Center Road to #104 and the ferry at Kingston to Seattle.

Read More: Walla Walla, Washington: The Perfect Place for a Weekend Escape

Still Want More?

However, another appealing deviation from the loop is to take #106 northeast, then #302 south to #16 for a slight jog south to Gig Harbor. Stroll among the profusion of this historic downtown’s parks and sip coffee with waterfront views at Java and Clay. It has an attached paint-your-own ceramics studio serving espresso, beer, wine & smoothies.

Then head north on #16 to Bremerton. It’s home to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The massive carriers docked there will rivet your attention. Bremerton’s Arts District will lure you to drive or walk through its windy streets.

Scandinavia in Washington

Now push north on #3 to the gem on this route, Pouslbo, where Scandinavian flags flutter over royal blue benches and ceramic flowerpots on the main street. Walk to the museum, the bookshops and especially to Sluy’s Bakery. Wait in line to savor the delectable Scandinavian delicacies.

From Poulsbo take #305 south for the Bainbridge Island ferry. The journey ends with a wind-whipped ferry ride from Bainbridge Island that shoots you back to Seattle in 30 minutes.

You can choose your diversions wisely, and if you can’t get them all in, plan a return trip to the Olympic Peninsula adventure. Those mossy maples will be there on your next visit.

Olympic Peninsula Seabrook
Seabrook. Photo by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

Where to Stay on the Olympic Peninsula

Best Lodges & Resorts

Camping & Other Options

Olympic National Forest operates 17 campgrounds on a first-come, first-served basis.

If You Go:

There are some Olympic National Park free admission days. Olympic National Park Service has information on road conditions, lodging, events, points of interest, farmers markets and trails. Check on the seasons and locations for collecting shellfish.

The Bogachiel, Hoh, Sol Duc and Calawah Rivers offer world-class fishing. Guides are available. Check on whether licenses are needed and if seasons are open.

Read More:

Author Bio: Marcia McGreevy Lewis (she/her) lives in Seattle and is a retired feature writer for a Washington newspaper. She has written for literary journals, magazines, travel sites and books. Reach her on Facebook and Instagram: marcialewis25, Twitter: @McGreevyLewis and Linkedin: marcia-lewis

Go World Travel Magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *