From waters teeming with wildlife, to snow-capped peaks, to rainforests, to tide pools, the Olympic Peninsula truly has it all. On this 445-mile road trip, you’ll experience the best the peninsula has to offer from history, to food to wildlife encounters. What are you waiting for?
Start: Seattle, Washington
Start this road trip in the beautiful Emerald City: Seattle.
The first destination of any tourist to Seattle is usually the Pike Place Market. And for good reason. Snap a picture under the iconic sign before heading into the pandemonium. Fish mongers hawk their catch on your right, bouquets upon bouquets of flowers catch your eye on the left. The air is filled with smells of every type of food imaginable. Beautiful Washington apples and Rainier cherries overflow their baskets. Artisans of all sorts line the covered hallway. The energy can be fun – but also overwhelming. When you’ve had your fill of the top floor, duck down below to the lower floors and the crowds will immediately dissipate. Poke through vinyl shops or grab a bite to eat. Don’t forget to stop at the famous gum wall where thousands of pieces of chewing gum line the walls under the market.
While there’s a good chance of experiencing Seattle’s moody weather, sunny days in the city are like none other. If you luck out, head to the Space Needle for incredible views of the city and Mt. Rainier, looming in the distance. Even if the weather is rainy, you’ll still enjoy a trip to the top.
If you’re looking for another way to enjoy a sunny day in Seattle grab a cup of coffee and head to the Washington Park Arboretum. 230 acres of trees and plants from around the world thrive under the care of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. Miles of trails give you access to explore this beautiful, and free attraction. Particularly beautiful in the spring or fall, some notable collections include Rhododendron Glen, Azalea Way and the Japanese Garden (this is the only exhibit with a small entrance fee.) Make sure to read the plaques on the trees around you, you’ll be shocked at the monetary value of some of our shady friends.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to hit up one of the restaurants from Renee Erickson’s restaurant group, Eat Sea Creatures. Erickson has re-invented Seattle dining. From her European country-style cooking to her whimsically nautical themed décor, her restaurants are a must stop. Luckily, you can take your pick in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood. Located on the same block you’ll find General Porpoise, Bateau and Bar Melusine. General Porpoise is a hot-pink donut shop featuring excellent coffee and rotating, seasonal donut fillings. Bateau is a modern steakhouse and Bar Melusine is a bright and airy French oyster bar with a beautiful marble counter and mint-green furnishings, featuring local oysters and a killer brunch.
Seattle’s diversity is part of what makes it so exciting. It’s home to tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, micro-sustainable farms and everything in between. Head to the International District to get a taste of this city’s varied culture. Stop in at Uwajimaya, an Asian grocery and department store. Peruse their bakery, food stalls and impressive stationary collection. Make a pilgrimage to Maneki, the oldest Japanese restaurant in Seattle, and one of the oldest in the country. Opened in 1904, this restaurant has rooms with traditional tatami (bamboo) mats.
Traveling From Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula
From Seattle, you have two choices to get to the Olympic Peninsula. Either take the Bainbridge Ferry, cutting off an hour or so of travel time, or drive south through Tacoma. The ferry is the faster, and more exciting route, but it does cost $28.60 per standard car, as well as $8.50 per person.
Rent an RV with Outdoorsy
Do this road trip in an RV to stay close to nature. Or check out Destination Delivery: have an RV delivered directly to a campground or parking site to camp in style without having to get behind the wheel. www.outdoorsy.com/rv-rental/washington/olympic-national-park.
Make sure to read our tips on navigating Olympic National Park with an RV.
From Bainbridge Island, head north to the charming Victorian sea port of Port Townsend, where you can stroll the shops lining the main street. This quaint harbor town’s Victorian homes and architecture signify the wealth that once flooded into the port as goods and timber in the early 1900s. Port Townsend’s rich history can be relived in a visit to Fort Worden State Park. Built around World War II to protect the straits of Juan de Fuca and the entrance to Puget Sound, this park not only has incredible history but also has beautiful landscape and photographable features.
If you have an interest in ecology or marine life, consider visiting the Port Townsend Marine Science Center for only $5. Here you can learn about and touch the organisms that live in the waters off the Olympic Peninsula.
Then head to Sea J’s Café to fuel up. Order their famous fish and chips and sit out on the patio. Keep a close eye on the harbor, you may see some playful river otters on the docks.
Take a Whale Watching Tour With Puget Sound Express
Set sail from Port Townsend with Puget Sound Express to search for whales like orcas, humpbacks or minkes.
Experience a Slice of the Olympic Culinary Loop
The abundance of cideries, wineries, creameries, berry and shellfish farms and farm-to-table restaurants in Jefferson County isn’t just due to the good growing conditions. It’s because the peninsula is a place that attracts makers. Here are our favorite stops.
As you head down the highway from Port Townsend to Sequim, you may think you’ve been transported to the South of France. Along the roadside, farms exploding with purple blooms and the intoxicating scent of lavender abound. Stop in at one of the many farms, such as Purple Haze Lavender Farm to get your first taste of the herb that this part of the Peninsula is wild about. At Purple Haze you can stroll the gardens, pick your own lavender, peruse the gift shop or sample lavender ice cream, lemonade and Italian soda.
Sequim itself has a charming downtown with plenty of shops to visit (many with signature lavender themed products) and restaurants to try. Stop into our favorite, Salty Girl Seafood Co. A no frills, order-at-the-counter spot for all things local seafood, let the staff guide you to half a dozen of their favorite local oysters. Don’t forget to order a shrimp melt and a signature cocktail like the Sake Slush, a mix of cucumber vodka and sake on sno-cone-esque ice.
Stop by Hurricane Coffee Co. afterwards for a coffee or an ice cream cone. The large space is both cozy and classy and you can partake in more lavender: either in coffee or ice cream form.
Up for an unusual hike? Walk on the longest natural sand spit in the United States at Sequim's Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for 250 species of birds. Extending five miles into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, the sea spit has grown about 15 feet per year for the past 120 years. Climb the lighthouse tower near the end of the spit for a panoramic view.
Olympic National Park Lakes, Waterfalls and Hot Springs
From Port Angeles, head west on Highway 101 for your first taste of Olympic National Park’s beauty.
Take the turnoff for Lake Crescent Lodge to explore one of the park’s most beautiful lakes. Strikingly clear due to the lack of nitrogen in the water, this crescent-shaped lake is extremely deep – 624 feet at its depths. In the evenings, the sun paints the water gold. In the mornings, mist hovers over the water. Surrounded by temperate rainforests, it’s a little slice of paradise.
Book a room or a cabin at the charming Lake Crescent Lodge to experience all of the lake’s many angles. Make sure to order a drink at the bar and enjoy the lodge’s sun room, or Adirondack chairs, right on the lake’s shore. To really get a taste for the lake’s beauty, rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard at the lodge. Rentals fill up quickly when the weather’s nice, so for the most solitude, get there when they open at 7 a.m. Paddle along the shoreline and look deep into the blue green water. You might even spot a nearly century-old car wreck.
Continue heading west on Highway 101 to the turn off for Sol Duc Valley. Start your tour of the Valley with a hike to Sol Duc Falls. This beautiful hike takes you 1.6 miles roundtrip through a temperate rainforest to an overlook where you can watch the beautiful falls tumble 50 feet into the slot canyon below. In the autumn rainy season and early spring runoff these falls can be spectacular as they boom beneath your feet.
After exploring, head to the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort to soak in natural mineral pools ranging from 50-degrees to 104-degrees. The resort also offers a restaurant, gift shop and lodging options.
Explore pristine beaches and the rainforest on the northwestern tip of Olympic Peninsula at Neah Bay, home to the Makah tribe. An estimated 1,500 Makah people live in and around Neah Bay today. You can learn about Makah traditions and history at The Makah Cultural and Research Center. The center is home to 300-500 year-old artifacts that were discovered after a storm in 1969-70 hit the nearby village of Ozette, exposing hundreds of well-preserved wooden artifacts.
For a moderate hike, walk the boardwalks a half-mile to overlooks of Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly point in the Lower 48. You will need to purchase a $10 Makah Recreation Pass to pursue any activities on the Makah Indian Reservation, including parking at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead and Cape Flattery. You can buy your pass at a number of businesses, including Makah Marina, The Museum at the Makah Culture and Research Center, Washburn’s General Store, Makah Tribal Center, Makah Mini Mart and the Hobuck Beach Resort.
Olympic National Park Pacific Coast Beaches
To experience a lush forest and beautiful beach with sea stacks, hike two miles from the Makah trailhead (Makah recreation pass required) to Shi Shi Beach (inside the national park), walking through a lush rainforest before reaching beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s best to wear hiking boots as the last stretch of the forest trail can get muddy. As you exit the forest, note that the walk to the beach is quite steep with ropes to help you navigate down. From the beach, you can walk an additional 2.5 miles to Point of Arches, a magnificent stretch of rocky sea stacks. Be sure to carry a tide chart with you because high tides have stranded beach walkers.
On your way down the peninsula’s western coast, stop at Ruby and Kalaloch beaches. Pick up a tide chart from the Kalaloch Information Station to ensure you don’t get stranded at high tide, and to know when the tide pools will be most visible. Search for brilliantly colored starfish, anemones and skittering crabs in the pools. Make sure to wear shoes so the sharp barnacles don’t cut your feet. Remember, take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Keep an eye out above for seabirds like osprey and bald eagles. Stay for the sunset to see the beautiful sea stacks illuminated.
Olympic National Park Quinault Lake and Rainforest
The south shore of Lake Quinault hosts a beautiful resort with a beach, heated pool and highend restaurant. It's the launching spot for water sports such as kayaking, canoeing and standup paddleboarding.
After you dry off, drive the 31-mile scenic loop around the lake and through the Quinault Rain Forest, stopping to get out of the car to see the world's largest sika spruce and a creek with rushing cascades and waterfalls.
If you’re a Nirvana fan, you’ll want to make a stop in Aberdeen, Wash. Home to Kurt Cobain in his youth, the town still holds many memories of the late singer. The Aberdeen Museum of History has a walking tour, which will take you to Cobain’s childhood home, the memorial park established in his honor and other important locations from his youth.
Stroll down to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport to see if the Lady Washington is in her home port. The tall ship is a replica of the first ship to land on the west coast of the United States. She has even appeared in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Today, she serves as an ambassador to the state of Washington. When she’s in port, tour the vessel or sign up for an Adventure or Evening Sail to experience a taste of history on the open seas.