For outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, the Olympic Peninsula (“the OP”) is a bucket list trip that must be checked. In one road trip loop, the Olympic Peninsula offers the best mix of spectacular mountains, lush forests, and the wild Pacific Coastline. Despite its high precipitation and near constant humidity, the Pacific Northwest is sure to cast its love spell on you and almost make you never want to leave.
The Olympic Peninsula is the wide peninsula in the northwest portion of Washington State, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north, and the Hood Canal on the East. The Olympic Peninsula is home to Olympic National Park and the Olympic Mountains.
A road trip around this most northwestern part of the contiguous United States is the best way to see some of the very best of the natural beauty the Pacific Northwest (“the PNW”) has to offer. As Olympians go, this trip is sure to be a winner.
IN THIS POST YOU WILL FIND…
- THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
- HOW LONG TO STAY IN THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
- GETTING TO THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
- ITINERARY FOR OLYMPIC PENINSULA LOOP
- WHERE TO STAY IN THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
- WHAT TO PACK FOR THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
While the Olympic Peninsula is more than just the Olympic National Park, the Olympic National Park and its sites are the main reason for going to the Olympic Peninsula in the first place. For that reason, it is critical that you check on the hours and recommendations of the Olympic National Park during the times you plan to visit. The Olympic National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year long. However, even though it is open for visitors, you may find it more difficult to visit in the “off-season” since some roads and facilities are only open seasonally.
As it is notorious for, the Olympic Peninsula is quite rainy. About 75% of its precipitation falls between October to March. During those rainy months, the weather can be chilly and blustery, especially along the coastline. At the lower elevations, the weather stays more mild during the winter, but heavy snowfall does occur up in the mountains.
Summer is when you will find the driest and warmest weather in the Olympic Peninsula, with the high temperatures generally ranging from 65 to 75 degrees F. Of course, these best weather months also come with the biggest crowds. The Olympic Peninsula is the perfect destination for a summer vacation road trip, but don’t limit this trip to the summer months only.
We visited the Olympic Peninsula in late October of 2020. We had a variety of weather during our visit. The actual temperature did not vary much, but the conditions made the temperature feel very different. On the sunny days, the high of 55 degrees F felt very comfortable, even along the coast. Whereas, on rainy, windy days, the same temperature felt quite cold even when we were wearing multiple layers of clothing. Nonetheless, experiencing both sides of the OP’s weather made me feel like I truly experienced it. They are known for their rain and dampness after all!
HOW MANY DAYS FOR THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
Getting to and driving the loop around the Olympic Peninsula takes quite a few hours, without accounting for any stops. I wouldn’t make this a day trip from Seattle or else you will be extremely rushed without any time to actually stop and enjoy the nature you came to see.
3 to 4 days is the recommended time frame for a first visit to the Olympic Peninsula.
We stayed 3 nights in the Olympic Peninsula and that is the minimum time I would recommend. This trip length allowed us to see the highlights, do a few hikes and explore the must-do sites in the Olympic National Park. A longer trip would allow more time for more hiking or more down time to relax.
GETTING TO THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
The Olympic Peninsula is a trip that requires a motor vehicle – car, truck, camper van, RV, however you do it – you need a vehicle. This is not a public transportation vacation. Nothing in the OP is close to the other. A lot of driving (hours of it) is required even once you get to the Olympic Peninsula.
Now, back to the topic at hand…
Getting to the Olympic Peninsula can be confusing at first glance. The Peninsula looks so close to Seattle, yet the Puget Sound and Hood Canal divide them. So how do you get there without driving all the way south to Tacoma and/or Olympia and then driving hours north again??
There are many ferry options for getting you and your vehicle from the Seattle side of the Puget Sound over to the Olympic Peninsula. The most direct route from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula is a ferry ride right from downtown Seattle over to Bainbridge Island, then crossing the Hood Canal Bridge over to the OP.
Depending on where else you want your trip to take you, there are a multitude of ferry options. If you look at a Google Map of the Puget Sound, you will see dotted blue lines running across the water from many different locations opposite the Olympic Peninsula. Those are ferry lines and are all travel options for getting to the OP.
For a more scenic route getting to the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle, we drove north from Seattle to a pumpkin patch in Snohomish. (We live in Florida but like to experience the seasonal activities at the seasonally appropriate temperature. A pumpkin patch at Florida’s norm of 88 degrees just doesn’t sit right with me!) We then took a ferry over to Whidbey Island and then a second ferry to Port Townsend, starting our Olympic Peninsula journey at the Northeast tip of the peninsula.
The ferry rides are very easy as long as you check the ferry schedule, plan ahead, and schedule the rest of your day appropriately to abide by the ferry schedule. Don’t miss your boat! You don’t want to risk completely missing your ride to the OP because they will not wait for you!
As far as COVID-19 goes, a ferry ride is a perfect travel option. Social distancing is completely possible if you choose to stay in your own car. Otherwise, masks were required on the ferries as of October 2020, whether you were on the inside or out on the deck of the ship.
Despite the convenience of the ferry options, a ferry is not required to get to the Olympic Peninsula. It is a peninsula and not an island after all. Driving to the Olympic Peninsula without a ferry ride may add some hours to your trip, so just make sure you account for this in your travel schedule.
I won’t pretend to be your Google Maps, but, driving to the OP without a ferry will likely mean you start, end, or at least pass through Tacoma or Olympia. With either location, you can choose your route depending on whether you want to take the Olympic Peninsula Loop from east to west or from west to east. Eg., starting from Tacoma, you can start the Loop on the east side by crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, driving northwest to the Hood Canal Bridge and passing over to the Olympic Peninsula, starting the Loop around Port Ludlow. In the alternative, you can start from Tacoma, drive southwest though Olympia, turning north at Aberdeen to pass Lake Quinault, starting the Loop on the west side near Ruby Beach and the Tree of Life.
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ITINERARY FOR OLYMPIC PENINSULA LOOP
FORT WORDEN STATE PARK
At the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula is Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. Deer roam all over Port Townsend and make themselves especially comfortable on the grounds of this State Park. Fort Worden State Park is also home to the Point Wilson Lighthouse which first started operating in 1879. You can walk up to and around the lighthouse, taking in the shores where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Puget Sound. FUN FACT! The “Chief’s” house at the lighthouse is available as a vacation rental, so you could even choose to spend a few nights under the glow of the lighthouse.
Hurricane Ridge is an absolute must for any visit to the Olympic Peninsula. Where Port Angeles meets Hurricane Ridge Road is where you will find the Olympic National Park sign and the Olympic National Park Visitor Center.
For your first day in Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge Road is the perfect place to start. Following Hurricane Ridge Road, it’s just a short drive up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Along the way, you’ll follow the scenic road and probably be tempted to stop at one or two turnout spots to park and check out the views. From the Visitor Center parking lot, there are several short walks or short hikes to see some amazing views of Olympic National Park and the Olympic Mountains. On clear, sunny days, you can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island.
The best time of day to visit Hurricane Ridge is in the morning, before the harsh midday sun (to get the best pictures of the Olympic Mountains) and before the crowds flock to the Park.
GETTING HUNGRY?? Granny’s Café is a great spot for any meal of the day, including dessert. Granny’s Café has been open since 1956. It is located directly on US 101 (the Olympic Highway) so it is convenient and very easy to get to. They serve comfortable, home-style food with an area to sit outside and enjoy the company of chickens and other animal friends. The chickens roam freely and don’t mind your personal space, but we found them to be fun, not intrusive.
About 18 miles west of Port Angeles is Lake Crescent. Lake Crescent is a glacially-carved lake and is cold and clear to prove it. Because of its clarity and reflections, Lake Crescent takes on a beautiful blue-green color. If you’re looking for a peaceful and serene activity on the water, Lake Crescent is an excellent place for it.
On the south shore of Lake Crescent lies the Storm King Ranger Station – the parking lot and starting place for the short hike to Marymere Falls Trail. This is an easy trail that is about 1.7 miles roundtrip. The Marymere Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in Olympic National Park and is definitely family friendly for kids.
This is where I fell in awe of the Olympic National Forest. It is truly like none other. The lush forest. The vibrant greens. The moss covered trees. The ginormous trees. It feels like walking in a Dr. Suess-like dream land. And, of course, there’s also a pretty great waterfall. Seriously… in awe.
SOL DUC FALLS
In Sol Duc Valley, at the end of Duc Hot Springs Road, you will find the start of the Sol Duc Falls Trail. This short hike is only about 1.6 miles roundtrip, making this another easy hike for the family and young children. The trail takes you through ancient trees in this old-growth forest. There are impressive sights all along the way to the Falls – curious fungi, toddler sized leaves, and huuuuge trees.
The number of channels you will see at Sol Duc Falls will depend on the season and the weather. When the water is really flowing, you can see all four channels rushing down into its rocky canyon.
SHI SHI BEACH1
In the northwest end of the Olympic Peninsula on the Pacific Ocean you will find Shi Shi Beach. Shi Shi Beach is home to some tremendous sea stacks, including the Point of Arches. Getting to Shi Shi Beach takes quite a bit of effort – 8 miles roundtrip and expect to get muddy and wet.
1As of this writing, the Makah Indian Reservation is closed to all visitors due to the Novel Coronavirus, making the Shi Shi Beach also closed to visitors.
TOWN OF FORKS
If you were into Twilight (the vampire-themed adventure/romance books and movies), then you know the Town of Forks. It was the town at the center of the fictional series. The Twilight notoriety is alive and well in Forks. Here, you’ll find Bella’s red truck, “The City of Forks Welcomes You” sign, and other references to Twilight throughout town.
RIALTO BEACH / HOLE-IN-THE-WALL
If you’re in the mood for a different type of hike, Rialto Beach has one for you. This hike was nothing like any hike I’ve ever been on and so different than my expectations. It’s a beach hike, but we’re not talking about a soft, sandy beach. This beach offers up all kinds of interesting terrain. First, it is rocky – with rocks ranging from marble size to softball size. And the rocks are beautiful. Prepare one of your pockets for treasures because I promise you will want to take a few home with you. Second, we had to go up, over, down and around driftwood logs in many different spots.
Between the obstacles and the sea stacks just off shore, this longer hike kept our attention the whole way. At about 4 miles, this is a moderate hike just based on the length. Our 4-year-old did the whole hike, but she has some decent hiking experience and is pretty resilient.
Starting from Rialto Beach parking lot, you’ll walk north following the shore towards Hole-in-the-Wall. Hole-in-the-Wall is kind of just what it sounds like – a photogenic hole in a rock wall giving awesome peak through views of sea stacks. Definitely get to the north side of Hole-in-the-Wall if you safely can. The view through the hole looking back to the sea stacks is so Instagram-worthy.
The best time to do this hike will depend on the tide schedule. Plan to arrive at Hole-in-the-Wall (your turnaround point in the hike) at low tide. This will allow you to get to the other side of Hole-in-the-Wall without climbing over top of the rock wall (which is also possible, but not the easiest especially if the ground is wet). You will also need low tide to see the tide pools. They are a must see for interesting marine life. Rialto Beach is also known for whale watching during migration months (April-May and October-November) if you have the time and patience.
GETTING HUNGRY?? Three Rivers Resort Restaurant is about 9 miles back towards Forks from Rialto Beach. They serve burgers and milkshakes to-go with some Twilight flair, including a full Twilight menu. Here, you will also find some fun signs for photo-ops like “Treaty Line, No Vampires Beyond This Point” and “Vampire Threat Level.”
On the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula, just west of Forks, is La Push. La Push is a village on the Quileute Indian Reservation and is home to some of the Olympic Peninsula’s most amazing beaches – First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach.
Note to the Twilight fans: La Push from the movie was not actually filmed at La Push, but was actually shot a little to the south in Oregon.
2As of this writing, the Quileute Indian Reservation is closed to all visitors due to the Novel Coronavirus, making the beaches in La Push also closed to visitors.
As one of only seven temperate rainforests in the world, the Hoh Rainforest is definitely worth a visit. It’s not everyday you get to visit a rain forest! Hello, Fern Gully vibes! The Hoh Rain Forest is part of the larger Pacific Northwest Rainforest, which is the largest temperate rain forest on the planet, running the length of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and the northern tip of California.
To get to the Hoh Rainforest, you will drive south on US 101 from Forks about 13 miles until you reach Upper Hoh Road. You will then drive along Upper Hoh Road about 13 miles, following along the Hoh River.
There are several different hiking trails starting from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center area. The Hall of Mosses Trail is an easy loop trail at only .8 miles long. The Hoh River Trail is an out and back trail. It is a main hiking trail and offers multiple trail options with various degrees of difficulty and lengths.
Trekking back to US 101, south of the Hoh Rainforest, and back on the Pacific Ocean Coast, Ruby Beach is another can’t miss location in the Olympic Peninsula. Ruby Beach gets its name from the red-colored sand that sometimes gathers and also for its reddish sea stacks. Despite it’s sometimes red sand, this is not a sandy beach. Ruby Beach is an easy pit stop with incredible sea stacks just a short walk from the parking lot.
TREE OF LIFE / TREE ROOT CAVE
No trip to the Olympic Peninsula is complete without seeing the Tree of Life or Tree Root Cave. Its name comes from the fact that this natural wonder, miraculous tree seems to just hang or float, somehow clinging to life, on the volatile Pacific Coast.
Getting to the Tree of Life is easy from US 101. Park in the parking lot for the Kalaloch campground. Take the steps down to the beach and walk north just a little bit. Looking towards the campground area, you will see this massive tree hanging above the ground.
GETTING HUNGRY?? The Creekside Restaurant at the Kalaloch Lodge offers a great selection of take-out food and outdoor seating right along the coast. I recommend the Creekside Clam Chowder!
WHERE TO STAY IN THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
Finding places to stay in the Olympic Peninsula is no easy feat. We honestly struggled with making our selections because there just are not a lot of options. The Olympic Peninsula does not have much for towns or developed areas. But, then, that’s why you’re going to the Olympic Peninsula, right? To enjoy nature? Still, you have to sleep somewhere.
Before selecting your lodging, I would recommend mapping out your activities and base your lodging location(s) according to those activities. The Olympic Peninsula is large and you may want to change your homebase as your trip progresses around the Olympic Peninsula Loop.
Port Angeles is a decent size city, especially for the Olympic Peninsula. Here, you can find a variety of options for both lodging and dining. If you’re driving the Olympic Peninsula from east to west, this will be the last big town you’ll see, so you may want to stock up on any necessary supplies or grocery items before leaving this area.
For our first night in the Olympic Peninsula, we arrived by ferry to Port Townsend in the early evening. We decided to stay in Port Angeles for a good jumping off point for the Olympic National Park and Hurricane Ridge the following morning. We stayed at the Olympic Lodge and found it to be clean and comfortable. I wouldn’t quite call it luxurious, but it was nice enough, especially for just one night.
We had a great dinner at the Next Door Gastropub in Port Angeles. It is a smaller restaurant with an interesting menu, including poutine, fish tacos, burgers, and a to-die-for mac and cheese. The food was great, the service was excellent and the surroundings were comfortable. I would definitely recommend it for a dinner in Port Angeles.
Forks is the next biggest town on the drive along the Olympic Peninsula Loop. It is much smaller than Port Angeles, making lodging and dining options much more limited. Nonetheless, Forks is an excellent hub for many favorite destinations in the Olympic Peninsula.
There are only a few hotel options in Forks, all of which are inexpensive options. We opted for an Airbnb / VRBO vacation rental for the extra space and amenities. It wasn’t at all luxurious (again, luxurious doesn’t really exist in the OP), but the rental was clean and well-appointed with a washer and dryer and even toys for kids. The home fully celebrated Forks’ connection to the Twilight series – coming fully stocked with albums of pictures and newspaper articles from the filming of the Twilight movies and the full Twilight movie library. My husband and I had never watched any of the movies prior to our trip, but we thought it was pretty apropos to watch our very first Twilight movie while in Forks. Click here to book the vacation rental we stayed in.
Mocha Motion – A standalone coffee hut with good coffee and breakfast sandwiches. A great spot to fuel up for an active day.
D&K BBQ – After a long, busy day, nothing hits the spot better than a hot shower and takeout. D&K’s BBQ is just the right comfort food to stick to your ribs. Just make sure you get your dinner before they sell out for the day!
Pacific Pizza – A small, quaint pizza shop serving pizza, pasta, sandwiches and even ice cream. It’s a good people pleaser stop.
WHAT TO PACK FOR THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
WATERPROOF HIKING SHOES
Hiking trails are a prime way to see some the of the best of the Olympic Peninsula, so get those hiking shoes ready! With the high levels of precipitation and damp forest grounds, make sure your hiking shoes are waterproof in order to keep your feet dry and comfortable. These are our tried and true favorite hiking shoes.
I prefer rain boots for beach hikes to keep my feet completely dry and keeping any sand or little rocks out of my shoes. After a 4 mile hike from Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall in these Hunter wellies, both my daughter and I ended our day with dry, blister free feet. My daughter and I both love our Hunter boots, for hiking or otherwise.
It’s the Pacific Northwest. You’re very likely going to need a rain jacket at some point in the trip. Even if it doesn’t rain, the wind gusts along the Pacific Coast can be quite strong. A rain coat will also serve as a great windbreaker. I especially like the jackets with a hood with a little “visor” piece so it actually stays on your head and keeps rain off your face.
ACTIVE WEAR / HIKING CLOTHES
Pretty much everything you do on the Olympic Peninsula will require quite a bit of walking or hiking. Dress for it! I especially like these hiking pants (below). They are “hybrid” pants which means they are leggings + hiking pants. The material feels kind of like a windbreaker on the outside, but they still fit and feel like leggings. AND they have pockets!
You’re very, very highly likely to be hiking while in the Olympic Peninsula, so make sure you bring any necessary hiking gear for you and your family.
For more recommendations for my favorite hiking gear, click here!
NATIONAL PARK PASS
As you drive around the Olympic Peninsula Loop, you will enter the Olympic National Park at several different locations. For each entry, you will need a pass to enter. The cost for a standard non-commercial vehicle is $30 and is valid for 7 consecutive days.
If you have plans to visit any other National Parks within the year following your Olympic National Park visit, consider, the National Park annual pass. The pass is good for one year after purchase and covers your entrance to all the National Parks along with the Federal Recreation Lands. The pass will cover the entrance fee for your whole vehicle (non-commercial) and up to 4 adults at sites with per person fees.
Note: You must buy the pass online and you must have the physical pass with you to use it. An email confirmation or receipt will not suffice.
Technically you can even share the pass between your family and another family as the pass is permitted to have 2 owners. You will not be able to use it simultaneously, however, since you have to present the physical pass for entry.
The annual pass costs $80, so it will likely save you money if you plan to visit at least 3 National Parks during the year. To purchase, click here.
I hope you found my Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Guide helpful for planning your amazing vacation!
Drop a comment below if you have ever been to the Olympic Peninsula and let me know your favorite spot on the Olympic Peninsula Loop!
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