Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula

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After a week in Eastern Washington, I headed to the Olympic Peninsula along US-97, the Yakama Scenic.  Yes, Yakama not Yakima, so named for the Yakama Confederated Tribe of Indians.  I will have to add this stretch of beautiful scenery to my next visit in Washington. 

I already had plans to meet my friend, Tina, in the Olympic Peninsula, otherwise I might have spent a day poking around.  That said, it was absolutely pouring rain for a portion of the drive, so today wasn’t the day for sightseeing.

Sandstone Distillery

Instead, I pulled into Sandstone Distillery in Tenino, Washington for the night.  The distillery is part of the Harvest Hosts network, and it has a lovely property with a mowed path around the pond and lots of bunnies that had Annie running from the front seat to the bed in VANgo.

We caught a break in the rain to take a short walk but didn’t get to taste their spirits or sipping vinegars as the distillery wasn’t open on Sunday.  Not a big drinker, I didn’t lose sleep over it, but the sipping vinegars intrigued me.  From the reviews I’ve read, they are quite tasty.

sandstone distillery

Finding a Campsite on the Olympic Peninsula

The next day led me to the Olympic Peninsula.  I searched for a dispersed campsite as Tina flew in from New Mexico.  Boy, that was a challenge!!  The iOverlander and FreeRoam apps listed a handful of options, but they were tiny pullouts off a dirt road.  I could hardly fit VANgo, much less a second vehicle.  After stopping in the forest service office in Hoodsport, I learned there were “several large spaces along the Hamma Hamma.”  Not Really!!

The first part of this road was used for logging and there were no camp spots.  About six miles up the road, a few options presented themselves.  As I completed a three point turn to check out a location, however, I had a mishap.

Though I had my foot on the brake to change gears, if the brake is not pressed hard enough or if I remove my foot too fast, the gear doesn’t switch.  I expected VANgo to shift into drive, it didn’t, rolled backwards, and the corner of flimsy plastic bumper crumpled as my 8,000 pound vehicle rolled backwards into the only exposed rock within 100 yards. 

I’m beginning to wonder about this Mercedes.  It has so many idiosyncricies for the price, and many of the parts had to have been “made in China”!  In the end, VANgo’s new war wound was worth the amazing spot we found down by the river.

campsite on the hamma hamma on the Olympic Peninsula

Where to Stay (Cities on the Olympic Peninsula)

During my time on the Olympic Peninsula, I spent a week based out of Hoodsport with Tina and about three days up near Sequim (pronounced Skwim) on my own.  I didn’t even make it to the south or west part of the Peninsula, which is 329 miles around.

Clearly, there was plenty to do on the Eastern and Northern part of the peninsula for ten days, and the difference in development between just those two areas was striking.

Hoodsport, has the most things to do on the Olympic Peninsula’s Eastern side, though the town is very small with just a handful of businesses lining the main street.

Sequim and the surrounding area, including Port Townsend and Port Angeles, are much larger.  In fact, it feels like you have emerged into a different country upon heading north on the 101.  The area has two Walmarts, which welcome campers, as well as every other modern convenience.

While I loved the quiet vibe of Hoodsport, if I were not camping, I would definitely stay in Port Townsend.  The city of 10,000, only two hours from Seattle, is known for its 300 Victorian-style homes.  Due to its position on the Puget Sound, city planners expected Port Townsend to be the largest city in the state. 

As a result, back in the mid 1800’s they built up the town.  The railroad ended this dream, but the quaint downtown with shops, restaurants, the theatre, and many festivals is delightful!

You can select the best place to stay on the Olympic Peninsula based on your preferences for things to do on the Olympic Peninsula, a few of which are listed below.

Things to Do On the Olympic Peninsula

Go Kayaking

One of the first things we did while in Hoodsport was sign up for a kayaking tour.  Hood Canal Adventures offers a variety of tours and kayak rentals.  Given I have never had an oyster right out of the bay, Tina and I signed up for the Oyster Shucking and Lunch Kayak Tour for $85 per person.

We left from the beach at Basecamp Outfitters Store which requires a $5 fee and kayaked around the coast and across an inlet in Hood Canal to beach loaded with oysters. 

Before we got to the oysters, we admired the bald eagles, both adult and juvenile.  They hung out on the point and in the trees. The resident eagles didn’t even move when we approached!  I’m sick I left my camera back at the campsite in VANgo.  Grainy zoomed in photos on the iphone don’t do these majestic birds justice.

Then we checked out the anemones and countless sea stars.  It was like a biology tour at a very slow pace rather than a kayak tour, and we loved it.  At the beach, Chance, our guide, waded in the shallow waters to find us some oysters.

seastar in the hood canal

We learned it is best to get them from the water and easier to shuck the ones not attached to the rocks.  The smaller ones always taste better, and they can reproduce faster if you place the shell on the ground with the inside up as they only have to grow one side.  We also got a lesson on shucking before we slurped up the fresh Japanese Pacific oysters!

tina with her fresh oyster

Eat at Hama Hama (spelled with one “m”)

We only had two oysters each on our kayak excursion, and after passing by the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon a few times, we finally stopped.  We found out from the lady working the farm store, that the saloon is only open Friday to Sunday, and reservations open on the Monday prior.

It was Tuesday and we got one of the last spots available on Friday at 11:15 am.  The reservation holds a covered table for two-hours for $50 and includes two-dozen oysters for $50, 12 raw and 12 grilled.  Additional items and drinks may be purchased later.  On a nice day, it is also possible to walk in and grab a picnic table, which was unbeknownst to us.

It is just one of those experiences you have to do, sit out on the “beach” in a triangular hut protected from the incessant rain and eat seafood. The restaurant even provides blankets if you want.

Get the Ice Cream.

Another thing you have to do, is get the ice cream.  I am not a big ice cream fan, but my friend Tina loves it.  As a result, we got ice cream in Hoodsport and Quilcene.  Oh my gosh, I was converted and had ice cream twice!  It was the perfect mix of cream and sugar.  You’re on vacation…indulge!

ice cream on the olympic peninsula

Take a Hike

After indulging on oysters, beer, and ice cream, take a hike.  There are a plethora of trails from which to choose.  Many trailheads are located along the Hamma Hamma River (spelled with two m’s).  A favorite among the locals is the 7-mile hike to Lower Lena Lake which is outside the Olympic National Park.

lena lake on the olympic peninsula

Other trails in the area include Mildred Lakes (hard), Spruce Railroad Trail (easy), Elk Lake (easy), Mount Walker (hard), and Upper Big Creek Loop Trail (moderate).  The aforementioned are all dog friendly hikes, at least until you reach the National Park Boundary.  For more details, visit my post Dog Friendly Hikes on the Olympic Peninsula. Of course, there are plenty of trails in the National Park as well.

Visit the Olympic National Park

While I’m on the subject of the Olympic National Park, visit it!  The park encompasses at least half of the Olympic Peninsula, so it isn’t hard to access from multiple locations.  The main entrance, however, is in Port Angeles.

Olympic National Park features four regions, the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the temperate rainforest on the west side, and the drier forests of the east side.  As a result, there is something for everyone.

Since I’m traveling with my dog Annie, I stuck with dog friendly activities including driving the scenic Hurricane Ridge Road to watch the sunset at Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, making a quick stop at Madison Creek Falls, and hiking a portion of the north shore of Lake Crescent on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Hurricane ridge in the olympic national park

Bike the Olympic Discovery Trail

It’s funny, because as I drove along 101, I saw many signs for Olympic Discovery Trail.  I thought it would be great to bike, but it was very rainy most of my visit, so I didn’t get to try it.  That said, I got a nice taste of the well-maintained asphalt trail at Lake Crescent while walking Annie.

the olympic discovery trail

We also took a slight detour off the trail to Devils Punchbowl, where visitors to the park jump into the cold Lake Crescent.  I passed on that activity, but did enjoy the views.

In my previous visit to the park during my road trip across the USA ten years ago, I also hiked to Sol Duc Falls.  The falls are lovely, and for that matter the Olympic Peninsula is a waterfall lovers paradise.

Chase Waterfalls

Ignore TLC’s lyrics “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” and chase them!  Try to find the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail map.  Chance, our kayak guide, provided one to us.  Between my visit to the Olympic Peninsula ten years ago and again now, I’ve only seen ¼ of the 24 falls listed, though it doesn’t count the random ones we drove by and saw on trails.

Some easily accessible waterfalls include Hamma Hamma Falls, Rocky Brook Falls, Madison Creek Falls, Marymere Falls, Murhut Falls, and Sol Duc Falls.  The first three mentioned are only about ¼ of a mile from the parking lot or less. For more details on all these waterfalls, visit my post: Six Waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Hamma Hamma Falls cascade beneath a bridge, so they are difficult to see, but the overall scene of the two-tiered falls dropping into the gorge is quite spectacular.

Rocky Brook Falls is located at a power plant, so it feels a little like you are trespassing, but you are not.  This is a pretty powerful waterfall and beautiful as well.

The last three are about 1.5 miles roundtrip each, though the road to Murhut Falls is long and full of potholes.  If only they could maintain the road like they maintain the trail to Murhut.

murhut falls on the olympic peninsula

Explore Fort Worden Historical State Park

After your fill of waterfalls, check out the history at Fort Worden Historical State Park.  What a wonderful place!  I’d consider renting a cabin or house here and take advantage of all this park has to offer.

This 432-acre park has two miles of shoreline where visitors may comb the beach or kayak the waters while admiring the lighthouse.  Artillery Hill is loaded with gun batteries. Explore them while taking in the views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The park also features parade grounds, museums, a science center, and concerts.

light house at fort worden historical state park

Stroll Downtown Port Townsend

After a lovely day outdoors in the park, head over to Port Townsend, just four miles away.  I wish I had discovered Port Townsend sooner!  I waited to visit as I planned to catch the ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville on my journey north to visit friends in Lummi Island for the weekend.

As I mentioned above, the city was expected to be the largest in the state and was built up.  While Seattle claimed that designation, Port Townsend has turned into a picturesque port that caters to tourists.  I loved strolling the historical streets with views of the water.

port townsend on the olympic peninsula

Stop By the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

Not too far from Port Townsend and Sequim is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuges are generally only lightly developed, so I expected to travel down a dirt road to the coastline. 

Instead, it is connected to the Dungeness Recreation Area which is operated by Clallam County.  There are multiple campsite loops as well as many trails which pass through meadows, the wetland and along the coast.  Due to the rainshadow, the refuge gets less rain than much of the surrounding area.  As a result, the different topography invites many visitors. The refuge encompasses one of the longest sand spits in the world.  It can only be reached by footpath from the recreation area.

In all, there are many things to do in the Olympic Peninsula.  This list just covers a fraction of the highlights.  ETB   

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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