The Olympic Peninsula – Favorite Places & Must-Do’s
By Dawn S.
The Olympic Peninsula in Northwest Washington is a road trip paradise. The area is home to Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest, eight Native American tribes, and also has several beautiful state and county parks just waiting to be discovered. A campervan road trip to the Olympic Peninsula is not complete without a hike among giant moss-covered trees in a rain forest, exploring tide pools along the wild coastline, enjoying a picnic by a pristine mountain lake, and driving up to Hurricane Ridge for spectacular views.
While it is possible to hit the highlights in a day or two, it’s so much better to pick up your Escape campervan in Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver, and spend three to seven days doing “the loop” along Highway 101. You can drive in either direction, or just do the northern or southern sections depending on your schedule, and road construction delays. This area has become a favorite destination for my husband and me, luring us back for the past three years in a row. This is my list of favorite places to see on the Olympic Peninsula.
Ferry To Bremerton
For great views of the Seattle skyline, drive your Escape Campervan onto the ferry in Seattle for the one-hour crossing to Bremerton. Bremerton is home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, a Navy museum, and many unique fountains. You can climb through and explore the USS Turner Joy Naval Destroyer Museum Ship during a self-guided tour. We camped for the night in a lush green forest of towering trees at Belfair State Park along Hood Canal south of Bremerton.
Continue south along the beautiful hood canal. The freshwater and saltwater marshes offer excellent opportunities for paddling, birding, fishing, and digging for clams, oysters, and geoduck. If you stay at the Waterfront at Potlach, you can cook the clams you harvested right on their private beach in their crab boiling pots.
We loved our stay at Lake Cushman. The best views of the surrounding mountains are from the water. Skokomish Park at Lake Cushman has a large campground, boat ramp, and seasonal stand up paddle board and kayak rentals.
Staircase– Olympic National Park
The drive around Lake Cushman to Staircase is stunning. Make sure to stop at the turnouts for elevated views of the lake and mountains. You will need your National Park Pass to enter the Staircase area. Don’t miss the 2.1 mile Staircase Rapids loop trail. You will see tall trees and brilliant blue waters. There are several hiking trails, a picnic and day use area, and campground. Be sure to check current road conditions before you go.
As you head north, don’t forget to stop at the HAMA HAMA OYSTER SALOON in Lilliwaup on Hood Canal for fresh oysters and souvenirs.
When to Go to Staircase
Summertime has the best weather, and the biggest crowds, so try to book your campsites ahead of time, if possible. Late spring, and early fall are my favorite times to visit, there may be cooler temps and more rainfall, but you won’t be competing for the best campsites. Winter has the least crowds, and there are many areas open for hiking, snow shoeing and skiing.
This charming seaside town on the Northeast corner of the peninsula is worth the trip. You can tour historic hotels, art galleries, museums, beaches and trails at Port Townsend. Grab a sweet treat at the soda fountain, do a pub crawl, check out a farmer’s market, or taste a sample from a local winery.
Adventures Through Kayaking – Port Angeles
Get out on the water or hit the mountain bike trails with ADVENTURES THROUGH KAYAKING in Port Angeles. They offer rentals, or guided sea kayaking, lake kayaking, mountain biking, and stand up paddle board tours as well as rafting trips. A highlight of my family’s trip to Washington was the morning we spent sea kayaking along the rocky sea cliffs and sea stacks on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, part of the designated Whale Trail.
You will need to break out your National Park Pass again for the drive up to Hurricane Ridge for spectacular views of the mountains, valleys, and waterways below. A treat is being able to play in the snow, even in summertime. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, deer are abundant. We observed a doe and her newborn fawn (from a distance), and watched until it stood up for the very first time. We heard, then spotted the strange antics of a prairie chicken while at a scenic overlook on our drive down.
La Poel Picnic Area – Lake Crescent
La Poel is a thick forested day use area at beautiful Lake Crescent. Stretch your legs, discover small streams flowing into the lake, and enjoy a picnic under giant trees by the clear blue water.
Sol Duc Valley – Hot Springs And Waterfall
Don’t miss the 1 mile hike through old growth forest to beautiful Sol Duc Falls. Afterwards, you can take a relaxing soak in the manicured hot springs at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. The Sol Duc Campground is one of only two in Olympic National Park that accept reservations during the busy summer season.
Cape Flattery Trail – Neah Bay
Though a little bit out of the way in Neah Bay, a side trip to Cape Flattery should not be missed, if you have the time. The short .75 mile trail will take you over boardwalks, stepping stones, and wet ground through a thick forest to outstanding views of the rocky Pacific Ocean. The end of the trail puts you at the most northwesterly tip of the contiguous lower 48 states, which is pretty cool! Camping is available at Hobuck Beach Resort and the Cape Resort.
Know Before You Go
All activities in this area require that you purchase a Makah Recreation Pass and display it in your vehicle window while you are hiking, fishing, or enjoying the beaches. You can pick one up at local stores and resorts for about $10.00.
Hoh Rain Forest
Don’t miss the short loop hike through the Hall of Mosses. You will feel like you have stepped back in time, into a Jurassic world of giant moss covered trees and thick ferns. The strange sounds you hear may be the call of the elk that live in this rain forest. The campground is situated beside a bend in the Hoh River, we returned from our hike to our campsite just in time to watch a herd of elk cross the river downstream. For a longer hike, take a stroll down the Hoh River Trail as far as you like, then turn around. For the more adventurous, you can do the entire 17 miles up to Glacier Meadows, or combine a hike to other areas of the park in a multi-day trek (be sure to obtain a backcountry permit first).
RUBY BEACH is a great place to watch the sunset. KALALOCH (John’s favorite place)has a campground with ocean views, flush toilets, and accepts reservations. Hike down to the beach from the day use area and turn right for a short walk to the Tree Of Life/Tree Root Cave. Peer into the tide pools at BEACH #4 at low tide, and hike through a forest of trees with strange burls at BEACH #2, just south of Kalaloch.
Quinault Rain Forest (My Favorite Place)
Nestled on the north shore of Lake Quinault, you can camp in a lush forest under giant conifers in the Willaby Campground. Take a drive down the scenic loop road, stopping to see waterfalls, and take the short hike to the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree. Go deeper into the rain forest on the Quinault Nature trail, and other short hikes in the area. If you don’t have time to see the entire Olympic Peninsula, try to at least visit the Quinault Rain Forest and beaches near Kalaloch.
From the Quinault Rain Forest, drive 2 and a half hours back to the ESCAPE CAMPERVANS DEPOT near Seattle to complete the loop. If you have another week or two, (or when planning your NEXT Escape Campervan road trip) you could head south down the Pacific Coast Highway… all the way to California if you wanted to. That’s what we did, but that is a story for next time.
If you want to take a similar road trip, book your campervan from Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver and your favorite places to see on the Olympic Peninsula.