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Olympic Peninsula, Washington

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Pacific Northwest’s old growth forests produce three times the biomass of tropical rain forests.
  • Olympic National Park, created in part to protect elk, was nearly named Elk National Park.
  • There are more than 650 archaeological sites in the Olympic National Park.
  • Cape Flattery is the northwesternmost point in the contiguous 48 states.
  • Condensing fog yields 30 inches of rain annually for Hoh River forests, besides 200 inches of ordinary rain.

Protecting wild places

The Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest account for a major portion of the Olympic Peninsula, in northwest Washington State. The park covers 922,000 acres, mostly at the heart of the peninsula, plus a 73-mile strip of wild and scenic coastline. The forest accounts for another 633,000 acres.

Throw in a few state parks, several port towns and fishing villages, plus the Indian reservations that control another 162,000 acres — and the result is a recipe for outdoor vacation fun and rewarding cultural experiences.

The diversity in the national park itself illustrates the possibilities. It is anchored by the Olympic Mountains, but the alpine sections give way to forests, meadows, rivers and lakes. The park’s coastal section provides still more variety. Further, much of the park, including the coastal strip, is part of America’s designated wilderness area.

The park and the adjacent forest offer visitors a range of activities, from backpacking and overnight camping to self-drive sightseeing and ranger-led explorations.

The park is a wildlife refuge, too. Visitors in a safari state of mind look for elk, given the park was created in part to protect these animals. In addition, the park’s coastal strip abuts the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, waters that host seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales and more.

Outdoor diversions also are on offer on the Indian reservations, which are themselves scenic and sometimes include stunning coastal areas of their own.

More activities on the peninsula include bird-watching, cycling, diving, kayaking, fishing, harvesting oysters, hiking, surfing and even stand-up paddling.

Cultural experiences range from small-town theater to events highlighting traditional Indian song and dance. Eating seafood comes naturally on the Olympic Peninsula, but the really enthusiastic can attend one of several annual festivals, such as those celebrating crab or shrimp. In addition, local wineries welcome visitors to taste the goods.

Walkable fishing villages, small ports and other towns are sightseeing attractions by themselves. One such town, called Forks, is famous as the setting for the “Twilight” movie series. When fans come to town, Forks is ready with maps and merchandise.

Things to do for Venturers

  • If you are an experienced kayaker, try the waters of Makah Bay. However, there are other choices on rivers and lakes to satisfy kayakers at all levels of experience.
  • Camp out at Fort Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island.
  • Hike some part of the 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail that extends across the entire Olympic Peninsula. The trail is not complete and temporarily relies on some on-road portions to approximate the final route.The trail can accommodate the cyclist or horseback rider, as well.
  • Attend the late-summer Makah Days Celebration on the Makah Indian Reservation. The event includes traditional dancing and singing, plus canoe races and Slahal games (also known as stick games).
  • At Seal Rock Campground in Olympic National Forest, harvest oysters for your personal consumption — but leave the shells on the beach.
  • Go surfing at La Push or at Neah Bay’s Hobuck Beach. Besides, you may see gray whales at La Push between mid-February and late May. Or, try stand up paddling on Lake Crescent.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Be on hand in Sequim to watch a range of hearty competitions, such as a truck and tractor pull, lawnmower races and strongman competition that includes events like the log press and car lift. These and other activities are part of the Sequim Irrigation Festival, which each May celebrates the irrigation ditches that make area agriculture possible.
  • Drive the Highway 101 loop around Olympic Peninsula. Stop at the Olympic National Park’s visitor center (Port Angeles), catch Ruby Beach on the western coast, pass through the Hoh Rain Forest (with some trees nearly 300 feet tall). Plan to do some hiking.
  •  Snowshoe with a ranger at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Or, at the park’s beaches on the coast, February to May, watch for migrating whales offshore.
  • Follow the short hiker’s route along the Cape Flattery Trail, for the views, birds and other wildlife sightings, on the Makah Indian Reservation.
  • Schedule time for bird-watching. The Olympic Peninsula is home to more than 200 species of birds.
  • Fish in any of several lakes or rivers, such as the Elwha River. Or head to Hood Canal on the peninsula’s eastern shore, especially near Quilcene and Brinnon, for the shellfish. Time the journey for Memorial Day weekend, and attend the annual Brinnon ShrimpFest.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Drive the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway, which takes in the fishing villages of Clallam Bay and Sekiu, plus Neah Bay, the main town of the Makah Indian Reservation.
  • Eat Dungeness crab pulled from the aptly named Dungeness Harbor. October’s Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival offers the most opportunities.
  • Attend theater at the Key City Public Theater in Port Townsend, on the northeast tip of the peninsula. The theater is located in the heart of the historic downtown.
  • Attend weekend classical music concerts that are part of the Olympic Music Festival that spans two months each summer. The event occurs in the small town of Quilcene.
  • At Sequim, in summer, pick your own berries — blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries — but also lavender, which is cultivated at more than 30 area farms.
  • Plan wine tasting at one or more local wineries around Port Angeles. Take a tour of the town, too.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission at www.olympicpeninsula.org