Olympic Peninsula Road Trip: 8 Beautiful Destinations

Looking through tall, skinny trees onto beach with sea stacks and rolling waves. Sun is setting and sky is yellow

The Olympic Peninsula is undoubtedly the most wild part of Washington. Over 3500 square miles of land comprises one of the United States’ last explored areas. There are few people, and even fewer roads. There are a variety of ecosystems: mountains, lakes, rivers, the Pacific Ocean, and even a temperate rainforest. With all of this comes vast natural beauty.

Woman, man, two dogs with cloudy skies and Cape Flattery in the background

Family photo at Cape Flattery

Whether you arrive to the peninsula via Seattle-Bainbridge Ferry and start in the North, or drive down and around starting on the West Coast, there are many things to see. There is no lack of beautiful destinations on an Olympic Peninsula road trip!

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #1: Hurricane Ridge

Starting in the North, you can drive up to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Access to Olympic National Park starts at a Visitor Center just South of Port Angeles, WA. You climb and climb, up a winding road, with viewpoints looking out at the uniquely uniform Olympic Mountain Range. You can also catch a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and over to Canada.

Rolling Olympic Peninsula Mountains in the distance, with fog covering the peaks and tall coniferous trees in front of the mountains

View while driving up to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center

Once at the Visitor Center you have options. You can hike many short trails that start in the area, you can relax and have a picnic with a view, or you can explore the exhibits at the visitor center.

View of rolling Olympic Peninsula mountains, with dried out grass in the foreground and forested area behind it

Views of the Olympic Mountains

*Truthful Travel Tip: Being informed of the weather is key when visiting this area. If you happen to be visiting during the months of October-May, the roads will only be open on weekends. Snow can close the roads at any time, and there is a phone number you can call to get a daily updated road status. Even if you visit at other times, fog and rain can dampen the views. I visited in September and although it was a clear day in the town of Port Angeles, the Olympic Mountains were socked in with fog and there was rain at the visitor center.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #2: Salt Creek Recreation Area

This is a good stop on the way to Cape Flattery leaving West from Port Angeles. Although it is an unassuming County Park, it offers views that in the right conditions make it appear like a tropical destination. Be sure to find the right spot when you visit: you are looking for Tongue Point Marine Sanctuary, not the beach. The first time we attempted to find this area, we drove to the beach where locals charge a fee for you to visit. We turned back disappointed and returned later to the area with a better idea of where we needed to be.

Woman facing the camera with a view past trees to Tongue Point, a marine outcroppping in clear shallow water

Tongue Point in the background

The main attraction here is the clear, shallow waters surrounding a marine sea stack. I have heard from many scuba divers that this is a prime spot to view marine life along the coast. Even if you are not scuba diving the rocks offer marine tidepools for exploration.

Sea stack covered in trees and surrounded by shallow water on Olympic Peninsula road trip

Tongue Point on a sunny day

*Truthful Travel Tip: An Olympic Peninsula road trip would not be complete without checking tide tables, and this is an important place to do so. Access to the rocks and the marine tidepools is only available when the tide is at its lowest. You can find tide tables easily available online, but I find Willy Weather Tides to be the easiest to read and understand.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #3: Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery is probably the most out-of-the-way destination, but it is arguably the most beautiful. The most North Western point of the contiguous United States, this gem was named by the famous Captain James Cook. You can get to it via Highway 112. Since it is on traditional Makah land, it is required that you purchase a Makah Recreation Use Permit and display it within your car.

Multiple wide sea stacks surrounded by churning blue water on Olympic Peninsula

Cape Flattery

Man holding big German Shorthaired pointer on a fenced ledge overlooking trees on Olympic Peninsula

Adrian & Mason at Cape Flattery

Once there, you hike along a boardwalk trail to various viewpoints. You can only see Cape Flattery from up above, and the views can be dizzying. You overlook water churning between giant sea stacks. If the weather is rainy and stormy like it tends to be, waves crash against the rocks. If you’re lucky enough to catch it on a clear and sunny day, the views are unparalleled.

Brown cliffs of headland covered in tall coniferous trees, dropping suddenly into churning blue water below

Edge of the headland

*Truthful Travel Tip: Although the hike is only 1.5 miles roundtrip, you want to bring proper hiking shoes. The boardwalk tends to sink under the rain and mud, and it can be a messy trip. Leashed dogs are allowed on the hike, and our dogs’ paws kept falling through the slats in the boardwalk.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #4: Lake Crescent

One of Olympic National Park’s gems, Lake Crescent is a deep lake with many activities. Around part of the lake on Highway 101 is one of the most scenic drives. Depending on the time of year there can be waterfalls flowing next to the road. Views of the surrounding mountains are everywhere and when the sun is shining the lake is a deep blue.

Woman and dog at the edge of a blue lake, with cloud covered mountain in the background

Stopping for a break along the shore of Lake Crescent

Woman standing on downed tree that is at a lake's edge. Green mountain and clear skies in the background

Lake Crescent Lodge water access

Lake Crescent Lodge is a beautiful stop along the way. You can spend time at the waterfront, and some of the lake’s best views can be found here. There are kayak and canoe rentals available, as well as guided tours of the lake. There are many hikes, my favorite being Spruce Railroad Trail. Although much of the trail is through forested area, the iconic view of a bridge over Lake Crescent, known as the Punchbowl, comes about a mile in.

Brown and white spotted German Shorthaired Pointer on rock looking out at blue lake with mountains in the background

Mason enjoying the hike

*Truthful Travel Tip: This is one of the more dog friendly areas in Olympic National Park. Leashed dogs are allowed on the Spruce Railroad hike, and we saw many dogs frolicking in the lake at Lake Crescent Lodge. For us, this was the perfect place to let our dogs get some energy out! You can learn more about the park’s dog policy, including where they are allowed, on the National Park website.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #5: Rialto Beach

Washington beaches are unlike other West Coast beaches. They are sometimes lined with unimaginably large pieces of driftwood and swimming at most of them is not recommended. The perfect example is Rialto Beach. This beach is easily accessible traveling from Lake Crescent, following Highway 101 and then Highway 110. It is secluded, and it is wild.

Man in black coat and hat standing on piece of driftwood twice his size, at edge of ocean wave break

Look at the size of the driftwood!

Large mangled driftwood in different shades of brown cover a black pebble beach

Driftwood pieces on the beach

Walking along the beach you can watch huge waves crash onto the shore, and you can walk amongst piles of driftwood. One of the most popular things to do at this beach is to hike along the beach to Hole-In-The-Wall, a rock in which you get views of picturesque rock formations. To get there requires a quick moving river crossing, and again you want to keep track of tide tables.

 

 

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*Truthful Travel Tip: This beach is also unique in that it is a pebble beach. There are pebbles and black sand, but many times the waves come up past the sand, forcing you onto the rocky area. This can be tiring on your feet after awhile, so wearing proper walking or hiking shoes can help you to walk easier.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #6: Hoh Rainforest

The temperate rainforest of Olympic National Park is its most unique feature. When you think of the Twilight series (which is set in Forks, a tiny town you can visit in between Rialto Beach and Hoh Rainforest) you are thinking of this rainforest. Mossy trees, and green everywhere.

Shallow River flows through mossy rainforest, with mountains and fog in the background

Hoh River running through the rainforest

Some of my favorite views of the rainforest are along the drive to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. The rainforest is quiet, and it is almost always raining. Along the road at points you are driving right next to the Hoh River. There is usually a foggy mist in the distance. On our visit there we stumbled across an enormous herd of elk grazing amongst a mossy background.

Grazing herd of elk amongst mossy trees and green grass in Hoh Rainforest

Grazing elk in the rainforest

*Truthful Travel Tip: This area of the park has less to do than others. The Visitor Center is closed from December to March, and there are two short hikes that depart from near the Center. However, this does not mean that the rainforest is not worth visiting. Even if you just drive down the road to the Visitor Center, you will be rewarded with unique views that cannot be found elsewhere throughout the park.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #7: Ruby Beach

This spot is my personal favorite on an Olympic Peninsula road trip. Ruby Beach is located South of Hoh Rainforest. In my opinion, the lighting here always seems to be perfect and the views are amazing. The long stretch of beach is littered with sea stacks in both directions.

Looking out at driftwood and hazy sea stacks on a beach

Landscape of Ruby Beach

Woman and Big Brown and White Germanshorthaired Pointer and Grey and White Pointer Mix standing on the reflective beach at sunset

Sunset at Ruby Beach

Walking down the beach always provides new adventures. I have been there when the whole beach has been reflective, I have been there in Summer on a sunny day and sat between sea stacks watching the waves rush in, and I have seen a beautiful rainbow appear behind the beach as the sun was setting. My most unique experience was my most recent, when we stumbled across a dead and decaying humpback whale on the beach.

Deflated dead humpback whale along a reflective beach on a sunny day

Dead humpback whale that Mason rolled in!

Looking out at Ruby Beach, with driftwood and sea stacks on a clear, sunny day

Ruby Beach on a clear, Summer day

*Truthful Travel Tip: One of the most beautiful views of the beach can be caught walking down from the parking lot. There are many stairs, and in between sets of stairs there is an overlook to the beach. There you can catch an overview of the driftwood and the sea stacks through some trees.

Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Beautiful Destination #8: Ocean Shores

At the South end of the peninsula lies Ocean Shores, which is not part of Olympic National Park but still full of beauty. You can access it by heading South from Ruby Beach, and it is also easily accessible from the city of Olympia, WA.

Orange sunset reflecting on beach

Sun setting at Ocean Shores

The coolest feature is that the beach is a driving beach. It is a flat and empty beach, and all road rules apply while driving here. I caught one of the most beautiful West Coast sunsets here, where the views out into the Pacific Ocean seem to go on forever. Sitting and watching the sunset on Ocean Shores is the perfect ending to an Olympic Peninsula Road Trip!

Woman hugging brown and white German Shorthaired Pointer during sunset on the beach

Mason and I snuggling at Ocean Shores

*Truthful Travel Tip: Ocean Shores is close enough to Cape Disappointment and Astoria, Oregon that it would be possible to add these to your itinerary. Although Cape Disappointment does not sound very enticing, it really is a gem! It offers the most amazing storm viewing in the Winter, and Summer offers clear views from the Southern tip of Washington. Astoria is a charming river town. You can read more about them in my Oregon Coast Itinerary!

Couple posing during sunset on Ocean Shores

Adrian and I during an Ocean Shores sunset

Although this list of Olympic Peninsula road trip destinations includes many amazing things, it barely begins to scratch the surface on what there is to do in this vast area of Washington State. Since I travel with dogs, we have been limited as to where we can go. Some other amazing ideas include: hiking Mt. Storm King, visiting Sol Duc Hot Springs, and walking along Shi Shi Beach.

The Olympic Peninsula is one of my favorite areas in my state, and I hope that you get a chance to visit soon!

Until next time,

Samantha,

A Truthful Traveler

Pinnable Image of Looking through tall, skinny trees onto beach with sea stacks and rolling waves. Sun is setting and sky is yellow

Pinnable Image of Multiple wide sea stacks surrounded by churning blue water on Olympic Peninsula

Sea stack covered in trees and surrounded by shallow water on Olympic Peninsula road trip