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.
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!
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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.
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.
*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.
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.
*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.
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.
*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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
*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.
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!
*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!
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,
A Truthful Traveler