Just across the water from Seattle, the remote Olympic Peninsula has its own mystique, with a thick rain forest, a wild coast, and gritty towns.
Best Placed Olympic Peninsula
You can’t drive across the Olympic Peninsula—a mountain range is in the way. Here the route circles instead, caught between the shoreline and the slopes. The rectangular peninsula is more than just trees and shore. Historical Port Townsend has a preserved military base with killer views and a Victorian downtown embellished with art galleries. In industrial Port Angeles, ships come from faraway ports, making their first stops on the continent in a harbor hugged by the delicate sand spit of Ediz Hook.
Past the sparkling waters of Lake Crescent is an area that survived the Twilight boom. Anglers and loggers share their modest little town of Forks with vampire fans and werewolf groupies. And just off the main roads, each separated by pristine, wild beaches, the Native American reservations of the Makah, Quileute, Hoh, and Quinault tribes marry ancient tradition with modern economies.
At the tip of the Olympic Peninsula sits Cape Flattery, the very corner of the country and the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States. Stand above the craggy cliffs, where the brutal waves of the Pacific roll in endlessly from the mist.
A temperate rain forest and herds of elk are even farther south, as is the gritty hometown of grunge legend Kurt Cobain, where he wrote songs under a grotty bridge. Take your time on the peninsula’s large loop, and don’t forget to stop for the hot springs, the majestic old hotels, and—if you see him—Bigfoot.
Because this corner of Washington State is so decentralized, it’s best to budget at least two days’ exploration. No one town makes a perfect base for the Olympic Peninsula, so moving from Port Townsend west to Forks or Lake Quinault allows for a more thorough experience of the region.
Although the out-of-the-way peninsula is a destination that requires intention, once here, you’ll find it’s fairly relaxing. Crowds are fortunately minimal, though Olympic National Park sites can get popular in the midsummer, especially ocean beaches. It’s relatively easy, if slow, to get around by car, but public transportation is very minimal. U.S. 101, which makes a giant circle around the peninsula, is the main route and generally stays snow-free the entire year.