What is one of the most popular destinations I am asked about when people learn I lived in Seattle? The Olympic Peninsula.
This massive landmass is separated from Seattle by Puget Sound and is home to legends, myths, and stories – some ancient, some more modern. Many people want to go hiking, camping, or take a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula, and I’ve done so a few times myself.
If you’re planning a trip to Washington and have the Olympic Peninsula on your list, here are some of the spots I recommend. My suggested stops work best if you string them together in a three-day long road trip, but you can also visit some in a long day trip from Seattle.
Road Trip Itinerary for the Olympic Peninsula
There are two ways to get to the Olympic Peninsula for a road trip. The first is by ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. If you choose this, I recommend going around the Olympic Peninsula in a counter-clockwise direction and head north out of Bremerton to start your road trip.
The other way to start your Olympic Peninsula road trip is by driving down to Olympia, to access Highway 101. From there, you can either go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the peninsula. This blog post proposes road trip stops in a counter-clockwise route. From Olympia, you would, therefore, turn north from Olympia toward Bremerton and work your way up the Western shores of Puget Sound.
As long as you choose to go counter-clockwise no matter how you get started, this blog post will work in order.
(If you wanted to go clockwise, start by heading West toward Aberdeen, then turning north up the Pacific coast. You would start at the bottom of this blog post and work your way to the top to see my recommended stops, in the order you will reach them.)
You can check out the various stops on this map. I’ve highlighted Olympia in red, Bremerton in yellow, and Aberdeen in blue. The other stops are teal.
Olympic Peninsula Road trip
Whether you start your road trip by driving off the ferry or it’s your first stop north from Olympia, Bremerton is the largest town you’ll pass through.
Bremerton is small, compared to Seattle, with just 40,000 residents. That said, there are some fun local restaurants you can stop and enjoy if you’re hungry. The Bremerton Marina is also beautiful to walk along, and the city has invested in developing the waterfront into a nice area for visitors.
Port Townsend is a classic Washington town: located at the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, its primary industries are focused on timber and seafood. The smell isn’t great when the paper mill is operating, but there are some beautiful historic buildings including a Carnegie Library and the Jefferson County Courthouse and a cute downtown you can explore.
Port Townsend is a great spot to stop for a night if you’re taking a leisurely road trip around the peninsula. Some of the hotels date back to the 1890s! You can treat yourself like royalty at Eisenbeis (Manresa) Castle for the night, where rooms start at $69.99/night. (Visit their website here.)
To be honest, I haven’t spent a ton of time in Sequim (pronounced “s-kwim”). I do know that if you’re passing through in the months of June and July, you should try and book some time to explore one of the many lavender farms in the area. In mid-July, Sequim is home to the Lavender festival, where you can purchase anything and everything made with local lavender. This has been on my bucket list as long as I’ve known about it!
If you’re hungry – especially for dinner –, Alder Wood Bistro is surprisingly delightful, and Mr. Valise and I had a wonderful multi-course dinner there in early 2016.
Just outside Sequim, you can stretch your legs along the 5.5-mile Dungeness Spit. As the longest natural sand spit in the U.S., it’s a fascinating geologic formation, though you mostly look out across the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward Canada and the San Juan Islands.
If you plan ahead, you can do one of the daily tours at the New Dungeness Lighthouse. Keep your eyes open along the way for birds and other wildlife, since this area is a wildlife preserve too.
Port Angeles is the other major town you’ll pass through in the Olympic Peninsula, home to almost 20,000 people.
As its name suggests, Port Angeles is a port town, and also has ferry access to Victoria, British Colombia. You can explore the historic downtown area and eat at one of the restaurants near the waterfront. There’s also a cool marine life center down along the waterfront where you can learn about some of the species that live in the water around Port Angeles. It was at Feiro Marine Life Center that I fell in love with barnacles!
If you choose to make a night stop in Port Angeles (which I highly recommend), stay at Colette’s Bed & Breakfast outside of town. I had an amazing stay here in early 2016 and regularly dream of going back for a longer stay. Just look at these photos to see why:
If your road trip timeline allows it, I highly recommend adding Hurricane Ridge to your itinerary. This slight diversion into the Olympic Mountains is great if you love hiking, and is one of the easiest ways to access the Olympic National Park.
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is 17-miles south of Port Angeles along Hurricane Ridge Road. The National Park Service keeps their website updated with road conditions throughout the year, so be sure to check this before planning your hiking excursion.
The Elwha Dam is another excursion you can take from Port Angeles, depending on your interest. This dam isn’t actually a dam anymore; in 2011-2012, the dam was removed. Now, visitors come to the Elwha River valley to see how long it takes an ecosystem to recover after dams are removed (it’s being studied, too!).
The National Park Service has been working on access to Elwha Valley via Olympic Hot Springs road, so be sure to check the website before driving up into the mountains.
I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention Forks on any road trip itinerary. I didn’t include it on the map above because it isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to be a “Twi-hard” I think they’re called. ?
If you are still a massive Twilight fan, Forks is a must-see. You can stop at a variety of intrepid businesses still capitalizing on the moment of glory Forks has enjoyed thanks to the books/movies… Don’t be surprised that it looks nothing like what’s in the movies!
Hoh Rainforest is definitely one of the great wonders of the Olympic Peninsula. Of any stops I’ve mentioned so far, I’d say it’s the #1 “Must Stop” on the list.
When you step out of your car in Hoh Rainforest, it’s easy to see why First Nations people in Washington thought these woods were home to spirits. They’re dark, eerie at times, and so full of green living things that it almost feels claustrophobic.
Hoh Rainforest exists because the Olympic Mountains to the east ‘catch’ the damp air that comes off the Pacific Ocean along this part of the Olympic Peninsula. It rains an average of 155 inches per year in Hoh Rainforest – that’s almost 14 feet of rain! It’s easy to understand why there is moss on every inch of the trees, and those trees are towering giants!
Spend a few hours walking in Hoh Rainforest if you have time. It’s one of the great wonders of Washington State, to be sure.
Note: Hoh Rainforest is an 18-mile drive inland from Highway 101, so plan your time accordingly.
Along the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula, there is stunning coastline and beautiful beaches. My favorite – and one of the most popular – to stop at is Ruby Beach.
Ruby Beach is a stretch of classically rocky Washington beach where the Pacific ocean pounds into the Olympic Peninsula. Here, you can walk among the sea form, spot marine creatures on the rocks, and admire sea stacks standing out in the tumultuous water. It’s a perfect spot for an afternoon of exploring if you love marine life and the sound of the waves.
Finishing Your Olympic Peninsula Road Trip
If you’ve followed this article to plan your road trip itinerary on the Olympic Peninsula, the next step is to drive down the Pacific coast to Aberdeen. From there, turn inland and make your way back to Olympia, Bremerton, and/or Seattle. You can stop at any pull-outs along the way south on Highway 101, though there aren’t any spots I’d recommend in particular.
If you’re driving the Olympic Peninsula as part of a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, you can tack on some of my favorite spots on the rest of the Washington Coast. You can also check my itinerary for a full Pacific Coast Highway road trip for more suggestions.
This blog post was originally written in January 2015, and updated in October 2017.
Planning a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway? Check out these other resources:
- The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide
- A Guide to Wandering the Washington Coast – 6 Stops Worth Making
- What to Do in Portland, Oregon – My Favorite Experiences
- A Guide to Santa Barbara, the American Riviera
- One Day in L.A.: A Guide to Visiting Los Angeles
Safe driving! Feel free to ask questions about these spots in the comments…