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The Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive In Washington State

Updated on November 2, 2015

Thoughts to Consider About Washington State

If there is a prettier state in the nation I’m not sure what it would be. Washington State has something for everyone. Consider for a moment that in Washington you can find majestic mountain ranges, the ocean, lakes, rivers, glaciers, islands, and an inland sea. You can find great metropolitan areas and you can find lush agricultural expanses. There are three national parks in Washington and there are142 state parks.

For the adventuresome there are endless trips to take and challenges to meet. Do you like to fish? How about scuba diving, or boating, or hiking, climbing or parasailing? Do you enjoy digging clams, or does your adventurous spirit lean more towards visiting a winery? Canoeing and kayaking are always options, as are sailing and windsurfing.

And if none of that interests you, you can still grab a camera and capture the breathtaking scenery that awaits you on practically every road.

One of those roads is Highway 101, which encircles Olympic National Park. You can plan on staying in motels along the route or you can camp. Pack what you need and leave your worries and obligations behind. Washington is a state that demands your full attention, and once you give it you will be enthralled by the surrounding beauty. The Evergreen State welcomes you with open arms.

The trip begins in Olympia
The trip begins in Olympia | Source

Olympic National Park

The Olympic Peninsula Loop

This beautiful drive takes you completely around Olympic National Park. Along the drive you will see lovely Hood Canal, snowy peaks, a rainforest, the Pacific Ocean, and that’s just for starters.

The driving directions are as simple as you could hope for. From Olympia, follow Highway 101 north and then continue on 101 in a counter-clockwise direction. When you reach Aberdeen take Highway 8 east back to Olympia. Total driving time depends on how much you want to see and how casual you are about driving. The Loop can be done in one day, but we suggest taking two or three days to really enjoy the sites.

Total distance: 329 miles.

Heading North

Leaving Olympia and heading north, you are soon out of the city and surrounded by forests and farmlands. Once you leave Shelton behind you will come to the small town of Potlatch; at this point you will be paralleling the Hood Canal. Stop at Potlatch State Park for some clam-digging and a lovely stroll along the waterfront.

Shortly beyond the park is the town of Hoodsport, where you have the option of turning left on WA-119 and taking a side trip into the Olympic National Park. Lake Cushman State Park, a popular lake for swimming and fishing, is along this road, and further on the road you will enter Olympic National Park and attractions like the Staircase Rapids Nature Trail.

Continuing along 101 you will soon come to Dosewallips State Park and more beachcombing opportunities. Access to Olympic National Park is also available here if you should take Forest Road 2730 up to Mount Walker for some hiking.

Port Townsend
Port Townsend | Source
Dungeness Spit
Dungeness Spit | Source
Olympic Mountains
Olympic Mountains | Source

Heading West

Quilcene is next up and shortly after that town you will see a turn off for WA-20 which will take you to Port Townsend, one of the Top Eight Cities in the United States according to MSN City Guides. This town is pedestrian-friendly and offers great galleries, restaurants, wineries and boutiques to visit. It also has the second-largest collection of Victorian homes; only San Francisco has more. This is a wonderful place to spend the night and enjoy the lovely ambience of this quaint town.

Twenty-nine miles west of Port Townsend is the town of Sequim, pronounced Skwim. Easily the highlight of Sequim is the Dungeness Spit, the longest natural sand spit in the United States. The spit extends over five miles out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is home to a wide-variety of marine life and migratory birds. The ten mile hike to the spit lighthouse and back is well-worth your time if you are not rushed.

Fifteen miles further and you will reach Port Angeles, from which you can take a ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia, or drive east to Hurricane Ridge and some incredible scenery of the Olympic Mountains. The Ridge sits at 5,329 feet, and is a popular stop during the winter for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and some of the best views of the Olympic Mountains.

From Port Angeles you will drive west on 101 and pass Lake Crescent, a favorite place to swim during the summer months. Then you will re-enter the Olympic National Forest. Get the camera ready for some incredible pictures of giant trees in this dense forest. Soon you will come to the town of Forks, recently famous as the setting of the popular Twilight book series.

Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest | Source

Heading South

The town of Forks is home to the Forks Timber Museum as well as the Wilderness Information Center. You can also choose to drive down WA-110 to Rialto Beach, or go a little further to First Beach for whale watching and surfing.

Fourteen miles south of Forks is the Upper Hoh Road, which will lead you to the Hoh Ranger Station and the Hoh Rainforest. Here you will see one of the few temperate rainforests in the United States, and easy walking trails are there for your enjoyment. Dress for rain, however, since this section of the forest receives between 120 and 140 inches of rain per year.

Back on 101 and you will cross the Hoh River and then turn west to the Pacific Ocean. The first beach you will have access to will be Ruby Beach, where you can see sea stacks, shore birds, crabs and a variety of other sea creatures. Nine miles further down the road you will come to Kalaloch Beach and the majestic Kalaloch Lodge.

Travel a little further and you will come to the town of Quinault. Visit the Wilderness Information Center in Quinault and find out about local hiking trails, which include the Quinault Rainforest Trail within the Quinault Rainforest. You will be surrounded by lush vegetation and some of the largest trees outside of California.

In Quinault you have a choice. You can either continue on to the next town of Hoquiam, or you can detour on the Moclips Highway which will eventually take you to the resort town of Ocean Shores. During the summer months this is the busiest of the ocean towns as tourists head there to get away from possible inland heat and take advantage of the very wide and easily accessible beach.

Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge
Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge | Source

Heading East

If you choose to continue to Hoquiam then make sure you stop to see the Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge. During the spring this is the home of thousands of migratory birds including the western sandpiper, dunln, dowitchers and plover.

Continue on to Aberdeen and visit the Polson Museum and the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, where you can see the Lady Washington, the first American vessel to travel into this region.

From Aberdeen you will follow US-12 east, which will become WA-8 and then US-101 back to Olympia.

And Your Trip Is Complete

Your journey may be finished but the memories will stay with you for a lifetime. This drive gives you a glimpse of all that Washington State has to offer. Of course you can make the trip in one day, but why would you when there are so many things to do and see?

Gas up your car and see for yourself why Washington State is considered an outdoor paradise.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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