On the Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park features a 73-mile-long wilderness coast — Photo courtesy of Seabrook
If you've spent time on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, you understand the pull toward the rugged coast marked by churning waves, mystical sea stacks and wind-battered trees. If you've yet to visit this alluring destination, anchored by the Olympic Mountains and bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Hood Canal, newfound wonder awaits.
Today, Olympic National Park protects natural resources on nearly a million acres, including a 73-mile-long wilderness coast, plus the rich cultural resources of the people who first called this land home. These days, eight Olympic Peninsula tribes recognize a relationship to the park: the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam, Port Gamble S'Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah. This region features drastically varying ecosystems, from glacier-capped mountains to old-growth temperate rainforests.
Jagged and enchanting sea stacks are one of the most distinctive markers of the Olympic Coast — Photo courtesy of Matthew Paterra
Pushing off from Seattle, you can choose to take a route north (via ferry) or the path south (driving along I-5), depending on your Olympic Peninsula vision. For those who choose Forks as home base, a town initially built on the lumber trade and later famed as the setting for vampire-centric “Twilight,” the journey begins with a Bainbridge-bound ferry from downtown Seattle’s Colman Dock. The ride is best enjoyed with a warming cup of morning coffee in hand, watching the sun bounce off the distant peaks and city skyline; it doesn't take long to glide into a slower heart rate and deeper breaths, as you ready yourself for nature-fueled days ahead.
Along the way, you may choose to pause at family-owned Sluys' Poulsbo Bakery for fresh pastry treats, the Port Angeles Safeway for trip provisions or the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center (a slight detour) before winding your way west and then south along Highway 101. Another optimal spot to stretch your legs among quintessentially Pacific Northwest views: Lake Crescent, a striking, glacially carved lake. Located about 18 miles west of Port Angeles and less than a 30-minute drive from the Elwha and Sol Duc trails, this is also the site of Lake Crescent Lodge, built in 1915 and one of the first buildings from Olympic National Park's modern era.
Things to do and where to stay
The Bogachiel River and the Sol Duc River flow together to form the Quillayute — Photo courtesy of Will Zolna
With Forks as your peninsula HQ, you'll likely want to make the 20-minute drive west toward magic-tinged Rialto Beach soon after arrival; you’ll pass the Mora Campground Quillayute River on an easy, well-maintained road until you reach the coast. Known as the rainiest town in the contiguous U.S., Forks creates the perfect ambience in which to pass a relaxing weekend unwinding in hot tubs or beside cozy, crackling fires. Yet for those who choose to adventure in any weather, simply pack your rain gear and embrace the mist and mystery that defines this corner of our country.
Exquisite beach hiking options abound, ranging from a stroll from Rialto north to Hole-in-the-Wall, an impressive sea-carved arch, to treks along Second and Third beaches. Then there's the 9.2-mile Ozette Loop, which allows for time spent on the vast, driftwood-dotted beach as well as in the verdant coastal forest.
Hiking along the Olympic Coast often comes with immediate wildlife sightings, from soaring eagles to lounging seals — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Before setting off, hikers should read up on the latest trail reports and tidal charts. At low tide, you can walk down the coast, safely rounding some of its headlands and exploring tidal pools teeming with life. On other trails, ropes lead you up overland cut-throughs when the tide is too far in. Campers need a wilderness permit and, before leaving, should study local leave-no-trace principles, regional requirements like bear canisters and potential fire bans in hotter months.
For a completely unique lodging experience, stay tuned for the latest location – just outside Olympic National Park – of ROAM Beyond, a migratory company that changes its address with the seasons and to accommodate the most desirable experiences. The newest locale means direct access to nature and countless opportunities for nearby adventure throughout the surrounding park, along the shores of Ruby Beach or the trails of the enchanting Hoh Rain Forest.
Hikers must keep their eye on tidal charts as they explore the windswept coast — Photo courtesy of Will Zolna
In order to craft their basecamps, the ROAM team worked with Homegrown Trailers to perfect sustainable, handcrafted mobile dwellings that offer an off-grid experience with a focus on conservation and responsible travel.
Those looking to navigate via their own home-on-wheels will want to explore options made available by recently-launched Route Line; adventurers can choose between a two-person Sprinter van, a four-person Sprinter van, a Scout truck/camper and a TAXA Mantis trailer.
An itinerary that heads south of Seattle, passing though Tacoma and Olympia, takes you into varied terrain that ranges from old-growth forests, freshwater lakes and cascading falls to a glacial-formed saltwater fjord. Around Hood Canal, enjoy quaint coastal towns and the sensational seafood for which this region is so well-known.
Temperatures can vary drastically on the peninsula, based on location and elevation, even in warmer summer months — Photo courtesy of Matthew Paterra
Two hours from Seattle and north of Olympia, Mason County's Harstine Island is an 18-square-mile refuge for quiet time spent in nature. This tranquil unincorporated community, west of Case Inlet in southern Puget Sound, proves an idyllic spot to lazily pass the days mesmerized by sand dollars and eagles – and to spend the evenings conversing under a twinkling swath of stars.
How to find waterside bliss in Washington state this summer
How to find waterside bliss in Washington state this summer
All the way on the southern coast, and just under a three-hour drive from Seattle, you'll find Seabrook, described by its visionaries as a “thoughtfully-built new town founded on new urbanism design." Here, the model has been able to blend hotel-like success, thanks to a vast range of amenities from a spa and pool to basketball courts, communal courtyards with fire pits and welcoming "downtown" businesses, with the home-sharing concept.
Coastal accommodations range from camping and low-key motels to plush vacation homes available to rent at Seabrook — Photo courtesy of Seabrook
While even residents joke about living inside "The Truman Show," there is plenty of pampered relaxation to be found inside snug houses with roaring fireplaces, backyard hot tubs and wraparound front porches, prime for watching the world go by. The positioning of residences encourages connectivity, and most everything one needs while visiting is located within a 5- to 10-minute walk.
Of the 500 homes in Seabrook, 275 are in the rental program and 75 have year-round residents. (The others are private, secondary homes.) Since the pandemic began, sales have shot up 132%, and vacation rental occupancy was up to 66% last year. And the community continues to grow; among other plans in the works, Seabrook will build 70 new homes this year, and will also begin work on 34 luxury apartments and an additional 7,000 square feet of retail space. By January 2023, a 10,000-square-foot grocery store and 1980s-era arcade will join the lineup, too.
Seabrook's small business core of local purveyors continues to expand — Photo courtesy of Seabrook
Seabrook’s site along the Hidden Coast Scenic Byway makes it a prime jumping-off spot for peninsula adventures. Westport, a hub for surfing, fishing and razor clamming, can be found 50 miles to the south; those looking to stay at the self-proclaimed "ultimate surf camp" will enjoy LOGE Westport. To the north, there’s Pacific Beach (1.5 miles), Lake Quinault (31 miles) and Olympic National Park (33 miles).
This means there’s no shortage of nearby activities, from hiking, mountain biking, paddling, glass float finding and mushroom foraging to Seabrook’s outdoor summer concerts, food truck gatherings and free yoga classes. On-property Buck’s NorthWest is the place to go for gear rentals and lessons.
Yet many coastal highlights emerge from the quieter moments spent in stillness – while watching a murmuration-like swirl of synchronized birds against the morning sky or a fiery sun slink into the ocean at the end of a really good, really full day.