Olympic Peninsula

In one day, you can sample the ruggedly majestic melange of massifs, glaciers, forest, rivers and coastline we call the Olympic Peninsula. To do it all, you do The Loop-formally known as US Highway 101. It’s a winding, scenic loop of more than 300 miles, encircling most of Olympic National Forest and environs. To visit the Olympic Peninsula from the Kitsap Peninsula, head N on Hwy 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge, turn N on 101, the first sizable stop on your journey is Port Townsend. The one-time boomtown was Washington territory’s official port of entry in the 1870’s and 80’s. But the boom days didn’t last. Today, the town is known for its artists and its stately Victorian homes, several of which are bed-and-breakfast inns. There’s also camping in nearby Fort Worden State Park.

Next up 101, you’ll find the dry, clear climate of Sequim and Dungeness, shielded form storms by the Olympic Mountains "rain shadow." Besides the usual amenities, there’s a seven-mile walk along Dungeness Spit, and camping at Sequim Bay State Park.

Soon along the coast, you’ll come to Port Angeles, a ferry gateway to Canada’s Victoria and also an entry point for the marvels of the Olympic Mountains. On the southern edge of Port Angeles is the main visitor’s center for Olympic National Park, and the road to Hurricane ridge switchbacks up the hills south of town. Continue west from Port Angeles and you’ll discover on of the most beautiful spots on the peninsula. Lake Crescent’s clear blue waters, 624 feet deep, nestle between two towering ridgelines in Olympic National Park accessible directly form Highway 101. There are many hiking trails, the Lake Crescent Lodge with cabins and a restaurant, and campsites on the shores.

Next up is Forks, appropriately named. It’s the peninsula hub for a variety of activities. Forks is a proud timber town that’s been forced to find alternatives for its economic base. Some of the solutions are quite creative, and many involve tourism. It’s not far from Forks to the famed Hoh River Rain Forest, where centuries-old conifers form a canopy over the vine maples of the valley floor. Walk in the rain-sodden woods and you’ll find nature’s treasures-including mushrooms and berries galore.

South from the Hoh area, the highway turns due west till it hits the edge of the continent, then parallels the ocean, from Ruby Beach to south of Kalaloch. Quinalt, a small community just off the main highway, is a place that will work changes in you. There’s natural beauty in the dark rainforest, lapping richly at the lake’s edge. On south, the loop takes in Highway 109, a road that runs parallels to hardpacked and level sand beaches, which stretch flat to the ocean from forest-topped, wind-carved cliffs. Nestled among this ocean-world highway are the weather-battered villages of Moclips, Taholah, Sunset Beach and Copalis Beach. At the end of this isolated stretch is the resort community of Ocean Shores. Built on a dune structure that sweeps south to partially enclose Grays Harbor Bay, the resort city is fast developing as a condominium community, amid existing hotels, restaurants and dune-based homes. Nineteen miles east, the traveler can visit the Victorian elegance of Hoquiam’s Castle. It’s a prelude to navigating through the traffic of the twin lumber cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam. After an eastbound journey on Highways 12 and 8, turn off on Highway 108, which is a cutoff through the old lumbering town of McCleary. 108 takes you back to Highway 101, just south of Shelton. Follow 101 north to Hoodsport, with its reservation fireworks stands and Hoodsport winery. You can either follow 101 north along the west side of Hood Canal to complete your loop at the bridge, or backtrack from Hoodsport a little to take Highway 106 east along the southern shore of Hood Canal to Belfair.