Begin in Olympia, the state capital, by taking WA-101 north. The stunning scenery begins almost immediately. The route will take you through the towns of Kamilche, and Shelton with its Little Creek Casino Resort, a Northwest Native American themed Resort. Skokomish is the headquarters of the Skokomish Indian Tribe. If you want to see a spectacular one-lane vehicular bridge that stands nearly 700 feet over the river, go to the High Steel Bridge by way of West Skokomish Road, near Hoodsport. Little Liliwaup boasts one of the prettiest bending stretches of road in the nation. Brinnin offers nearby Dosewallips State Park, and the access road to Mount Walker, the only peak facing Puget Sound that has a road to its summit. Take the drive up the mountain and head for the North Lookout to see Mt. Rainier on a clear day.
Next comes Quilcene, where the Timberhouse Restaurant is a delusions destination, and Discover Bay, known for its roadside Fat Smitty’s Restaurant with its oversized carvings outside and its hanging signed dollar bills inside; have the BLT and onion rings. A side trip up to Port Townsend is enjoyable; have a meal at the Blue Moose Café. Just beyond Carlsburg, take the Kitchen-Dick Road north to Dungeness Spit to see the largest natural spit in the USA, and while there enjoy some bird watching.
The drive takes you to Port Angeles, where a visit to Swain’s General Store is obligatory. You will want to see the Olympic National Park Visitors Center. Also visit Madison Creek Falls, a beautiful little waterfall and pool, set in a lovely, verdant canyon site, easy to reach without having to walk very far. It is a wheel-chair-accessible trail. Elwha Klallam Heritage Training Center provides a fascinating collection of Native American artifacts from the ancient village recently found at the waterfront, and art work. There is a gift shop with good books and items for sale. We highly recommend the side trip from the Olympic National Park Visitors Center up to Hurricane Ridge Road where you get the best views of the Olympic Range that are accessible by car. This seventeen-mile drive gives you breathtaking views of the mountains and of the peninsula. Many people count this as their favorite Olympic Peninsula Loop destination. Here and elsewhere, you may encounter wildlife, including mountain goats which are very dangerous. If you hike any of the trails, do so with caution.
Many guides to the Olympic Peninsula Loop suggest that you continue along on route 101. However, you can get even closer to the scenery and history in this way: At Wagner’s Grocery turn right on to WA-112 the Old Juan de Fuca highway. With lovely views of the strait and some fabulous hairpin turns, this is an unsung road, and a driving delight. There are some very small pullouts along the coastline, well worth taking to enjoy the views. You will drive through Ramapo; at Joyce you have some dining options, the Family Kitchen and the Blackberry Café. Stop if you wish at the Pillar Point Recreation Area; enjoy the views of Clallam Bay. In Sekiu, visit the By the Bay Café, famous for their pies; you’ll know you are there when you see the giant fish, dressed in jogging shorts and sneakers.
Shipwreck Point has a small pullout worthy of the view. At Neah Bay savvy travelers stay at the Bullman Beach Inn B & B right on the sands. From there, you can enjoy hikes to Cape Flattery, Hobuck Beach, Shi-Shi Beach, the Makah Museum, and Ozette. To get to Neah Bay, which is on the Makah Tribe Reservation, get back on Highway 112 and head down the road for just a few more miles. For $10 you can purchase an annual permit granting access to the reservation and its popular sites like Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach. The Makah Tribe has called the magnificent Neah Bay environs home for ages. Makah means “people generous with food” in the Salish language. The museum on the reservation presents the history of the people. It is said that one can find more unique seashells combing these beaches than anywhere else in the world. Dine at Pat’s Place or Linda’s Wood Fired Kitchen. Return to the main loop by retracing your route to the intersection with WA-113, and via WA-113, to WA-101.
If you prefer to continue on WA-101, rather than taking the side trip along WA-112, a stop at Granny’s Café will provide great burgers, soup, chowder, or pecan-banana pancakes, omelet with goat cheese, spinach and fresh tomatoes, and berry pie. You will pass Lake Sutherland and Lake Crescent. Visit Lake Crescent Lodge, dating to 1916, for a view from the sunroom, and perhaps a pick me up. Take a short hike to Marymere Falls to see the magnificent old growth forest and the ninety-foot waterfall; take the loop trail to see the falls from all angles. Stop at Sledge Hammer Point to enjoy the view. Another small but beautiful stopping area is Meldrim Point. Enjoy the engineering artistry of the several truss type bridges across the Sol Duc River. The Hungry Bear Café offers home style cooking, homemade pies and their famous one-pound hamburger. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fresh baked pies are delicious; in fact, pies are a specialty on the Olympic Peninsula, so try then when you find them.
Continue along to the US Forest Service Ranger Station at Forks; nearby are the highly praised Sol Duc Cabins, plan ahead to stay there. Second Beach Trail is a mile and a half trail through the forests to Second Beach. You need to climb over big driftwood logs to get to the beach; at low tide, explore the tidal pools up close. It is a great place to see the sunset, just remember to take your flashlight for the return hike. Kalaloch Lodge offers cabins right on the ridge overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean. Forks is also home to the Forks Timber Museum, providing the history of the logging industry, and is notably the location of the hit book/film series, Twilight. From Forks, it is about a 22 minute drive down to Rialto Beach, with its incredible scenery. Consider staying the night at nearby Manitou Lodge.
Hoh Rain Forest is one of the U.S.A.’s largest temperate rainforests. Take a short hike amid the lush greenery, ancient arching branches, and hidden waterfalls. Just before you reach Kalaloch there is a scenic pullout from which you can enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean. Kalaloch is home to the Kalaloch Lodge, which is also at the water’s edge. The Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive is a 31 mile loop around Lake Quinault.
At Aberdeen, leave 101 and take the Olympic Highway WA-12 eastward toward Olympia. Aberdeen is the home of the Westport Winery, and the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park. You will drive through Montesano; tucked away north of town is a great hiking spot, Lake Sylvia State Park. The town of Elma is home to the Eagle’s Nest, popular with locals and travelers alike for the Screaming Eagle and milk shakes.
The impressions of the rugged towering Olympic Mountains, the dramatic Pacific coastline with its log-strewn beaches, the sparkling lakes, the leafy rainforests and the charming villages of the Olympic Peninsula will linger in the memory of all who have visited here, as they #drivethenation.