View of the Olympic Mountains from Sunrise Point on Hurricane Ridge as taken by my iPhone
From Seattle, you can see the Olympic Mountains in the distance to the West. It is only a teaser of the incredible beauty that awaits you on the Peninsula and Olympic National Park. The Park is one of the most massive and most visited in the National Park System (NPS). The size and diversity of the Park truly make it special. In the words of the NPS site, it features “several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline.” I can honestly state that I have not seen anything like what I experienced at Olympic National Park. The drastic difference between one section of the Park or the Peninsula to another is truly remarkable. In addition, most of the great sights in the Park are reachable via a short walk or hike. There are no extreme hikes needed for lookout points. As a result, it is a massive park that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Of course, most of the park is wilderness. Although you drive to most spots in the park, the roads to different points are not in the most convenient loop. You will utilize Highway 101 to get to all the key points in the Park. However, the side roads that run off the highway can take 30-40 minutes before they reach each location. As a result, you need to drive back to the highway before you can head to another spot. Consequently, mapping out a logical route for each day is critical in maximizing your experience for each day. Port Angeles, the gateway to the Park, is approximately 2 ½ hours from Seattle. Olympic National Park is a great addition to a trip to Seattle. Although you can spend a lifetime and not see everything in the Park, 3-4 days is perfect to see the main parts of the Park and soak in the uncanny beauty. Moreover, there is exceptional food, especially seafood, at the north side of the Peninsula at Port Angeles and Sequim. The fee for the Park is currently $30 per vehicle and is valid for 7 days. Luckily, I had an annual National Park pass that I bought while I visited a couple of Parks in Utah earlier in the year.
- Hurricane Ridge & Hurricane Hill Hike (3.1 miles round trip/ 797 feet elevation change)
The most stunning views in Olympic National Park are at Hurricane Ridge. The name of the Ridge is due to the hurricane strength winds that blast it during the winter. From Seattle, you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west. Even from a distance, the majesty of the Olympics cannot be diminished. Of course, their magnificence is only magnified with an up close view of the mountains. While you see the east side of the mountain range from Seattle, you get views of the west side of the mountains from Hurricane Ridge. It is incredible that a drivable and walkable ridge formed parallel to the very rocky and impassable Olympics to provide eye level views of the snowcapped peaks of the mountain range. In addition, the sharp contrast between the overarching, lush green of the countless number of pine trees and the eternal white of the snow is truly a sight to behold.
Even if it is cloudy in Port Angeles, it may be sunny up on Hurricane Ridge because it has an elevation of 5,242 feet. You can check with the Olympic National Park Visitor Center down in Port Angeles on the conditions at the top. My friend and I experienced a day with this contradictory weather. It was a gloomy Pacific Northwest overcast in Port Angeles. As we drove up the road to Hurricane Ridge, we drove slowly because we went through the cloud and it was basically like trying to drive in thick fog with questionable visibility. However, we emerged out of the cloud and were suddenly hit with the spectacular, sunny views of Hurricane Ridge. It was like a fairy tale story when the protagonists go through a disconcerting experience by entering a portal to the unknown but become awestruck when they get transported to a magical place. It is a 45 minute drive to Hurricane Ridge from Visitor Center to Visitor Center. You will get unparalleled views of the mountain range around the Visitor Center up on the ridge. There are short trails across from the Visitor Center. Definitely take the brief walk up the High Ridge Trail (0.5 mile loop) to Sunrise Point. It offers a great view of the valley and road you drove up to get to the ridge. In addition, walk around the short Cirque Rim Trail (0.5 mile one way) to enjoy views of Vancouver Island and British Colombia to the north on a clear day.
While the elevation and views around the Visitor Center will take your breath away, I highly recommend driving the 1 ½ miles down the end of the narrow road for the trailhead to Hurricane Hill. It is only a 3.1 mile hike round trip to the Hill and back. The trail is mostly flat. Most of the elevation change occurs near the end but there are manageable switchbacks that help. Nonetheless, the challenge of the hike is more about breathing at a higher elevation [again, the 5,200+ feet] than the elevation change. Hurricane Hill is at an elevation of 5,757 feet. However, I still assess the difficulty of the hike as moderate at best. It is likely easy for regular hikers. Of course, the views at the higher elevation of Hurricane Hill is certainly worth it. It took my friend and I 2 hours to complete the hike. I will qualify that time by noting that we went at a very leisurely pace to take in the beauty and snap a lot of pictures. It took us 30 minutes to get from the top back to the beginning of the trailhead when we stop sparingly for pictures.
- Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls (1.5 miles round trip/ 298 feet elevation change)
The Lake is 18 miles west of Port Angeles. If you drive from Port Angeles to the west part of Olympic National Park, you will drive on Highway 101 which runs along the south boundary of the lake. It is a stunningly beautiful lake with pristine water that features navy blue and green colors. In addition, the highway is at water level so the surface water is at eye level while you drive along the lake. Accordingly, it is an incredibly scenic drive with views of the lake and a unique experience. As the name implies, the Lake is shaped like a crescent. Barnes Point is the delta that juts into lake around the middle of the two halves of the crescent. The Lake Crescent Lodge (416 Lake Crescent Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98363) is on the west side of the delta and faces the west horn of the crescent. The Lake Crescent Pier is on the east side of the Delta on the other end of Lake Crescent Road and faces the east horn of the crescent. Naturally, the views are amazing from both points of the park. For sunset, the Lodge is the best spot since the sun sets in the west. Syncing to the sunset time for Port Angeles, the sun dips behind the mountains approximately an hour before that time for sunset. Moreover, I highly recommend renting a kayak from the Lodge to enjoy the scenic views from the middle of and on the lake. Boat tours are available at the Lodge too. It was $20 to rent a kayak for an hour. In my opinion, it was more than enough since most people will be tired after an hour of kayaking. We went out on the lake about 5-6 hours before sunset and the sun glistened magnificently off the surface. Nonetheless, there is probably not a bad time to be on the lake if it is sunny and good weather. At other times during the day, Lake Crescent will act as a mirror lake. For all those reasons, Lake Crescent is truly beautiful.
Marymere Falls (1.5 miles round trip/ relatively flat)
There are various hiking trails around the lake. Spruce Railroad Trail runs approximately 4 miles one way and is basically flat on the north side of the lake if you want to take a walk along the lake instead of kayaking or getting on a boat. Next, there are trails up the mountains around the lake (e.g. Storm King). Nevertheless, the most popular trail is definitely the 1.5 round trip walk to Marymere Falls. It is basically flat with some sets of stairs at the end. It is certainly a fun and easy hike. You get to experience a walk through the rainforest and marvel at the massive trees towering over you. Of course, you are rewarded with the solid payoff of a waterfall.
- Hoh Rain Forest
At the Visitor Center in Port Angeles, we were advised to go to and experience one of the two major rain forests in the Park: Hoh or Quinault. We opted for the Hoh Rain Forest since it was closer to Port Angeles. It was vividly and uniquely beautiful. As you look up at the gigantic spruce trees that tower over you and whose tops reach towards the heavens, you marvel at their sheer size and your lack of significance compared to them. Naturally, it rains a lot since it is a rain forest. The Hoh Rain Forest receives 140 to 170 inches of precipitation each year. The excess moisture creates an enhanced environment for mosses and ferns to sprout all over the forest. In particular, the mosses accessorizes and clothes the branches of the spruces and floor of the forest with natural outfits that capture your imagination with more than fifty shades of green.
In order to get to the Hoh Rainforest, you drive on the Upper Hoh Road off of Highway 101. Once you turn on to Upper Hoh Road, it is an 18 mile drive to the Visitor Center. However, it is a scenic drive as you drive through the beginning of the rain forest. If you have a sunroof and are a passenger, definitely use it so you can gaze up at the skyscraping spruces. The two main hiking trails start right at the Visitor Center: Hall of Mosses (0.8 miles) and Spruce Nature trail (1.2 miles). Both trails are basically flat. The Hall of Mosses is a must see. As the name implies, there are multiple pods of spruces that are covered by the mosses. It is definitely a sight to behold. Some trees look very weird. For this reason, they are very beautiful in their own unique ways. Of course, moss hanging off trees occur throughout the rain forest. Nevertheless, it is most pronounced and concentrated on the Hall of Mosses trail. Since it is a very short trail, it certainly makes sense to also walk the slightly longer Spruce Nature trail. You get to see more of the rain forest and the trail brings you to the river for part of the walk. Again, both trails are short and flat. Moreover, the drive to and from Hoh Rain Forest takes a good amount of time, especially if you are coming from Port Angeles or its nearby area. As such, it is kind of a no brainer to do both short trails to justify the time it takes to drive back and forth. Similarly, it makes sense to visit a beach on the west side of the Park and the town of Forks on the same day as the rain forest. It takes a decent amount of time to drive between each spot. Nonetheless, they are in the same general vicinity on the Peninsula.
For a longer trail; there is the Hoh River Trail, which is 17.4 miles one way to Glacier Meadows. Obviously, it cannot be completed in a day. Consequently, you will need a permit to camp overnight to complete the round trip. Naturally, most visitors just do the Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature trails.
- Rialto Beach
Olympic National Park is also unique for its wild and undeveloped coastline on its west side. Instead of resorts or vacation homes that usually surround a beach, a pine curtain of spruce trees run up to the edge of Rialto Beach. In addition, it features islands and gorgeous rock formations right off the coast. Next, you cannot actually swim in the ocean because of driftwood in the water. In addition, the waves of the Pacific Ocean are strong there so I am not sure I would want to venture out in the water even without the driftwood. The beach is popular for the 1.5 mile walk up to the Hole-in-the-Wall. As the name suggests, it is a big hole naturally pierced through one of the ends of an oval shaped rock. Once you are on the north side of the hole, you can look back through it to view the ocean and beach where you came from on the walk up. It is like peering through a looking glass. Naturally, it is a unique and beautiful view of Rialto Beach. In addition, there are sea creatures at that point of the beach such as clams and starfish. It is also home to the interesting sea anemone. At first glance, it looks like a plant. In actuality, it is a predatory animal. The apparent flower petals are actually tentacles. If you take a stick and poke them, they will close up like they would when ensnaring prey.
Make sure to check when low and high tides will occur during the day before visiting Rialto Beach. You will want to plan your day around low tide so there is more beach to walk on and so the Hole-in-the-Wall is not submerged under water when you are there. For example, we wanted to visit Forks and the Hoh Rainforest on the same day. The two hours before and after high tide was the perfect window to visit Rialto Beach. Consequently, we drove around Forks before going to the beach then went to the Hoh Rainforest after we were finished with the beach. Moreover, we drove in the wrong direction when we were driving to Rialto Beach. We initially went to the First Beach just south of Rialto Beach. They do not connect. Accordingly, we had to drive back around. If you are heading to Rialto Beach, make sure you are on Mora Road and drive to the end of it.
Forks is the home of vampires. It is the small town where author Stephenie Meyer based her Twilight saga novels. On the other hand, the films were not actually filmed in the town. Not surprisingly, it is the town’s claim to fame and they capitalize on it to cater to tourists. If you go to the visitor center, you can get a map of all the buildings and points of interests in town that inspired locations in the novel and film. It is fun to drive around for an hour to visit all the sites. There is also a small exhibit, Forever Twilight in Forks Collection (Rainforest Arts Center Alcove, 11 N. Forks Avenue, Forks, WA 98331), that features props from the films.
Forks is also a good town to stop for food if you are visiting the Hoh Rainforest and/ or Rialto Beach. I wandered into Home Slice Take N Bake (110 S Forks Ave, Forks, WA 98331). Since I am from New York and live in Brooklyn, I am a pizza snob. I try my best to avoid West Coast pizza. I only went to Take N Bake because I thought they served sandwiches. Once I was there, I just went for the pizza. I was hungry and wanted something quick as we had a long day of sightseeing. We basically ordered a supreme pizza as it had taco beef and various vegetables. Is it the best pizza I ever had? Of course not. It was very similar to the pizza I have eaten at Costco. In both cases, I had my reservations before I ate it but actually really liked it. Accordingly, Take N Bake is a solid spot for a quick bite.
- Mapping out a Logical Itinerary and Other Points of Interest in the Park
The Park is so big that it is impossible to see the whole park. It is very difficult to just see all the popular spots. They are not lined up conveniently off the main highway that runs around the Park. You generally have to drive a bit off the main highway then double back to it just to head to another spot in the park. If you wanted to see as many points as possible, your logical route is in a counter clockwise direction that starts in Port Angeles and ends in the southwest section of the Park. Your Best Three Days in Olympic National Park provides a good itinerary for it. However, it requires constantly moving from one hotel/ lodging to another each day. My friend and I preferred to stay at one spot so we did not have to pack up and go every day. As such, we rented an AirBnB in Sequim, which is 30 minutes east of Port Angeles. Accordingly, we were way too far from Lake Quinault and the Quinault Valley/ Rain Forest. It would have been a three hour drive each way just to make it to that southwestern section of the Park. I would have liked to see that area but we preferred experiencing and enjoying the Park and the Peninsula at the spots we could comfortably drive to and from rather than simply driving around just to check the box on as many places as possible.
My friend and I stayed in Sequim. We tried to group as many things together in the most logical way. Below is a good sample of spots that can be grouped together each day if you are staying in Port Angeles/ Sequim the whole time. Our itinerary was fluid and ended up as follows:
- Arrived at Port Angeles around 1 PM.
- Drove up to Hurricane Ridge – Spend 4 Hours hiking and enjoying the Olympics (The driving part took about 40 minutes to an hour each way with construction).
- Drove to Lake Crescent and arrived right before 7 PM – Hiked to Marymere Falls and lingered at Lake Crescent Lodge for sunset between 8 PM – 8:30 PM (Hour to 30 minutes before sunset time in Port Angeles).
- Dinner in Port Angeles at 9 PM.
- Arrived at Forks around noon. Drove around town for an hour exploring Twilight points of interest.
- Lunch in Forks between 1-2 PM.
- Drove to Rialto Beach and arrived at 3 PM to coincide with low tide – Spend 1 ½ hours to hike to and from and enjoy Hole-in-the-Wall.
- Drove to and arrived at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center just before 6 PM – Spend an hour+ walking around the two trails by the Visitor Center.
- Dinner at Port Angeles at 9:30 PM.
- Lunch in Sequim at noon.
- 1-2PM – Explore lavender farms and pick strawberries
- 2-4 PM – Walk around Port Angeles.
- Drove to and arrived at Lake Crescent – Kayaked for an hour on the lake.
- Dinner in Sequim at 8 PM.
Although Quinault is a bit too far to drive to and from if you are staying in the Port Angeles area, another closer place we could have went to is Sol Duc. It is known for the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resorts (12076 Sol Duc Hot Springs Rd., Port Angeles, WA 98363). Moreover, you can hike the short trail to the Sol Duc waterfalls which is 1.6 miles round trip and relatively flat. Sol Duc is immediately south of Lake Crescent. However, there are mountains in the way so there is no direct road south. Accordingly, you need to drive west of the Lake then take a sharp left to go south. It takes approximately 40 minutes to drive from the middle of Lake Crescent to Sol Duc. We opted for less driving on Day 3 of our trip and more relaxing that included exploring Sequim and Port Angeles.
- Port Angeles
Port Angeles is a small port city [more like a town] that is the gateway to Olympic National Park. It is very pretty and has a lot of charm. In addition, there is a lot good food in town. Naturally, it has some great seafood. It is a great place to stay or stop by for lunch or dinner.
- Kokopelli Grill (203 E Front St, Port Angeles, WA 98362)
I was blown away by the food at Kokopelli Grill. Every dish was top notch. First, I highly recommend the smoked salmon chowder. The salmon was amazing. The chowder was creamy and smooth. It was definitely one of the best chowders I have eaten anywhere. Next, the restaurant gets their fish fresh daily from Neha Bay at 9 AM daily. Accordingly, I highly recommend their fish dishes. I ordered the king salmon and it was delicious. The risotto cake side was great too. My friend and I also split a steak frites. I assumed they would use generic steak in the fries. I was wrong. The steak was ridiculously tender and juicy. It was seasoned very well. In addition, the service was great. The waitress noticed my friend did not like the appetizer that came with the entrée. The waitress initiated feedback herself on what could be improved with the dish then replaced it with something my friend did like. It was the first time I have experienced such proactive initiative from a restaurant. Accordingly, we had an exceptional experience.
- Michael’s Seafood & Steakhouse (2902, 117 E 1st St, Port Angeles, WA 98362)
It is a very good restaurant in Port Angeles. I was not blown away but every dish was good. My friend and I started with a fried calamari appetizer. The calamari was lightly breaded with a crunch and well-seasoned. There were two sauces that came with it: marinara and white sauce. The marinara sauce had a weird after taste. It was probably tabasco. The white sauce was like a tartar sauce and very good. We also ordered a Dungeness crab cake entrée to split. As expected, it was delicious. It falls apart like a pulled pork. In addition, the side vegetables were seasoned well. For my entrée, I really wanted wild salmon. Unfortunately, we were at Michael’s at the end of a long day. Consequently, they had run out by the time we ordered. I settled for the alternative: Northwest Bouillabaisse. It was a solid fish. The entrée came with clams and scallops. The clams were really good and there was a lot of them. The scallops were cooked perfectly. The sauce in the entrée was some kind of spicy mayo sauce. Michael’s is one of the restaurants in Port Angeles that is open a little later: till 10 PM on the weekdays and till 11 PM on the weekends. It is a solid choice for a late dinner.
The “e” is silent. You pronounce it like squid but with a “m”. Sequim is best known for its lavender farms. Lavender enthusiasts will gather and overtake the town for the Lavender Festival around the third week of July, which corresponds to when the flowers are in full bloom. My friend and I visited in June. The flowers began to bloom but fifty shades of purple had not yet overtaken the town. Even if you are not there while the festival is happening, it is still an interesting experience to spend a couple of hours visiting a couple of lavender farms. The two farms we stopped by were Jardin Du Soleil Lavender (3932 Sequim-Dungeness Way, Sequim, WA 98382) and Graymarsh Berry Farm (8144, 6187 Woodcock Rd, Sequim, WA 98382). Obviously, both farms have groves of lavender plants for visitors to see and smell. Jardin is better for lavender products, which are sold in its gift shop. I bought lavender hand cream that I have really enjoyed as a moisturizer. Graymarsh was a better experience as an actual farm. My friend and I spent 30 minutes going into the strawberry fields to pick some berries right off the vine. The strawberries were very sweet and delicious.
Sequim also has some excellent options for food in town.
- Blondie’s (134 S 2nd Ave, Sequim, WA 98382)
It claims to be a tapas [small plates] spot. I am not really sure if that description is the best classification because most of their dishes are not small at all. My friend and I ordered a variety of dishes to try. First, I ordered the clam appetizer. In my opinion, it is a must order if you enjoy clams. There was a ridiculous number of clams in the dish. I counted over 2 dozen. They were fresh and the accompanying butter sauce was excellent. Next, the mac and cheese was very creamy and good. I also felt the buttermilk fried chicken was top notch. One of my tests for a great fried chicken is whether the meat inside is dried out. Blondie’s passed my test. The inside was not dry at all. It was very juicy. Moreover, the fried chicken skin was very crispy. On the other hand, it was a bit salty. For my entrée, I ordered an organic King Salmon. The fresh salmon was so good. It was super smother and tender. The flakes fell apart when my fork touched them. For dessert, I ordered the chocolate fudge. It was very rich. Overall, I definitely recommend Blondie’s for amazing food.
- Sawadee Thai (271 S 7th Ave Ste 31, Sequim, WA 98382)
It is an unassuming restaurant in a shopping plaza. As such, I was pleasantly surprised that it was one of the better Thai restaurants I have been to in my travels. First, the spring rolls were awesome as appetizers. They were crispy and came out sizzling hot. I specifically loved the vermicelli inside. Next, I ordered the Dungeness crab fried rice. Naturally, it was delicious. The fresh crab and fried egg really made the dish. Next, my friend ordered the spicy noodles with beef. The flat noodles [ho fun at Chinese restaurants] were great. They were very smooth. My friend asked for 4/5 on the spicy meter. Even though it was not the max, it was really spicy. Nevertheless, the dish was so good that I struggled through the pain to eat more and more of it. I also ordered a Thai iced tea. It was very sweet and creamy. I used it to offset the spiciness of the spicy noodles. Not surprisingly, I stopped eating the noodles when I ran out of iced tea.
- Hurricane Coffee (104 W Washington St, Sequim, WA 98382)
It is a solid coffee shop. There was a hint of bitterness in my latte which means the beans could have been extracted a little bit better. In addition, it was a little watery in the second layer of my latte. However, there was a consistent foamy texture in the rest of the drink below that layer. Overall, the drink was mostly smooth and rich. On the other hand, my friend’s latte was average. The latte art was messed up, which is a good indicator the drink was too. I took a sip. It tasted more like milk than coffee. I also ordered an almond croissant for breakfast. It was solid but nothing spectacular.