Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is known for the Olympic Mountains, rainforests, and rugged beaches. Bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the Hood Canal and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Peninsula is an outdoor lovers delight. Port Angeles is a great base for exploring the beauty of the peninsula and for catching the ferry to Victoria, B.C. But on a recent trip, I discovered that the area in and around Port Angeles is definitely worth exploring.
Luxury Lodge Accommodations
The Olympic Lodge, not far from the busy Hwy 101 in central Port Angeles, will surprise you. Enter the lodge and you be welcomed by a crackling fire, bronze wildlife art and a two-story window looking out over a rolling golf course, trees and beyond—the snow-capped Olympic Mountains.
Parking is right in front and free. There is a restaurant and a beautiful outdoor pool for cooling off after exploring the peninsula. My room was spacious, beautifully decorated in a traditional lodge style and, with room-wide windows, overlooked the beautiful Peninsula Golf Club’s tree-lined golf course.
Hikers and touring families checked in and out and people gathered in the comfortable lobby, but in my room, things were very quiet. I could retreat to my room after a busy day and just sink into the comfortable armchairs and watch the shadows of the trees lengthening on the hilly green golf course.
Wandering Port Angeles
Part of what brought me to the Olympic Peninsula was a regional gathering of non-profit walking clubs, part of AVA: America’s Walking Club. The clubs of the Pacific Northwest were hosted by the Olympic Peninsula Wanderers, who scouted out some interesting, and lesser-known places to hold mapped walks.
After connecting with the clubs and picking up some maps for my explorations, I decided to see what Port Angeles was all about before striking out farther. I drove down to the waterfront where cars were lining up for the evening sailing of the M.V. Coho to Victoria.
What I found, once I parked my car, was a great place for a scenic and refreshing walk. I enjoyed the historical murals on the walls of the Feiro Marine Life Center. Murals showing the history of the area, New Orleans flair, Native American settlements, and even Sasquatch, decorate many of the buildings and walls in town.
I walked the length of the city pier, checked out the progress of people crabbing, and walked over to explore the offerings of The Landing.
While Port Angeles is a working port and home to a large sawmill, it also has a more cultured, artistic side. On a previous trip to the Olympic Peninsula, I enjoyed the offerings and setting of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. Inside The Landing, I found more evidence that Port Angeles is home to artists. I chatted with artists at the Harbor Art Gallery, a cooperative art studio and gallery displaying the work of local artists. You’ll find resident artists painting, making jewelry and spinning wool. It’s one of the stops during the seasonal Second Weekend Art Walk every month.
As I wandered The Landing, I found restaurants, a wine bar and wine shop and even more art galleries.
Walking on Ediz Hook
While others at the lodge were gearing up for exhausting hikes in the Olympic National Park, I was there as a walker. In fact, the organization promotes self-paced walking where you can stop and take photos, rest on a bench to enjoy a view, and learn about new areas.
One of the mapped walks offered was out on Ediz Hook, a 3.5-mile long spit of land with an important role. Port Angeles Harbor is the Northwest’s deepest harbor and is protected by the spit. It’s also a great place to walk, do a bit of birding, and watch the ships and fishing boats come and go.
I drove out, past the huge lumber mill, and found a place to park near where some kayakers were launching from a sandy beach. There is a beach walking path and a paved bike lane. The road isn’t all that busy so it’s a good place to get a view of Port Angeles and the Olympic Mountains.
On this out and back walk (5 km or 3.1 miles), I felt the breezes and heard the waves of Puget Sound roaring on the other side of the breakwater. As I walked I could see Mt. Baker in the distance. At the end of the spit is a Coast Guard Station with light tower. There has been an aid to navigation there since the late 1800s. Before the lighthouse was built, driftwood was burned atop a tripod to mark the channel.
Short Hikes at Salt Creek Recreation Area
Another day I followed directions for the organization’s mapped walk in a beautiful area just short of a half hour from Port Angeles. I took the US 101 west to WA 112, the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway, to Camp Hayden Road, and to the Salt Creek Recreation Area. I parked at the trailhead for the Striped Peak Trail and followed the wooded trail a short distance, keeping to the left, admiring the ferns and berries. That portion of the trail led me to an open grassy area and the campgrounds.
It was time for a minus tide and I was interested in checking out the area’s tide pools. The trails in the area lead hikers to several outlooks and ultimately Tongue Point jutting out into Crescent Bay, known for rocky tide pools. Just down the road through the campgrounds was a very short trail leading me to “Outlook #1” and a gorgeous view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. What I found, was that the rocks were covered with kelp, making checking out the tide pools rather dangerous. I admired the view there, returned to the campground and then walked along the Bluff Trail.
The Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary has tide pools deemed world famous by marine biologists. Tongue Point at Salt Creek is one continuous tide pool area full of starfish, sea anemones, mussels, crabs, barnacles, and small fish. It is probably the best tide pool experience in the state of Washington.
I didn’t make it clear to Tongue Point that day but did a series of shorter walks—the shorter part of Striped Peak Trail, the visit to the rocky shore at Outlook #1, and a walk along the Bluff Trail. This area has both long and short trails and plenty to see.
Lavender and the Olympic Discovery Trail
On another morning the organization’s mapped walks led us to the east, to nearby Sequim, a lovely town in the midst of the Lavender blooming season. Sequim is known as “The Lavender Capital of North America,” and it is also a place with rugged beaches and wildlife like Roosevelt elk and eagles.
Our walk introduced us to the Olympic Discovery Trail that runs through Sequim. There are well-marked trailheads where cyclists and walkers can walk part of the trail. That day I visited the Robin Hill Farm, where we parked to access the trail.
The Olympic National Park has leased five acres of Robin Hill Farm County Park to construct and maintain a plant propagation facility. The native plants grown at the facility are being used in the re-vegetation effort in the Elwha River Valley where two hydroelectric dams were removed to let the river return to its natural state. There are also foot trails and equestrian trails in the park.
After checking out the trail, and a short walk, I was off to explore Lavender Farms, and there were many. The gardens that made me stop in my tracks were not the usual farms, but the grounds of the stately George Washington Inn and Estate.
The long drive to the stunning white colonial-style inn, actually inspired by Mt. Vernon, was lined with multi-colored wildflowers, and, of course, blooming lavender. I walked the entrance road, taking photographs of the beautiful gardens and then walked along the bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Wanting to explore yet another area of Sequim, and experience another short walk, I headed out to Railroad Bridge Park, which is on the Olympic Discovery Trail. Just a short drive took me to a beautiful riverside park where you can cross an old railroad bridge and view the rushing waters of the Dungeness River below.
You can also visit the Dungeness River Audubon Center nearby. The trail, while extensive, offers recreational walkers the opportunity to walk any distance they wish.
The House of Seven Brothers Restaurant
Of course, there are many places to dine in Port Angeles, and the restaurants are casual, feature local seafood, and are perfect for fueling both casual walkers and hikers on their way to the Olympic National Park.
Less than a half hour from Port Angeles and just east of Sequim on Highway 101 is the Jamestown S’Kallam tribe’s complex. It's always worth a stop just to see the colorful totem poles that are carved there. Inside the Seven Cedars Casino was a new restaurant I wanted to try—House of Seven Brothers.
The beautifully decorated contemporary restaurant represents the Pacific Northwest and the tribe well. On one long wood wall, were hand carved masks representing the seven brothers. The citizens of the present-day Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe can trace their lineage back to the seven brothers and their little sister. You’ll get a sense of the tribe’s culture if you visit the Northwest Expressions Art Gallery and carving shed on the other side of Highway 101.
Throughout the restaurant were touches of tribal art. It is an open restaurant with a full bar. I enjoyed a hearty Pacific Northwest breakfast—French toast with fresh berries drizzled with a beautiful red berry sauce.
It was delicious, the wait staff was friendly, and I thought I’d want to return for some of the restaurant’s dinner offerings featuring locally sourced seafood, produce, and protein from the fisherman, farmers, and ranchers across the Olympic Peninsula.
I was well fortified for my drive south on Highway 101 along the beautiful Hood Canal back to the Portland area.
When You Go to Port Angeles
I drove to Port Angeles from the Portland area via Highway 101 allowing about four hours.
You can also take a car ferry from the Seattle area. Take the Washington State Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island or from Edmonds to Kingston to access the Olympic Peninsula.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meal and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.