Fall dreams: plan an fall trip to the Olympic Peninsula

This road trip travels counterclockwise along US-101 through scenic towns, dramatic seashores and mountain ranges, and through temperate rainforest. While summer is one of the most popular times to visit the Olympic Peninsula, you’ll likely have to wrestle with out-of-state visitors for space on roads and in hotels. . Autumn offers more space, calm and a hazy, brooding atmosphere well suited to the changing color landscape.

After a passing early morning Port Townsend, stop for breakfast at Sequim’s Oak Table, a beloved breakfast spot with creative treats such as bacon pancakes, peach waffles (served with ice cream), and ice cream blintz. strawberries. Sequim, sheltered by the shadow effect of the rain, has led to more than half a dozen lavender plantations in the surrounding area. Stop for a purple U-cut bouquet to freshen up the car on the ride.

Continue on US-101 West to Port Angeles, a city worth seeing. Visit the Mural Trail, and near the Port Angeles Center of Fine Arts, explore metal, stone, and wood figures amid the foliage of Webster’s Woods Sculpture Park. Downtown Port Angeles is full of art and home supply stores, bookstores, and clothing boutiques.

The city will host a CrabFest in October (including a Crab Chowder Cook-Off), but also has plenty of dining options. Pick up a picnic in town for the next trip. Country Aire Natural Foods has a well-stocked take-out section; Toga’s Soup House offers sandwiches, salads and a selection of five warming fall soups; and Granny’s Cafe is a lovely stopover en route to Lake Crescent.

Just 16 miles west of Port Angeles, the Salt Creek Recreation Area is home to a bay perfect for birding the sky and the horizon for gray whales and orcas. Within the recreation area, Tongue Point is a designated marine sanctuary and “one of the best tidal pool habitats in Washington state,” according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Use the colorful guide to the Olympic Coast National Marine Life Sanctuary if you can’t tell a limpet from a clam. Camping is available if you can’t stand to leave.

Olympic National Park

Port Angeles offers tickets to Hurricane Ridge and Olympic National Park. Stop at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center for tips on hiking trails, take the kids to the Discovery Room, or browse the bookstore. ONP was first established to protect old growth forests with trees up to 1,000 years old and firs reaching 281 feet tall. As a result, Olympic National Park has the longest undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Then continue (weather and road permitting) on ​​a winding, steep road to Hurricane Ridge, where winds of up to 75 MPH have inspired the nickname “Hurricane”. The summit offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and neighboring Vancouver Island, another visitor center (five in total in the 922,651-acre park), and plenty of hikes.

The fall leaf viewing is spectacular en route to Hurricane Ridge, as is the walk along Crescent Lake, 21 miles further west on US-101. The warm-hued leaves counterbalance the various shades of green all year round, in the form of Bigleaf Maples, Vine Maples, Red Alders, and Black Poplars.

Visitors also flock to the park’s lakes, waterfalls and hot springs. Those who enjoy the latter may want to take a dip in the three natural mineral thermal pools, with temperatures ranging from 99 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort (note: currently only open to overnight guests, no visitors of a day).

The resort is one of four accommodations in the park, including Lake Crescent Lodge, Log Cabin Resort and, further south, Lake Quinault Lodge.

As you move west, you will begin to make your way south, near the coast. Several of the often photographed beaches are known more for their rugged isolation than for sunbathing, and are spectacular when fall and winter storms arrive. Pay attention to the tide when visiting tidal pools. Rialto Beach mixes hiking, funky granite architecture, and sea stacks (the Haystack Rocks of Cannon Beach is another easily recognizable sea stacks).

Hoh rainforest.  (Courtesy of the Olympic Peninsula Visitors Bureau)

About a two-hour drive southwest of Port Angeles, the Hoh Rainforest glows like an Endor-like emerald all year round due to the average rainfall of 140 inches. Sword ferns grow on the forest floor, and nurses’ logs are home to insects, animals and new plants. The recently restored Hall of Mosses Trail winds through maple trees covered with club moss.

Back on the 101 and south, the driftwood-strewn beach of Ruby Beach sparkles with tiny red garnets and black-hued minerals, and Kalaloch is popular for birding due to the offshore bird colonies. .

Ruby beach.  (Courtesy of the Olympic Peninsula Visitors Bureau)

As 101 heads inland, you will encounter Quinault Lake. The humble town offers a museum with reconstructions of historic halls, several hikes, and a handful of restaurants. Lake Quinault Lodge is the largest of the park’s four accommodations, with 91 rooms. Built in 1926, the lodge offers a variety of overnight options, including rooms rich in character, more contemporary accommodations, and family suites. There is also a game room, swimming pool, boat rentals, and boat and land tours.

Pavilion of Lac Quinault.  (Courtesy of Aramark)

Other sleeping options include Bed and Breakfasts and Airbnb stays, including cabins, RVs, and A-huts. Camping is available in Olympic National Park, although tent campers should be aware that it tends to rain in a tropical forest. A lot.

To get home, continue south along 101 until you join US-12 and I-5 – or decide to stay an extra night.

Remarks: With the Delta COVID-19 variant soaring, pay close attention to openings and closings, and any local requests for vaccinations and masks. The entrance fee to Olympic National Park is $ 30 for a private, non-commercial vehicle and is valid for seven consecutive days. Masks are mandatory inside the park at the moment. You can get a free printed or digital Olympic Peninsula travel planner.

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