Slow down and enjoy the freedom of the open road on the Olympic Peninsula. Though this route takes you clockwise around the peninsula, you’ll lose all sense of time as you wonder at the spring beauty of this scenic destination that seems custom-built for road trippers. We love visiting the Olympic Peninsula this time of year for its bright buds, rushing waterfalls, and thinner crowds.
This story was created in partnership with Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau. All photos courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau.
Historic Lake Quinault Lodge sits atop a gentle sloping hill on the south shore of Lake Quinault.
Depart from the hub of Seattle or Portland and make your way to Lake Quinault. Depending on your arrival time (the drive is about three hours from Seattle and three and a half from Portland), enjoy a cup of coffee or a lovely lunch with your lake view at the Lake Quinault Lodge. As you soak in the atmosphere, think of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt who enjoyed a meal here shortly before creating Olympic National Park.
From the shores of the lake, head north on Highway 101 at a leisurely pace. Make a stop at Ruby Beach after about 45 minutes for a little birding and beach combing. Keep a sharp eye out for nesting common murres and tufted puffins on the rocky outposts.
Continue north and then inland to the Upper Hoh Road for about 45 minutes, which will take you to the Hoh Rain Forest, one of few remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the U.S. Hike the Hall of Mosses Trail or the Spruce Nature Trail to really appreciate the enchanted forest. Fun fact: The rainforest will have received about 140 inches (3.55 meters) of rain over the winter and will be incredibly lush for your spring stroll.
Moss drapes from big leaf maples in the Hoh Rain Forest’s magical Hall of Mosses Trail.
From here, make your way back to the iconic Highway 101 and north to the town of Forks. Forks is a friendly small town, steeped in American pioneer history, and is the gateway to the west side of the Olympic National Park.
If you’re driving a camper van or motorhome, you will find several RV parks and campgrounds in the area. There are also hotels and inns with great character to consider. After a full day of driving and seeing the breathtaking nature of the ocean, the rainforest and the beautiful scenic drive, enjoy an evening campfire or a beer with locals at a nearby pub.
Giant driftwood logs gather at the tree line of Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park.
Rise bright and early and head west about 20 minutes to visit either the town of La Push and First Beach or Rialto Beach in the national park. Embrace the morning on a leisurely beach stroll at Rialto Beach. While visiting this community, remember to be respectful of Indigenous cultures while you learn about the culture of the Quileute Tribe of La Push.
From here, one of the most magnificent waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula awaits a mere hour away! Traveling east on Highway 101, you’ll take a brief detour to Sol Duc Falls. This waterfall is best visited in the spring, when the snowmelt rushes down and creates a roaring display. The hike to the falls is 1.6 miles (2.6 km) long roundtrip. Another perk of a spring visit: Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort opens in late March, giving you access to hot mineral spring pools to relax and warm you up after your hike.
Soon, the cooler waters of Lake Crescent will call. Enjoy lunch at Lake Crescent Lodge, which opens in April, then embark on another waterfall hike to Marymere Falls. If you’ve had your fill of waterfalls, on the other side of Lake Crescent you’ll find the historic Spruce Railroad Trail, an easy, paved trail that meanders along the shore of Lake Crescent and is accessible to hikers, bicyclists, and people traveling in wheelchairs.
The newly upgraded Spruce Railroad Trail along the north shore of Lake Crescent offers four miles of pavement for wheels and walking.
Your final drive of the day will be a short 30 minutes to Port Angeles, the largest town on the Olympic Peninsula and gateway to Victoria, B.C. in Canada via the MV Coho Ferry. Spend the afternoon on a rented bike cruising along the Olympic Discovery Trail.
Motorhome drivers may want to set up camp at Heart O’ the Hills campground in old-growth forest, located 12 miles north of Hurricane Ridge and five miles south of Port Angeles. If you aren’t traveling with your own small home, you’ll find a variety of lodging and dining options in and around the community of Port Angeles.
Hurricane Ridge Road winds up through the mountains to an elevation of 5,242 feet at the visitor center.
On the morning of day three on the Olympic Peninsula, we recommend choosing one of three expeditions, depending on weather and your activity preference: kayaking, exploring Hurricane Ridge, or strolling and whale watching.
Hurricane Ridge offers all kinds of hiking trails, and the panoramic views of the Olympic Mountain Range and the Strait of Juan de Fuca can’t be beat. Swing by the visitor center, then go for a hike to admire the wildflowers in the subalpine meadows. Remember not to pick them and to watch for deer who will also be appreciating the spring vegetation!
A buck grazes in the flowering alpine meadows in late spring and early summer.
If you prefer, sleep in and explore town, then join a midday whale-watching cruise. Puget Sound Express will take you on a half-day tour to spot humpback and orca whales from their comfortable, fully outfitted boats.
Or rise early for a morning kayak tour complete with bird and other wildlife watching, beach combing, and exploring cliffs and caves along the shore.
After an epic morning of your choosing, depart for Port Ludlow, stopping en route in Sequim to check out the unique landmark and wildlife of Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge. This thin (and growing!) stretch of land is home to 250 species of birds, 49 species of land mammals, many marine mammals, and offers a relaxing beach walk along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Wind down from your day (only a couple of hours of which was spent on the road) with a stop at Finnriver Farm and Cidery before checking in at the Resort at Port Ludlow or Chevy Chase Cabins in Port Townsend.
A view of the Olympic Mountains from the 5.5-mile Dungeness Spit.
Rise and explore in Port Townsend. The Victorian seaport and arts community shouldn’t be rushed. Olympic Peninsula has so much more to offer, so maybe from here your vehicle will take you to Whidbey and Camano Islands or on the scenic route back to Seattle or Portland. Or maybe, you’ll find yourself planning another quiet shoulder season visit, this time in the fall.