Olympic Peninsula Loop
The Olympic Mountains to the Rainforests and Pacific Ocean Beaches
|Mileage||329 miles (530 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||8 hours|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||US Highways 101 and 12, and Washington Highway 8|
|Forest PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.||Pacific Northwest Forest Pass, and America the Beautiful Annual Pass|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Olympia, WA▼, Shelton, WA▼, Port Angeles, WA▼, Forks, WA▼, Aberdeen, WA▼, Quinault, WA▼, and Joyce, WA▼|
3.9 average from 68 votes
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The rich, lush land surrounding the Olympic Peninsula represents some of the least populated and most natural areas in the United States, virtually unmapped until 1965. This drive starts out near the Hood Canal, brings you to the Olympic Mountains and the Olympic National Forests, and finally to the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Rainforest.
Depending on where you are and what your interests are, you can really customize the trip anyway you like. We describe the drive as a loop starting and ending in Olympia in a counter-clockwise direction, but this is one of those drives that the fun is to stop and really enjoy your surroundings.
Our drive starts in Olympia, accessible from Exit 104 off I-5. After six miles on the US-101, the US-101 turns left and heads north towards Shelton. Continuing on the US-101, you leave that big city feel behind and you are soon surrounded by trees and scents of salt water. The drive continues through forest and farmland, and the remarkable part of this drive is how green everything is in every direction.
In Potlatch, the US-101 catches up to the Hood Canal on the right and follow it for the next portion of the drive. Hood Canal is well known for its oysters and they are a specialty in the many local restaurants. The Potlatch State Park (W6) offers some beach access to the canal and is a great place to pick oysters and dig clams, although a license is required.
As you approach Hoodsport in two miles, consider turning onto WA-119 and head into Lake Cushman State Park (H11) or straight into the Olympic National Park, for attractions such as for the nearby Staircase Rapids Nature Trail.
Continuing North on US-101 for another 24 miles, the Dosewallips State Park (H12) provides access to fresh water and salt water beaches, ideal for clamming and oystering.
A few miles north from Dosewallips State Park, consider turning onto the gravel Forest Road 2730 up to the summit of Mount Walker (H4), which provides a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountain Range, and more, depending on how clear it is. There are also some hiking opportunities, including a two mile hike to the summit that is accessible about a quarter mile after Forest Road 2730. The Quilcene Ranger Station (I4) is a great place to get some information about the area.
After Quilcene, the US-101 will pass the WA-104. The WA-104 will bring you to the Hood Canal Bridge. Shortly after that, the US-101 will pass the WA-20. The WA-20 will bring you to Port Townsend, one of the top 8 cities in the United States, according to MSN City Guides. The pedestrian-friendly downtown core of Port Townsend features galleries, boutiques, restaurants, wineries, live music and also has the second largest collection of Victorian homes in the United States (San Francisco has the most). In Port Townsend, there is a ferry that will bring you to Whidbey Island.
In 29 miles you will reach Sequim, a quaint town that receives about half the rain of anywhere in the Puget Sound area. From Sequim, a short side trip on Sequim-Dungeness Way will bring you to the Dungeness Spit (H3). The Dungeness Spit is home of the longest natural sand spit in the United States, currently five and half miles, it juts out into the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The calm waters and tideflats are rich in marine life and migrating birds. A 10-mile round trip hike to the lighthouse offers a glimpse into the history of the area and affords incredible views.
Port Angeles is fifteen miles from Sequim, and to the south of Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge (H1). It is well worth a drive up Hurricane Ridge Road for a great view of the Olympic National Park and the Olympic Mountain Range from 5,329 feet high, and often a chance to see some wildlife. To reach it, turn onto Race Street S. The Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles (I1) is nearby as well as a visitor center at the top of the ridge.
Although Lake Crescent is a must see and the entrance to the Olympic National Park is spectacular, if this is not your first trip to this area, just after Port Angeles, consider taking WA-112 and following the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you have the time, you can drive all the way to Cape Flattery, the northwest-most part of the continental United States. Otherwise, head south on WA-113 and you will rejoin US-101.
Continuing westward on US-101, Lake Crescent (W1) will be just on the right. There are several turnouts for enjoying views, and just towards the end of the lake, you can stop for a swim. A mile long trail starting from here will bring you through the forest to the 90-foot-high Marymere Falls (H10).
After Lake Crescent, you will re-enter the Olympic National Forest and travel through a dense forest. Forks is the next town and a good place to stop for fuel or other services as options are limited for the next hour or so of driving. The Forks Timber Museum (M2) displays logging photos and antique logging equipment. Just moments after the town, the Wilderness Information Center in Forks (I3) is a great place for information regarding the area trails and the beaches further down the US-101. The city of Forks is also the primary setting for the popular Twilight book series and there are many activities and tours related to it.
About a mile before Forks, consider turning onto WA-110 (La Push Road) and at the fork, either turn on Mora Road (Northern WA-110) for Rialto Beach (W7) or stay on La Push Road (Southern WA-110) for La Push, where First Beach (W8) is popular for whale watching and surfing.
About 14 miles from Forks, Upper Hoh Road is on the east side and will lead to the Hoh Ranger Station (I5) and the Hoh Rainforest (H2). Among other trails from the ranger station, the Hall of Mosses Trail is an easy three-quarter of a mile loop that gives you a taste of the rainforest. Since it rains between 140 and 170 inches of rain per year, be prepared for rain.
Back on US-101, you will cross the Hoh River and start traveling westward. As the US-101 reaches the Pacific shore, the road will head south again and Ruby Beach (W2) is the first beach you will see. The beach is rocky, has several sea stack, shore birds, sea stars, sea urchins, mussels, and hermit crabs. You will note that the Pacific coastline is very natural; please do your part of keeping it natural by carrying everything out that you bring in.
About 9 miles further, you will reach the popular Kalaloch Beach (W5). A short walk from the parking lot will bring you to the Pacific Ocean shore.
The town of Quinault is accessible via the South Shore Road on the left. The Wilderness Information Center in Quinault (I2) is where you can get information about the local trails, such as the Quinault Rainforest Trail (H9) and trails within the Quinault Rainforest (H5). You can see the 140 inches of rain per year at work with all the lush, green forest surrounding you, and helping the Quinault Rainforest have the world’s largest trees outside of California.
Just after Quinault, consider taking the Moclips Highway to Moclips and continuing on the reversed Hoquiam to North Beach drive.
The next town is Hoquiam, and if you are already missing those Pacific beaches and regret not taking the Moclips Highway, turn onto WA-109 towards Ocean Shores.
During the spring, stop at Bowerman Basin, part of Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge (A1) to see thousands of birds stopping to feed at Bowerman Basin, including western sandpiper, dunlin, short billed and long billed dowitchers, and the semi-palmated plover. Be sure to bring your waterproof boots though and don’t forget the binoculars.
In Aberdeen, you can visit the Polson Museum (M3), a mansion owned by Arnold Polson that now hosts exhibits on logging and shipping. The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport (A4) is also a great stop where you can see Lady Washington, the first American vessel to set foot in this region.
From Aberdeen, follow the signs for US-12 and continue heading east. This will become WA-8 and then US-101, and you will end up in Olympia, where our drive ends.
For more information about visiting the Olympic National Forest, visit www.nps.gov/olym/.