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The Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast Travel Guide

  • Photo: cdrin / Shutterstock

Plan Your Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast Vacation

Wilderness envelops most of the Olympic Peninsula, an unrefined and enchanting place that promises craggy, snowcapped peaks, pristine evergreen forests, and driftwood-covered coastlines. This is a wonderland where the scent of saltwater and pine hang in the air and the horizon sometimes seems to make the entire world appear to be shades of blue and green. Historic lighthouses, seaports, and

tidal pools trim its shores and a majestic mountain range rises up from its heart.

The Olympic Mountains form the core of the peninsula, skirted by saltwater on three sides. The area’s highest point, Mt. Olympus, stands nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. It’s safeguarded in the 922,000-acre Olympic National Park, along with much of the extraordinary interior landscape. Several thousand acres more are protected in the Olympic National Forest. The peninsula also encompasses seven Native American reservations, five wilderness areas, five national wildlife refuges, the world’s largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk, and some of the wettest and driest areas in the coastal Pacific Northwest. The mountains catch penetrating Pacific storms, bringing an average annual rainfall of about 140 inches to the lush western river valleys and rain forests. The drier northeastern slopes of the peninsula’s rain shadow see about 16 inches of precipitation per year, creating an ideal climate for the lavender that's grown commercially here.

Most residents live on the edges of the peninsula, anchored at its southwestern corner by Grays Harbor, named for Captain Robert Gray. He became the first European-American to enter the harbor in 1792. From there, the coast extends north along the Washington Coast to Cape Flattery and Neah Bay on the Makah Indian Reservation, then stretches to the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, on the tip of the Quimper Peninsula, a narrow, crooked elbow of land at the northeastern end of the larger land mass. Rugged terrain and few roads limit interior accessibility to backpackers and climbers. But the 330-mile outer loop of U.S. 101 offers breathtaking forest, ocean, and mountain vistas as well as rest stops at a variety of colorful outposts along the way.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Soak up the scene in Port Townsend Washington’s Victorian seaport is home to artists, boat lovers, foodies, and one of the state’s best loved parks, Fort Worden.
  2. Go fly a kite The weeklong Washington State International Kite Festival draws kite fliers from around the world, who also pay a visit to the World Kite Museum.
  3. Inhale the aroma of lavender Pick your own in the fields surrounding Sequim, which grow an abundance of this fragrant herb.
  4. Meet the Makah Exhibits at the impressive Makah Cultural Center complex display authentic scenes of early life in the Northwest.
  5. Enjoy the great outdoors at Hurricane Ridge Drive to the top of this spectacular ridge for splendid summer hikes and winter snow sports.

When To Go

When to Go

Visitors trek to the Olympic Peninsula year-round, but summer is prime touring time for this outdoors-lovers’ paradise. June through September...

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