53 Best Sights in The Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park

Fodor's choice
Cape Disappointment State Park
Frank L Junior / Shutterstock

The cape and its treacherous neighboring sandbar—named in 1788 by Captain John Meares, an English fur trader who had been unable to find the Northwest Passage—has been the scourge of sailors since the 1800s, hence its reputation as the graveyard of the Pacific. More than 250 ships have sunk after running aground here. Now a 2,023-acre state park within the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (which also has sections across the Columbia River in Oregon), this dramatic cape with sheer sea cliffs and conifer forest was an active military installation until 1957. Eight miles of trails lead to beaches, and opportunities to spy eagles, whales, sea lions, seat otters, and other wildlife abound. There are three lightkeepers' residences, dozens of campsites, several yurts, and three cabins available for rent. Exhibits at the park's free Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which sits atop a 200-foot cliff with magnificent views, trace the cape's human and natural history. A larger exhibit ($5 charge for this) in the center describes the duo's 8,000-mile round-trip expedition. Displays chronicle the Corps of Discovery, which arrived at Cape Disappointment in 1805. A ½-mile-long path from the center leads to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Built in 1856, it's the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast that's still in use, and one of two lighthouses in the park, the other being North Head.

Cape Flattery

Fodor's choice

Part of the joy of visiting this windswept rocky outcropping that marks the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States is making the picturesque 15-minute drive along winding Cape Loop Drive from Neah Bay. Once you've parked, follow the fairly easy ¾-mile trail, part of it along boardwalks and up and down wooden stairs, through a pristine evergreen forest to a wooden observation platform. From the platform, you can see the 1854 Cape Flattery Lighthouse standing tall on a rocky island half a mile away. Keep an eye out for sea lions, eagles, migratory birds, and whales, which often appear in the rocky cove below. To park on this land that's part of the Makah Reservation, you'll need to buy a Makah Recreation Pass (good for one year and with access to nearby Shi Shi Beach).

Dungeness River Nature Center

Fodor's choice

Anchoring 25-acre Railroad Bridge Park, a beautifully serene Audubon Society preserve bisected by the Dungeness River, this stunning nature center reopened in 2022 following a dramatic expansion and redesign that features informative natural history exhibits as well as a bookstore, a coffee bar, and a pavilion and rain garden. The center is adjacent to a lacy, 730-foot-long ironwork bridge that was once part of the coastal rail line between Port Angeles and Port Townsend and is now a popular multiuse path for hiking and biking. On warm days, the grounds are lovely for picnicking, and you can watch live performances in the amphitheater. There are free guided bird walks and other nature programs year-round.

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Dungeness Spit

Fodor's choice
Dungeness Spit
Eugene Kalenkovich / Shutterstock

Curving nearly 6 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the longest natural sand spit in the United States is a wild, beautiful section of shoreline. More than 30,000 migratory waterfowl stop here each spring and fall, but you'll see plenty of birdlife year-round. The entire spit is part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. You can access it from the trail that begins in the 216-acre Dungeness Recreation Area, which serves as a portal to the shoreline. At the end of the spit is the towering white 1857 New Dungeness Lighthouse ( www.newdungenesslighthouse.com). Tours, including a 74-step climb to the top, are available, though access is limited to those who can hike 5½ miles or paddle about 3½ miles out to the end of the spit—the closest launch is from Cline Spit County Park, and boaters are required to call the refuge office before landing. You can also enroll to serve a one-week stint as a lighthouse keeper. If you'd prefer not to make the long trek to the lighthouse, an endeavor you should only attempt at low tide to avoid having to climb over massive driftwood logs, you can still take in beautiful scenery and spot myriad wildlife by hiking a mile or so out along the spit and back.

Fort Worden State Park

Fodor's choice

With restored Victorian officers' houses and bunkers from before World War I, this fascinating 432-acre park served as the filming location for the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman. Built on Point Wilson in 1896 to guard the mouth of Puget Sound, the old fort provides myriad outdoor and cultural activities for kids and adults. A sandy beach leads to the graceful 1913 Point Wilson Lighthouse. Memory's Vault, a series of pillars hidden in the hill above the inlet, features inscriptions of works from local poet Sam Hamill. Touch tanks at Port Townsend Marine Science Center on the pier offer an up-close look at sea anemones and other underwater life. Kayak tours and rentals are also available. The fort hosts music festivals in an old military balloon-hangar-turned-performing-arts-pavilion and exhibits in an artillery museum. Many of the old buildings can now be booked as overnight accommodations, and there are a couple of excellent dining options in the park: Reveille at the Commons serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Taps at the Guardhouse is open in summer for drinks and light bites.

Hardware Distillery

Fodor's choice

This distillery decorated with old tools and other memorabilia from the building's previous life as a hardware store offers informative tastings and, by appointment, entertaining tours. For a small operation, Hardware has developed a big following for its fruit-and-honey Bee's Knees liqueurs (the fig variety is a standout) as well as spicy Cardamom Aquavit and herbal-accented Dutch genever–style small-batch gin. A couple of doors down, the beer garden at Potlach Brewing is a nice place to sample locales ales, including some aged in Hardware Distillery whiskey barrels.

Lake Cushman

Fodor's choice

An 8-mile forest drive from Hoodsport along Highway 119 leads to this 4,000-acre glacial reservoir that hugs the less-visited southeastern border of Olympic National Park. The lake is a gem that's popular with hikers and campers but is also wonderful for canoeing and kayaking (there are a couple of rental outfitters along the shore) as well as fishing for salmon and trout. Relax on the beach or cool off with a dip at Skokomish Park on a summer day, or make your way to nearby Mt. Ellinor Trailhead, where there are both moderate and quite strenuous hikes into the mountains that rise above this glorious lake.

Long Beach

Fodor's choice

The Long Beach Peninsula consists of 28 continuous miles of broad sandy beach, which fills with kite flyers, sand-castle builders, sunbathers, bicyclists, horseback riders, and drivers during summer months. Watch out for horses, cars, and other motor vehicles as you drive on the sand—some sections are open for driving year-round, while other parts don't allow it in summer. The beach has seven official access points, and bonfires are allowed. Bring a windbreaker—strong gusts are common near the water, which remains consistently frigid throughout the year. Amenities: parking (free), toilets. Best for: solitude; sunrise; sunset; walking.

Makah Cultural and Research Center

Fodor's choice

Thousands of Makah artworks and artifacts, some dating back to the 16th century, fill a dramatically lighted space that's the perfect backdrop for the intriguing exhibits. The centerpiece is a full-size cedar longhouse, complete with handwoven baskets, fur skins, cattail wool, and grass mats on the bed planks, with tribal music playing in the background. Another section showcases full-size whaling and seal-hunting canoes and weapons. Other areas show games, clothing, crafts, and relics from the ancient Ozette Village mudslide. The small but particularly good museum shop stocks a collection of locally made art crafts.

Northwest Maritime Center

Fodor's choice

You can learn all about this Victorian-era seaport, one of only three such places on the register of National Historic Sites, at this striking contemporary building on the waterfront; it's the center of operations for the Wooden Boat Foundation, which stages the annual Wooden Boat Festival each September. The center has interactive exhibits, hands-on sailing instruction, boatbuilding workshops, a wood shop, and a pilot house where you can test navigational tools. Engaging history and wildlife cruises ($22) of Port Townsend Bay are given on summer Saturdays on the Admiral Jack catamaran. You can launch a kayak or watch sloops and schooners gliding along the bay from the boardwalk, pier, and beach that front the buildings. There's also an excellent gift shop, The Chandlery, and a cheerful coffee bar, Velocity.

Shi Shi Beach

Fodor's choice

Although it takes some effort to get to, and it can get quite crowded during the peak summer months, this spectacular crescent of beach strewn with massive boulders and otherworldly rock formations is well worth the trek, so allow yourself a full day to experience it. The trailhead and northern section of the beach are on the Makah Reservation, and the hike in is via a scenic 2-mile rainforest trail. Once you're at the beach, it's another 2½-mile trek along the sand to reach Shi Shi's most alluring feature, the Point of Arches—a mile-long wonderland of dramatic sea stacks that look especially cool against the backdrop of the crashing surf and setting sun. The lower end of the beach and Point of Arches are within Olympic National Park. A Makah Recreation Pass (good for one year) is required for parking. To camp on the beach, you need a permit, and reservations must be obtained from the national park's Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles ( 360/565–3100  www.nps.gov/olym). Amenities: parking (fee). Best for: sunset, walking.

Westport Light State Park

Fodor's choice

The centerpiece of this 560-acre beach park is a paved promenade, sometimes called the Dunes Trail, that winds along the sandy beach north from the dunes near Grays Harbor Lighthouse, before exiting the park and curving along Half Moon Bay to the Westport Viewing Tower at the end of Westhaven Drive. The trail runs 2½ miles total, about half of it through the park, which is popular for beachcombing, bird-watching, and clamming but is too rough and cold for swimming. Several picnic tables overlook the sea along the trail. There's parking near downtown at the end of Jetty Haul Road and at the park's main entrance, at the end of West Ocean Avenue. Amenities: parking (fee); toilets. Best for: sunrise; sunset; walking

Westport Maritime Museum

Fodor's choice

Check out the 17-foot-tall Destruction Island Lens, a lighthouse beacon that was built in 1888 and weighs almost 6 tons, at this engaging maritime museum set inside a former Coast Guard station. Operated by the Westport South Beach Historical Society (WSBHS), it is filled with historic photos, equipment, clothing, and other relics from the life-saving service and artifacts related the area's local fishing, logging, and cranberry farming industries. WSBHS also operates the octagonal 1898 Grays Harbor Lighthouse, which at 107 feet is the tallest on the Washington coast. It's 2 miles south of the museum and adjacent to Westport Light State Park.

2201 Westhaven Dr., Westport, 98595, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $5 each for museum and climbing the lighthouse, Museum closed Tues. and Wed. Lighthouse closed Mon.–Wed. from Aug.–Feb.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Fodor's choice

Headquartered about 3 miles east of downtown Long Beach via a bumpy and windy road, this 17,000-acre refuge comprises four main units: the largest is Long Island, an estuarine island with old-growth forest that's reached by kayak or canoe, most easily from the boat ramp across from the smaller East Hills unit, off U.S. 101 about 11 miles north of Ilwaco. The South Bay unit, where the headquarters and a small visitor center are located, consists of wetlands and marshes inhabited by bear, elk, bobcats, and all sorts of birds. Three trails (½ to 2½ miles) traverse it. The Leadbetter Point Unit, which adjoins Leadbetter State Park at the north end of the peninsula, 3 miles beyond Oysterville, is great for bird-watching. Black brants, sandpipers, turnstones, yellowlegs, sanderlings, and knots are among the more than 200 species here. The dune area at the end of the point is closed from March to September to protect the nesting snowy plover. From the parking lot, the ½-mile  paved, wheelchair-accessible Beach Trail leads to the ocean, and a 2½-mile loop trail winds through the dunes along the ocean and Willapa Bay. Several trails along the loop lead to isolated patches of coastline. These trails flood from late fall through early spring, so call the headquarters for guidance at this time.

Aberdeen Museum of History

The small museum has canoes from local tribes, as well as photographs that document Aberdeen's logging and shipping industries and exhibits portraying an old blacksmith shop and general store.

111 E. 3rd St., Aberdeen, 98520, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $2 for individuals, $5 for families, June–Labor Day, Wed.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. noon–4; day after Labor Day–May, weekends noon–4

Chetzemoka Park

A lovely gazebo sits in the center of this gem of a city park, perched atop a bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet. The six well-maintained acres are perfect for picnicking and encompass a pond, a footbridge, a playground, and a whimsical, trellis-covered pathway that teems with blooms in spring. The Port Townsend Summer Band performs concerts here (and at nearby Fort Worden). Access the sliver of beach below via a short footpath.

Clallam Bay Spit

The former site of a Native American fishing village, where eagles and osprey can be found feeding on the sand, attracts beachcombers, fishers, and divers. The Pillar Point Fishing Camp to the east has campsites and a boat ramp. Dress warmly: Pysht Bay takes its name from a S'Klallam term meaning "where the wind blows from all directions." Amenities: toilets. Best for: walking; solitude; sunset.

Coastal Interpretive Center

A great rainy-day educational spot for families, this small natural history museum near the mouth of Grays Harbor and Oyhut Bay Seaside Village highlights the seaside environment, local history, and Native American traditions. Displays include tsunami debris, artifacts from the founding of the city, and Native American basketry. Whale bones and a vast shell collection let you examine, and in many cases touch, the shoreline wildlife up close.

Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum

Dioramas of Long Beach towns illustrate the history of southwestern Washington, and other displays cover Native Americans; the influx of traders, missionaries, and pioneers; and the contemporary workers of the fishing, agriculture, and forest industries. The original Ilwaco Freight Depot and a Pullman car from the Clamshell Railroad highlight rail history. Also on display is a 26-foot surf boat used by the Klipsan Beach Lifesaving Service Station.

Cranberry Museum

Learn about the cranberry cultivation that's taken place since the early 1900s in coastal Washington by taking a self-guided walking tour through the museum's bogs (open daily), and then check out the museum with its historical photos and advertisements and antique harvesting and processing equipment. Enjoy a dish of cranberry ice cream and pick up some cranberry products to take home.

Discovery Trail

Discovery Trail
Eugene Kalenkovich / Shutterstock

Created to memorialize Lewis and Clark's explorations here in 1805–06, the 8½-mile Discovery Trail, which is paved or runs over boardwalk and is accessible to bikes and pedestrians, traces the explorers' steps from Ilwaco to north Long Beach. Along the way it passes plenty of sandy dunes and beaches. People can access the trail from the beach parking lots on Sid Snyder Drive or Bolstad Street in Long Beach. Parking is also available at the Beard's Hollow lot in Cape Disappointment State Park.

Ediz Hook

At the western end of Port Angeles, this 3½-mile-long natural sand spit protects the harbor from big waves and storms. The Hook is a fine place to take a walk along the water and watch shore- and seabirds, and to spot the occasional seal, orca, or gray whale. It's also a popular dive spot.

Feiro Marine Life Center

Beside a small beach, this modest but nicely designed sea-life center has a perfect location right along the Port Angeles waterfront near the ferry terminal. Murals of historic Port Angeles scenes decorate the outside; inside are plenty of touch tanks where kids can say hello to sea creatures.

Fire Bell Tower

Set high along the bay-side bluffs, the tower is recognizable by its pyramid shape and red paint job. Built in 1890 to hold a 1,500-pound brass alarm bell, the 75-foot wooden structure was once the key alert center for local volunteer firemen. A century later it's considered one of the state's most valuable historic structures. Reach the tower by climbing the steep set of stairs behind Haller Fountain at the end of Taylor Street. The tenth-of-an-acre plot also holds a park bench and five parking spots.

Forks Timber Museum

The town's history and the logging industry that helped put Forks on the map in the early 20th century, earning it the prestigious nickname of "Logging Capital of the World" by the 1970s, are explored in this extensive indoor-outdoor museum. A pair of life-size figurines working a massive crosscut saw through an even more massive log marks the entrance, and artifacts include antique logging vehicles, chain saws and other equipment, historical dioramas, displays of furnished pioneer cabins, and samples of trees commonly harvested in the area's forests, including Western hemlocks, Douglas firs, and Sitka spruces. Today, the timber industry has declined, and tourism and other businesses, including nearby correctional facilities, have provided jobs. 

Fort Columbia Historical State Park

This 618-acre park, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, blends so well into a rocky knob overlooking the river that it's all but invisible from land or water (U.S. 101 passes underneath, via a tunnel). The turn-of-the-20th-century military buildings offer great views of the river's mouth. In spring the slopes are fragrant with wildflowers, and there are 2 miles of hiking trails to explore the grounds. The interpretive center has displays on barracks life and Chinook Indian culture. Two historic buildings on the property are available for overnight rentals.

Fort Flagler Historical State Park

Take in sweeping views of Whidbey Island's magnificent bluffs and Port Townsend's Victorian skyline from what is now a 1,451-acre marine park perched at the northern tip of Marrowstone Island. This fort, along with Fort Worden in Port Townsend and Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, was constructed in 1897 as part of an "Iron Triangle" of defense for Puget Sound. Surrounded by Puget Sound on three sides, the site served as a military training center through the world wars, and still has old gun emplacements overlooking its rocky, log- and driftwood-strewn beaches. Features include a large campground, a military museum, 3½ miles of coastline, and 5 miles of hiking and biking trails; tours of the historic facilities are offered in summer. Island inlets are great for paddling around; you can book a tour or rent equipment through Olympic Kayak Tours ( 360/453–7135  www.olympickayaktours.com).

Grays Harbor County Courthouse

The enormous, sandstone courthouse seems exceptionally grand for such a small town, but it was entirely appropriate at the time it was built, between 1909 and 1912, when Montesano was a prosperous railroad boomtown. Its clock tower soars above the classical, pillared entrance. The lobby has a marble staircase flanked by murals depicting Robert Gray in 1792, discovering the harbor that bears his name, and Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens negotiating with Native Americans at Cosmopolis in 1855. The murals inaccurately depict native people wearing feather headdresses and standing in front of tepees (neither was used by the local Chehalis). Information packets for self-guided tours around town are available in the room to the right of the Commissioner's Office.

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge

In fall and spring, this refuge, established in 1990, is a perfect place to observe the multitude of migrating shorebirds that visit the area. Keep your binoculars handy as you stroll along the 1,800-foot-long boardwalk, and make sure to stop at the visitor center's shop and bookstore.

Griffiths-Priday State Park

You can hit the trails on foot or atop a horse in this 533-acre estuarial park stretching more than a mile along both the Pacific Ocean and the Copalis River. A boardwalk crosses low dunes to the broad, flat beach. The Copalis Spit section of the park is a designated wildlife refuge for thousands of snowy plovers and other birdlife. Favorite activities include picnicking, bird-watching, mountain biking, fishing, clamming, kite flying, and beachcombing.