This article originally appeared in PCH1 Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway and Travel Guide and has been republished with permission.
Planning an Olympic National Park road trip or a drive from Port Angeles to Forks along Highway 101? Find the best things to do, cities to visit, and the ultimate Olympic peninsula Itinerary in our Olympic Peninsula road trip planner. You might also like our post on Best Places to Visit in Washington State.
The Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive in Washington is one of the most scenic drives along the West Coast. The drive through dense evergreen forests that are as tall as California’s redwoods and along wild coastal bluffs is very romantic and at 330 miles, deceptively small. While the drive seems doable in a day or two, you need a minimum of 3 to 5 days to explore everything that the Olympic Peninsula has to offer.
The Olympic Peninsula is located across Puget Sound from Seattle and remained unexplored almost till the 20th century. Even now while Highway 101 loops around the peninsula, there are no roads in the interior. This large region of old-growth forests and snow-capped Olympic mountain ranges are protected from development by the Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park is one of the three national parks surrounding Seattle and is popular for its temperate rainforests, hot springs, the rocky volcanic coastline, and abundant wildlife. The peaks of the Olympic Mountain ranges are visible from the top of the Space Needle and making the drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park is almost an obligation.
For a long time, Mount Rainier was the most popular national park in Washington but then the spotlight shifted to the Olympic Mountains. Visitors were delighted to discover this hidden gem and today the national park is a primary reason to visit the Olympic Peninsula. Olympic National Park is a unique and incredibly diverse environment. Nowhere else will you find a combination of beautiful beaches, snow-covered mountain peaks, and moss-covered Sitka spruce and hemlock forests in the same park.
However, there is much more to do on the Olympic Peninsula beyond the national park. Visitors can explore the coastal seaport cities of Port Angeles, Port Townsend, and Fork. They can explore fascinating formations along the coast and find secluded beaches. They can see historic lighthouses and the beautiful Washington State Capitol at Olympia. Here is our epic road trip guide to this part of the Pacific Northwest.
Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Planner
In this planner, we have mentioned the essential stops along the road along with things to do at each stop. You can complete the trip in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
To begin this road trip, drive from Seattle to Olympia and then take Highway 101 either towards Aberdeen in the west or to Port Angeles in the north. In this post, we consider the loop trip in a clockwise direction starting with Aberdeen.
Stop #1: Seattle
Seattle is the best place to begin your Olympic Peninsula road trip itinerary for multiple reasons. For visitors coming out of Washington, Seattle is the easiest city to fly into. Besides, you can’t really visit Washington without experiencing Seattle’s urban attractions. We suggest spending a day or two in Seattle before renting a car for your road trip around the Olympic Peninsula.
Start your visit to the city at the famous Seattle Center. It has the top-visited tourist attractions in Seattle including the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Museum of Pop Culture. Take the elevator to the top of the space needle to see panoramic views of the Seattle skyline, Puget Sound, and the Cascade and Olympic mountains. Then see the beautiful blown glass artwork by Dale Chihuly at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Visit the museum of pop culture to know pop trivia, see movie props, costumes, and more.
Other must-visit attractions in Seattle include the Pike Place Market – where the first Starbucks opened, the Chinatown International District, and Pioneer Square – where Seattle was first founded. To read more about everything that Seattle has to offer, read our post on the Best Things to do in Seattle.
Stop #2: Tacoma
From Seattle, head your way down to Tacoma Tacoma is also famous for its cultural attractions including museums and historic places. See the Museum of Glass and take a walk across the famous Bridge of Glass that connects the museum to downtown Tacoma. The spirit also has artwork by Dale Chihuly.
Another great place to visit is the Washington State History Museum where you can see Native American artwork, a model railroad, and Lewis and Clark expedition. Tacoma is also famous for its parks and gardens. The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is a great place to visit for families. If you love American cars, then you should definitely visit the LeMay Car Museum. Then drive down to the state capital of Olympia.
Stop #3: Olympia
Olympia, located on the Puget Sound, is the capital of Washington. If you love to check out state capitols on road trips just like us, then you should definitely visit the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. The building is located on a beautiful campus beside the Capitol Lake. The grounds are beautiful year-round and are a popular location for photoshoots in Olympia. The historic building has beautiful architecture and is built from marble from five counties. The Tiffany chandeliers inside the building are beautiful.
Besides the capital building, Olympia also has many other attractions and is worth spending a day. Take a stroll along the waterfront Percival Landing Park. Here you will find beautiful sculptures and get to watch the boats on the water. Go hiking at the brewery park at Tumwater Falls. Families love to visit the Hands-on Children’s Museum which has a great variety of themed activities and science galleries.
Stop #4: Aberdeen
From Olympia, drive west towards Aberdeen on Highway 101. Its small-town charm makes Aberdeen amazing to visit. The city is often called the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula. But the city’s claim to fame and history is through music.
If you love pop trivia and rock bands, then you’re going to fall in love with Aberdeen. The city is called the birthplace of the Grunge genre of rock music. Nirvana band members Kurt Cobain and Kurt Novoselic were from Aberdeen. In fact, you can see Kurt Cobain’s home, visit the Kurt Cobain Under the Bridge Memorial Park, Young Street Bridge which has Nirvana related graffiti and was mentioned in the song ‘Something in the Way’, and take the Kurt Cobain Walking Tour conducted by the Museum of History. The town’s official welcome sign also says ‘Come as you are’ as a tribute to the band members.
Other things to see in Aberdeen include seeing the Aberdeen Arts Center and the History Museum. You can also go hiking at the Morrison Riverfront Park or near Lake Aberdeen.
Then you can take the detour to Westport on the Pacific Coast. Westport is home to the tallest lighthouse in Washington state, the Grays Harbor Lighthouse. You can reach the lighthouse by hiking the two and a half-mile long Westport Light Trail (the Dunes trail). You can climb all the way to the top of the lighthouse for a nominal $5 entry fee to see amazing views along the Pacific Coast. The spiral staircase has 135 steps and is a great exercise.
Another great place to visit in the small coastal town is the Westport Maritime Museum. The museum is located in the historic Coast Guard Station and has amazing exhibits including whale skeletons. The Westport observation door has a panoramic 360-degree view of the area. Other activities in Westport include beachcombing, fishing, people watching at the marina, and taking whale-watching cruises.
Stop #5: Lake Quinault
Then drive back to Highway 101 and visit Lake Quinault. The lake is located to the south of Olympic National Park and is a great outdoor attraction. The area surrounding the lake is known for its rainforest and giant Sitka spruce and cedar trees. Some of the largest trees in the world are found here including the largest Sitka spruce, the largest western cedar, the largest mountain hemlock, and the largest Douglas fir.
The best way to experience the rainforest is on the loop drive. The 31 miles drive circles around the lake, passes by the Quinault River, and even enters the Olympic National Park. On the way you will see beautiful waterfalls and numerous trailheads. Some stretches of the road are unpaved and suitable only for 4WD vehicles.
Another must visit attraction is the historic Lake Quinault Lodge. Merriman falls on the loop drive is also worth the visit. Visitors often see the Roosevelt elks near Lake Quinault. The lake is popular for hiking, boating, camping, and other activities. The lake has a variety of fish including chinook salmon and a variety of trouts and fishing in the lake is quite popular.
Stop #6: Kalaloch Beach
Kalaloch Beach is a hidden gem along the Western Coast of Washington. Located in Olympic National Park, the best beach here can be accessed by hiking the Kalaloch Beach Trail 4. The beach has fascinating rock formations and is a great place to visit for beachcombers. You can find shell, driftwood, and more at the beach. At low tide, you can also spot several tide pool creatures including sea anemones, barnacles, and mussels. Nearby Kalaloch Lodge is a great place to stay for the night. From the beach you can also spot the decommissioned Destruction Island Lighthouse.
Stop #7: Ruby Beach
Ruby Beach, also part of Olympic National Park, is located along Highway 101 south of the small town of Forks. The rocky beach has beautiful sea stack formations and is very photogenic. To reach the beach visitors can hike a 1.4 miles long loop trail. The trail is kid friendly and good for families. On the beach you can find driftwood, shells, and colorful pebbles. If you visit at low tide, you can also find tide pools at Ruby Beach and spot sea anemones, crabs, barnacles, and starfish. The beach is especially breathtaking just before or after sunset and during winter when a thick fog blankets the area.
Stop #8: Forks
Forks is one of the best places in all of the Olympic Peninsula to experience the mystical beauty of this region. The town was settled around the wood logging industry and visitors can experience life during that time at the Forks Timber Museum. Another unique attraction is John’s Beachcombing Museum. This private collection of the items that washed up on the beaches of Washington is diverse and fascinating.
The rivers surrounding the city are full of salmon and steelhead trout and are a delight for those who love fishing. In recent times, Forks is most well known as the setting for the Twilight series. The city is as charming as it sounds in the series and a Twilight walking tour to see many locales mentioned in the books is a must for fans.
Stop #9: Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest is the place where legends are made. The moss covered trees in this rainforest grow dense and tall with some giants towering at 300 feet. The sunlight can barely penetrate through the canopy of the evergreen trees. The air in the rainforest is always humid, foggy, and misty. This unique set of climatic conditions have led to the Hoh Rainforest being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The area gets over 14 ft of rain a year and is one of the rainiest places in the country. Trees like the Sitka Spruce and the Western Hemlock grow abundantly in the rainforest. Must visit places inside the Hoh Rainforest include the Visitor Centre, Hall of Mosses Trail, and the Spruce Nature Trail. Inside the forest, visitors can see the Roosevelt Elk and the banana slugs that can grow upto 10 inches long.
Optional: La Push Beaches
After seeing the charming town of Forks and the Hoh Rainforest, you can directly visit the Sol Duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park or take a detour towards the 3 beaches of La Push. The beaches are named First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach.
First Beach is easily accessible, hence crowded, while Third Beach needs a 2.5 mile long hike through forests of sitka spruce, cedars, and hemlocks. Second Beach and Third Beach are both popular camping destinations because of fewer crowds. All the beaches are excellent for beachcombing for driftwood and spotting wildlife including sea otters, whales, eagles, deer, etc.
Also Read: Best Beaches to Camp in the USA
Optional: Rialto Beach
Rialto Beach is located near Forks and is known for its stunning rock formations. This is Rocky Beach also has drift logs, violent waves, and views of islands off the coast including Tatoosh Island and Mushroom Rock.The beach is a part of Olympic National Park and requires the National Park pass to visit the beach. It is located adjacent to the Mora campground. Hikers can go on the two mile one way trail to the Hole-in-the-Wall arch formation. The trail is also good to view tide pool creatures.
Optional: Cape Flattery
Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula is the Northwesternmost point of Mainland US. Cape Flattery is a beautiful, wild area where tall trees and rain forests grow directly on water’s edge on the sandstone cliffs. Even the sea stacks have vegetation at Cape Flattery. Cape Flattery is located on the Makah Reservation.
Visitors can hike a 0.7 mi one way trail from the parking lot to the end of the trail. Along the way, you will find several observation spots perched high on the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean will be at least 40 to 60 ft below you. The trail is family friendly and we highly recommend it. After all, how often can you say that you have visited the northwestern most point of the country?!
Optional: Neah Bay
Neah Bay is located directly across the US Canada border in the Olympic Peninsula on one side of Cape Flattery. It is the home of the Makah indigenous people and located on the Makah Indian Reservation. The coastline surrounding the Rialto Beach, Cape Flattery, Neah Bay, and Shi Shi Beach is one of the most remote and stunning coastlines in the world.
While Neah Bay has many outdoor activities like wildlife watching, tide pooling, fishing, hiking, and kayaking, it is also an excellent place to understand the Makah Indian culture and traditions. Neah Bay has a museum where you can see exhibits about the tribal ceremonies, excavated historical artifacts, and native artwork.
Optional: Shi Shi Beach
The remote Shi Shi Beach is also located on the Makah Reservation and is spectacular at sunset. To reach the beach, drive along the Cape Flattery road and park at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead. You will need to hike at least 2 to 2.5 miles through the forest to reach the beach.
The trail is not well maintained and frequently muddy but well worth the adventure. Once you reach the beach you will see amazing sea stacks right near the shore. The beach also has many tide pools which are fun for the kids. Visitors can camp anywhere on the beach and this is one of the best places for wilderness camping on the West Coast.
Stop #10: Sol Duc Hot Springs
Olympic National Park has several natural hot mineral pools located in the northern part and the easiest way to see one is to visit the Sol Duc Valley. Sol Duc literally means magic waters in the native Quileute language. The Olympic Hot Springs Trail is 10.4 miles one way and recommended only for backpackers or bikers. If you do not want to go on the strenuous hike to soak in the hot springs, then you can also stay at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort located within the National Park. The resort has three hot springs soaking pools and is perfect for a relaxing stay. Park visitors can also hike to the Sol Duc Falls.
Stop #11: Lake Crescent
The stunning blue 624 ft deep Lake Crescent is a highlight of Olympic National Park and a must visit on an Olympic peninsula road trip. The lake is located along route 101 and is easily accessible. The lake has very clear waters and is very photogenic.The lake has very clear waters and is very photogenic. Lake Crescent was carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age hundreds of thousands of years ago. Early in the 20th century, before the construction of highways, ferries and steamboats were used to transport people and goods on Lake Crescent. Now the lake is a premier tourist destination on the Olympic Peninsula.
There are several trails around Lake Crescent and that climb the mountains and go through forests. Some of the most popular ones are Marymere Falls hike, Spruce Railroad hike, and Pyramid Mountain hike. There are also many picnic areas located around the lakeshore and this is a great place to spend a day out in nature. Water activities on the lake include kayaking, sailing, and paddle boarding. Visitors can camp near Lake Crescent at the Fairholme Campground or stay at the Lake Crescent Lodge.
Stop #12: Port Angeles
Port Angeles is considered the gateway to Olympic National Park in Washington. Most attractions within the park including Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent are easily accessible from Port Angeles, making it a perfect place to base your stay on the northern Olympic peninsula. Port Angeles is also a great place to go on whale watching tours and excursions. For a unique international day trip, consider taking the ferry across the border to Victoria in British Columbia.
Even though it’s an outdoor destination, Port Angeles also has many museums. Art lovers should visit the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center which is located in a historic building. Families love to visit the Feiro Marine Life Center where kids can touch type pool creatures. The city also has many great restaurants, wineries, and boutique stores. The Olympic Game Farm is a great place to see bears, deers, and llamas on a drive through safari.
Stop #13: Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge is the gateway to the mountains in Olympic National Park. It can be easily reached via a 17-mile scenic road from Port Angeles. Located at an altitude of 5242 feet, Hurricane Ridge is accessible year round and is one of the most popular areas to visit inside the park. In some water it is popular for hiking and biking whereas in winter it is famous for snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and snowboarding. The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit and see exhibits about the Olympic mountains and their wildlife.
Stop #14: Dungeness Spit
Inside Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, you will find the Dungeness Spit, which is the longest natural sand spit in the country. The spit is 6.8 miles long and amazing to walk on at low tide. Visitors can walk 11 miles to the very end of this narrow strip of land and explore treasures such as seashells, pebbles, and driftwood. The hike will also take you to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, which is located on the spit.
But there are many other things to do inside the National Wildlife Refuge besides the Dungeness sand spit. The refuge cup prices of areas of the Dungeness Harbor and Bay as well as the Graveyard Spit. Visitors can hike through lush green forests, spot wildlife and marine life, as well as bird watch for shorebirds and seabirds. The refuge is also fascinating to visit for photographers and beach lovers.
Stop #15: Sequim
Sequim, located on the top of the Olympic Peninsula, is famous for its lavender fields. In fact, no other country has lavender farms that can rival those of Sequim, except for France. There are several lavender farms in and around the town where visitors can pick their own lavender, purchase lavender products, and have a picnic. The Farms look magnificent during the blooming season and are one of the best places to visit on the West Coast.
Other popular attractions in Seagram include the Olympic Game Farm where kids can see animals including buffaloes, bears, yaks, llamas, and cougars on a drive-thru safari and Sequim Bay State Park which is great for camping and hiking. The town also has many art galleries, museums, and boutique stores and is perfect to spend a relaxing day.
Stop #16: Port Townsend
Port Townsend is famous for its quintessential small town charm and Victorian architecture. In the Historic Downtown District, visitors can see impressive and ornate Victorians such as the Jefferson County Courthouse as well as residential mansions. Walking in the downtown area is a fun activity. There are many unique shops and boutique stores such as the Whistle Stop Toys and Abracadabra as well as art galleries. As a book lover, The Writers’ Workshoppe was on the top of my list and it didn’t disappoint.
Port Townsend also has great museums. The Aero Museum is a cool place for aviation enthusiasts. Art lovers will love the Jefferson Museum of Art and History that is housed inside the historic city hall. Port Townsend also has a rich naval history which you can experience at the Northwest Maritime Center. The waterfront Chetzemoka Park is a great place to take a stroll.
Families and kids love to visit the Port Townsend Marine Science Center located inside Fort Worden State Park. Here you can listen to orcas talking to each other offshore via earphones and touch tide pool creatures in a touch tank. There are many other things to do at the State Park as well including seeing the bunkers and batteries of Fort Walton and walking through its underground tunnels. The point Wilson Lighthouse is also located inside the park and is very photogenic.
After Port Townsend, you have two options. You can either take Highway 101 south to Olympia or take the road through Bremerton. If you have less time you can even take the ferry from Bainbridge Island or Bremerton to Seattle. We recommend the latter options, as you can avoid going all the way down to Olympia and Tacoma plus enjoy the experience of taking a ferry across the Puget Sound. Cars are allowed on the ferries, making them a perfect option to complete the road trip.
Stop #17: Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island is located on Puget Sound across Seattle. The island can be easily accessed via the Seattle Bainbridge Island Ferry; we recommend taking this ferry back to Seattle. There are many free attractions on the island. The Bainbridge Art Museum is free to visit and represents many Pacific Northwest artists. The History Museum is located in a historic schoolhouse and has great information about the island’s past. The Eagle Harbor Waterfront Trail takes visitors past most of the town’s attractions. Bainbridge Island also has many great restaurants and cafes located near the ferry terminal and is a great place to stop on your way back to Seattle.
Stop #18: Bremerton
Located on the Kitsap Peninsula in Puget Sound, Bremerton is an excellent destination to conclude your Olympic Peninsula road trip. The city is most famous for being home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and naval museums. Maritime and navy enthusiasts should visit the USS Turner Joy Ship Museum and the Puget Sound Navy Museum. Architecture lovers should see the striking Manette Bridge which connects Bremerton and Manette. The city also has a puppet museum which is fun to visit for kids.
We hope you liked our post on the Olympic Peninsula Road Trip Itinerary. Did we miss out on any must-visit attractions in the Olympic peninsula? Let us know in the comments.