One day is not enough to explore the Olympic Peninsula. Not even a weekend would do. But if a day is all you have, then go for it. We managed to cover a lot of territory without feeling pressured, starting from West Seattle. We took the Bainbridge Island ferry, stopping in Winslow for coffee before we hit the road, and followed signs toward Highway 101. If you live further north, you can catch an Edmonds ferry and drive through historic Port Gamble.
The drive across the Hood Canal Bridge is always interesting. On the far side of the bridge we passed by Tidelands State Park and a visit to Port Townsend via SR 20 and instead continued along Highway 101, which swings through Discovery Bay.
Discovery Bay is a “must” for photography though parking is limited. This is the site of an old mill with a collection of nearby eateries, some open, others closed, including a restaurant made up from railroad cars. We sure hope it re-opens! You can still enjoy roadside photography but make sure you don’t trespass on privately owned/designated property.
We continued through the settlements of Gardiner and Blyn where once upon a time a poet we knew lived in Blyn woods, wrote poetry and stayed until the nearby forest was logged before moving on. Highway 101 passes through Blyn with a casino, gift shops and a handsome display of totem poles, all owned by the Jamestown S’Klallam Reservation. In 1981 the United States Department of the Interior granted the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe recognition though the tribe was formalized by S’Klallam communities in 1874.
If you have time, consider hiking all or part of the 5.5-mile trail out to the Dungeness Spit Lighthouse, a part of the Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge in Sequim (my first Mountaineer hike in 1980). Check tides before you go.
Sequim is one of the driest places in Western Washington with only 17 inches of rain or so a year. Dungeness Spit is one of the longest sand spits in the United States and provides a sanctuary for wildlife and birds. The Dungeness Lighthouse is one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest and has been in operation since 1857. The lighthouse is lovingly maintained by the New Dungeness Chapter of the United Lighthouse Society. For a history of the lighthouse click here.
To get to Dungeness Spit continue on US 101 from Sequim about five miles, turn north (right) onto Kitchen Dick Road, follow signs to the Dungeness Recreation Area (about three miles) to the parking area, facilities, entry fee required. No pets or mountain bikes allowed.
Sequim is also the center of the Olympic Discovery Trail, a popular hiking, bicycle trail from Port Angeles to Port Townsend featuring 40 miles of paved trail. Connect to the trail (east side of Sequim). The trail provides multiple entry-points and attractions including Railroad Bridge Park where the Dungeness River Audubon Center is located. The trail will eventually extend from Port Townsend to La Push (about 145 miles).
We continued to Port Angeles where you can drive to Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park or stop in at the Olympic Park Wilderness Information Center (WIC) via Hurricane Ridge Road. In addition to being within easy reach of the Olympic Mountains there are other reasons to spend time in Port Angeles.
The Feiro Marine Life Center is located on the City Pier in Port Angeles, well worth a visit. Winter hours (Labor Day-Memorial Day) are 12-4 pm. Entry fee – live exhibits and touch tanks, more. To get there: turn right onto Lincoln Street from US 101.
Also at the City Pier there are expansive views of Ediz Hook and Vancouver Island (18 miles across the Strait of Juan de Fuca). In August there was a sand sculpture contest near the pier; most sculptures were standing but gone by now. Be sure to visit the promenade deck where an observation tower provides 360-degree views of the Olympic Mountains and the Port Angeles harbor. Check out sculptures and other art. We were especially taken with two murals by artist Corey Ench who spent time with the Klallam people and their elders.
Another goal of ours was to visit the Elwha River restoration sites. We wanted to see the river in its unfettered state now that the Elwha Dams have been removed (part of one dam remains to be moved).
To view the Elwha Dam restoration sites continue through Port Angeles to State Route 112 turn west (right), continue to Lower Dam Road and turn south (left). Park in a designated area just outside a privately-owned camping resort. From there it is a short walk to the Dam Overlook, about .3 mile.
To reach the Upper Dam Viewpoint – return to US 101 turn right (south), and continue to Olympic Hot Springs Road (left). The road will take you into Olympic National Park, the Elwha Ranger Station and eventually to the road closure below the dam site.
On our way out from Olympic National Park we hiked the ¼-mile paved trail to Madison Falls; a delightful waterfall, especially on a warm day. Though designated as an accessible trail we noticed some of the pavement was buckling. Near the trailhead you will see majestic cottonwoods, big leaf maple trees and vine maple. The waterfall is beautiful but difficult to get a good photograph. Madison Falls Trail (Olympic National Park) – Madison Falls is purportedly the “easiest” waterfall to access in this region of the Olympics. It is a “horsetail” waterfall, about 76 feet high that plummets into a rocky bowl and is reached by a short, paved trail. The trailhead is about two miles south of Highway 101 from the Olympic Hot Springs Road (the Olympic Hot Springs Road is closed at Altair Campground for the duration of the dam removal). To visit more waterfalls in the Northern Olympics (or beyond) we recommend visiting the website Pacific Waterfalls of the Northwest.
With the removal of the dams, natural sediments can now flow from the mountains to the coast, rebuilding beaches, wetlands, and the estuary at the mouth of the Elwha River. Salmon populations are expected to grow from 3,000 to nearly 400,000. Removing dams is not all that is going on – over 2,000 pounds of seed have been planted in former Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell as well thousands of seedlings to help restore native vegetation.
In many ways this is as large and important a laboratory for the regeneration of nature as that for the rebirth of the blast zone around Mount St Helens. Repairing and restoring the ecosystem after a natural disaster and from the effects of damming a wild river will take time. It will be years before the outcome is known and will be fascinating to watch.
After leaving Olympic National Park you can walk out to the mouth of the Elwha River and estuary:
To get there from Port Angeles go o west on US 101 to SR 112 and turn west (right). Turn Right (north) onto Place Road and continue to the Elwha Dike Road. In 1.8 miles, turn right at the “T” and park in the spaces provided.
The first part of the walk passes privately-owned residences; be thankful for their generosity and respect their privacy. A sign posted by the Clallam County Public Works Department and Surf Riders Association reminds visitors to follow rules and regulations. Camping and fires are prohibited, dogs must be leashed.
Follow the dike trail to the estuary through a marsh complete with cattails and reeds. Here you will encounter plants you may have seen nowhere else; watch the tides; wander at will. Ponder the gigantic root-balls and snags that have come down the Elwha River to the estuary. Watch freighters come and go in the distance; see where the fresh water merges with the salt-water, try to identify the animal and bird tracks in the mud, find a niche out of the breeze and let Time flow.
On the way back we stopped at a lavender farm. I’d never been to one. Just outside Sequim we found signs pointing the way to the Martha Lane Lavender Farm, open year-round. The lavender was still in bloom and the setting was too beautiful for words. No visit to the lavender farm is complete without a visit inside the gift shop; I treated myself to a bottle of lavender body-wash. Though I spend most of the time on the trail, I couldn’t resist – I guess it’s a girl-thing!
The lavender festivals may be over for the season but the farms are worth a visit any time of year (check websites to make sure your favorite is open year-round). The Martha Lane Lavender Farm is organic with too many varieties of lavender to name. There is also a lovely gazebo where birthday celebrations and weddings have taken place. For hours of operation, directions and information call 360-582-9355 or visit their website.
GPS Waypoints and Elevations
Lower Dam Viewpoint: N 48-05-42 W 123-33-19 200 feet
Elwha Ranger Station: N 48-01-03 W 123-35-23 400 feet
Road Closure on Olympic Hot Springs Road:
N 48-00-38 W 123-35-28 380 feet
Lake Mills Dam Viewpoint: N 48-00- 07 W 123-35-54 625 feet
Mouth of the Elwha: N 48-08-41 W 123-34-04 1 foot
From Seattle: drive around to US Highway 101 via I-5 south, Exit 104 at Olympia (or take the Bainbridge Island ferry) to Bainbridge Island, follow signs to the Hood Canal Bridge/US 101, continue to Dungeness/Sequim/Port Angeles – take time to explore.