Olympic National Park is an unusual gem of a place on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and a perfect place for a family trip.
It is sprawling and varied, home to mountains, a rainforest, beautiful lakes and hot springs, to name just a few attractions. There are many, many ways to explore and enjoy it. Here is one itinerary, a trip taken last fall with COVID-19 precautions in place. My family had made the choice to not eat inside restaurants even when indoor dining was allowed.
As I begin to recount this trip, I already realize one potential flaw for some families: The first day’s drive might be a bit much. We live in the South End and have an older kid who is a seasoned traveled (and car sleeper), so it worked for us. You could reverse the itinerary to avoid an extra-long first day. Plus, you’ll want beach time, and the days are short!
Olympic National Park family trip
This stunning facility, perched above the beach, is run by a national parks concessionaire and has been a popular pandemic getaway with beach access, stunning views and cabins that are well-equipped and fully self-contained.
Pro tip: Study the lodging options carefully, and plan food accordingly. Some cabins have full kitchens; others are kitchenettes and lack ovens, for example. The dining room is closed, and there are few restaurants nearby. You could put together meals from what you find in the onsite camp store, but … they will be meals from a camp store. (Side note: Adult beverages are for sale, and the prices for microbrews were ridiculously reasonable.)
Also, there is no wi-fi but we had reasonably strong cell and data signals.
The weather was good, so we took a side trip to the Hoh Rainforest (this could wait until Day 2). The visitor center was closed, but there’s interesting signage and some well-marked short walks.
Random irony: The bathroom in our Kalaloch cabin was well-stocked with Bath & Body Works aromatherapy products. The scent? Stress relief. It was a pleasant fragrance, but my stress level was off-the-charts low already.
Day 2: to Port Angeles
Heading north you’ll pass several beaches, rainforest access (see above) and the town of Forks (of “Twilight” fame), among other things. Highway 101 hugs the shores of the spectacular Lake Crescent for a while. There are plenty of opportunities to pull off the highway to stretch your legs, grab a snack or shoot some photos.
An early-season cold blast meant that icy conditions closed the road to Hurricane Ridge, so we couldn’t see one of the highlights of the national park.
It was OK that we had more time in Port Angeles. It has a great waterfront walking trail, a year-round farmers market and good views of ship traffic. You can see where the Black Ball Ferry departs for Victoria, B.C., and tuck that knowledge away for the future.
One regret: We pulled into the Lake Crescent Lodge parking lot and explored the area a little bit but did not go the extra mile (literally, a mile!) to Marymere Falls.
Day 3: Port Townsend
It’s not a long drive from Port Angeles to Port Townsend, so there was plenty of time for exploring.
First order of business: Make sure everyone knows how to pronounce Sequim: It’s Skwim.
The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is not too far off the highway and is a gem. There’s a lot to do and see. It’s clearly a popular destination, but officials have converted some trails to one-way to help manage crowds.
After this excursion, some family members might doze the rest of the way to Port Townsend.
We’ve long had a soft spot for this Victorian town. I swear, the shops get cuter every year! Some of them also felt almost uncomfortably crowded on our visit, but there was a lot of encouraging, “We’re all in this together” signage and reminders of mask requirements. We bought books and coffee; dinner was takeout fish and chips.
Our daughter got a huge kick out of the deer roaming the residential areas and also the restored old “fire bell tower.” Climb the stairs between the upper and lower parts of town (maybe a few times!) before you hit one of several bakeries and ice cream shops.
Day 2 food note: Road trips are slightly trickier when you are avoiding sit-down restaurants and don’t want to overdo fast food. I guess this is technically fast food, but wow, the Subway sandwiches we got at a strip mall on the edge of Sequim sure hit the spot.
The journey home
We made lots of detours and stops. We could not resist driving a ways down Egg & I Road (its real name), an homage to the classic Northwest tale by Betty MacDonald. You can’t tell where the author lived, but you can get a bit of a feel for her life. Finn River Farm & Cidery is a fun stop right outside of town. They have a great outdoor, no-contact food-and-drink operation set up, and you can walk through parts of the orchard.
We opted to drive through Port Gamble to Kingston and catch the ferry to Edmonds to conclude our Olympic National Park family trip. Bainbridge to Seattle is also a fine option. Ferries discourage people from leaving their cars these days, so it’s not as much fun as normal, but if you’re lucky you might still have a good view. We had one of our roughest-ever ferry rides, so we were happy that it wasn’t very long.
A visit to the Olympic Pennisula not during the summer has it’s own beauty and fun – just be ready for rain.
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