Your "Loose" Guide to the Olympic Peninsula Loop
Total Drive Time: 8.5 hours
Ferry en route
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of shorts
Layer up!! The ocean can be sunny and warm but also breezy. Weather changes quickly.
DSLR + 18-135mm; 55-250mm
If you're headed to the coast from Seattle, you're faced with two options: 1) drive southwest through Shelton and Aberdeen and avoid a ferry to arrive at Westport in about three hours, or 2) drive northwest through Port Angeles and down 101, add four to five hours to the trip, and hit a couple coastal beaches and parks along the way. Naturally, my mom and I, when choosing which route to tackle on her birthday weekend, chose option number 2. Why? Well, I, and especially my mother, tend to be overzealous when it comes to a good time, but that’s what makes life so awesome right? By choosing option 2, we’d dodge the freeways and traffic and instead, drive down a windy two-way road through the Olympics, take a gander or a dip in Crescent Lake, stop at a few iconic PNW beaches with sea-stacks, and snap a few epic pics of course. That was enough for us to say yes to a couple more hours of driving. Oh also, how awesome is it that my mom chose to do this epic girls road trip for her birthday? I was pretty stoked about it to say the least.
My mother and I departed Bainbridge Island at 6 a.m. (after a solo ferry trip on my part) with mobile ordered lattes in our cup holders and a road trip playlist assembled the night before. Fog rolled in and out of the bays and valleys as we drove towards the Olympics, but the best part of that early drive was when the dulled green water that seamlessly faded into a foggy sky as we crossed the Hood Canal Bridge. It was the perfect gradient. The fog was a promising sign of an epic day; and sure enough, it hit a solid 75 degrees inland, which meant a warm 65 at the ocean. We couldn’t’ have asked for better weather.
A couple of turns through Port Angeles and we hit highway 101, the westernmost state highway in the U.S. that eventually turns into the PCH. There’s nothing like it. The initial view of the Olympics rising in front of you is enough to make you want to pull over and take it all in. But wait until you get to Lake Crescent! Its crystal clear turquoise water will make you question everything you thought you knew about Washington. If you’re into mountain biking, check out the Spruce Railroad Trail! You’ll find old railroad tunnels up and on the right-hand side of the trail, but you have to look for them or you'll miss them. This trail is also home to the Insta-famous bridge.
La Push and Forks are up next and they’ve finally calmed down a bit from the Twilight hype. But don't you worry if you’re still one of those die-hard Twilight fans, you can check out the red truck at the visitor’s center. Second Beach on the La Push reservation is definitely worth a stop if you have the time. A beautiful hike through the forest opens up to the expansive Pacific Ocean with a few sea-stacks here and there.
Don’t miss out on one of the only remaining temperate forests in America – the Hoh Rainforest. Its moss-covered trees and fern beds are like nothing I’ve seen before. If you're lucky enough, you might even spot a herd of elk. Drive through it, camp in it, just experience it; you won’t regret it.
Next stop: Ruby Beach!
Easily one of my favorites - and one of the most Instagrammable beaches in the PNW - this beach offers a gorgeous view through tall trees of the ocean and sea-stacks as you walk the short trail to the sand, or should I say, driftwood. A river juts out of the trees, cutting the beach in half. While most people tend to remain on the side with the trail, we decided to get our feet wet and see what the other side had to offer.
Pro Tip: Cross the river by the trail, it doesn’t get any shallower.
The other side was untouched, quiet, and fresh in every sense of the word. A few smaller stacks with the largest in the distance (accessible at low tide) dot the shore. The beach curves around the bend and continues for miles. A few photos later, we turned around and headed back south. Don't forget to look up every once in a while to catch a glimpse of some of the coastal birds that live in the area. There's an eagle's nest at the far end if you're feeling a few miles walk, but it's a beautiful one at that.
(Time spent at Ruby Beach ~ 2 hrs)
Ten minutes down the road is Kalaloch - a beach-front resort with rentable cabins and campsites. We made a rookie mistake and forgot snacks so we were pretty hungry by the time we made it to Kalaloch Lodge. I either had one of the most amazing bread bowls of clam chowder in my life, or I was just that hungry. After demolishing lunch, we grabbed another latte at the camp store next door (basic Seattleites, I know) and hit the road once again. 101 circles the Quinault Reservation so this leg tends to feel a little longer. Then you're faced with the choice to either stay on 101 or take 109 back out to the ocean. So, once again, we chose the longer but definitely more rewarding path. “Always take the scenic route” am I right? 109 drives through Seabrook (where I hope to buy a house someday), Copalis Beach, and Ocean Shores which are for sure worth a stop! Ocean Shores is more on the touristy side with mini golf, bumper cars, horseback rides, etc. but still a good time! If you’ve been to Canon Beach or Seaside in Oregon, I’d skip the town and head straight to the beach. The south end hosts a decent jetty and a long peninsula that juts out into the bay. We'd been to Ocean Shores before so we chose to skip it and roll on down to our final destination, Westport.
109 cuts back out along the bay and meets up with 101 in Aberdeen where you’ll want to transfer to 105 to head back out the ocean. Not gonna lie, this leg felt like the longest drive of my life. The restlessness was setting in. We were more than ready to build a beach fire and watch the sunset.
We finally arrived at Westport at around 5 p.m. and checked into the Westport Inn. It’s on the northern end of town called “Westhaven,” which is where you want to be, believe me. It’s the cute part of town and the closest to the beach. You’re a block away from the fishing boats, the short supply of shops, and the couple of restaurants the town has to offer. Bennett’s Fish Shack is the Ivar's of Westport and was always poppin'. It has indoor and outdoor seating and beer on tap. Their known for their crab cakes, but of course I didn’t read that until I already ordered the halibut and chips, which were still pretty solid so not totally complaining.
Just a short two-minute drive in the opposite direction and you’ll find Washington's legendary surf spot. I don't think I'd ever seen that many VW vans with surfboards strapped to the top in my life; it was perfect. Just over the dune lies endless sets and surfers of all ages and skill levels. The parking lot requires a Discover Pass so don’t forget to either bring yours or pay for a day pass once you arrive.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to pay for the day pass (it's honestly kind of pricey at $10), turn around and park at the lot for the bay. You can walk either along the bay or up on the dunes to reach the surfing beach in just a few extra minutes.
And another Pro Tip: If you don't own a surfboard and want to paddle out, head back to the town center and hit up the Westport Surf Shop. The lovely man who runs it is such the character that it's worth the stop whether you're renting a surfboard or not.
Drive on the Beach
It took some serious troubleshooting to find a good (and legal) driving entrance to the beach because Westport doesn't technically allow beach-driving; but we found that if you head down to Grayland just a couple minutes south, you can enter the beach via W Bonge Ave next to the Edgewater Apartments.
Final Pro Tip: Pick up firewood either at the Shop n' Kart or at local firewood stands along the way!
Morning came way too soon. We were up and desperately wanted to try 3G's Coffee, Candy, and Deli before we took off but, unfortunately, they didn't open... small town things I guess. We ended up driving through a coffee stand in the main part of town instead.
Last stop on the Peninsula Loop - the little logging town called Shelton, WA. Las Palmas has some of the best Mexican food around. Order honestly anything, you can't go wrong, but the Carnitas Tacos are my personal favorite. This is where you can turn north up the Peninsula on Highway 3 or head back to Seattle.
So for all you weekend warriors out there, this is for you. The Olympic Peninsula Loop beaches are doable in a weekend, but you're unfortunately going to have to pick and choose your stops. My advice, take it a couple of weekends at a time because the peninsula has so much to offer, it would be impossible to do it all in just a few short days.
Here are a few other trips you can consider for the future:
Neah Bay - Cape Flattery
Sol Duc Hot Springs
Lake Ozette trail