Hidden just outside of Port Angeles and totally off the radar is a glorious piece of Washington's wild charm just waiting to be explored. Salt Creek Recreation Area is a marine wildlife sanctuary, a diver's dream, and a surfer's escape with a campground, trails, beaches, tide pools, and unobstructed views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island beyond.
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At a Glance:
Location: Port Angeles, WA
Entrance Fees: Free for day use; $26/night for tent camping, $32/night for RVs. Clallam Country residents get a discount!
Reservations: Available February through October. Reserve here ($10 reservaton fee).
Native Lands: Coast Salish, S'Klallam
Size: 196 acres
Activities: Hiking, diving, surfing, camping, tide pooling, WWII bunkers, horse trails
What to Pack (Day Trip)
Hiking boots: Here's what I wore the whole trip!
Leggings/Hiking Pants: These lightly fleece-lined leggings (with pockets) kept me nice and warm the entire time.
Day Pack: Love my Wandrd Prvke Backpack with the camera cube.
What to Pack (Car Camping)
The Day Trip List +
Tent: My go-to is the MSR Hubba NX Tent.
Camp Stove/Jetboil: Love this little guy!
Propane for Your Stove: They look like this!
Camp Meals: I love making buttered/salt/peppered corn on the cob and loading up a baked potatoe with sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits, wrapping them in foil and throwing them in the campfire for a hot meal. You can get creative when car camping!
Spork: Super helpful.
Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, medicine and other toiletries.
Slip-on shoes: I like to bring my Birks for around the campsite after a day on the trails.
Sleeping Bag: Try thrifting your sleeping bag from a secondhand gear store like Wonderland Gear Exchange or the used gear section at REI.
Sleeping Pad: I love my Klymit Insulated Static V Ultralite pad and the NEMO Sleeping Mat also doubles as a lightweight pad for day hikes to shield your butt from dirt or snow while sipping on your trail brew.
Trash Bag: Pack in/pack out! Leave everything better than you found it.
From Seattle, drive on the Bainbridge Island ferry and continue through Poulsbo. Turn onto highway 3 to cross the world's longest floating bridge and continue on to Highway 101 N. You'll reach Port Angeles 2 hours after disembarking the ferry. Veer right just after Port Angeles onto WA-112 and another right onto Camp Hayden Rd. After about 10 miles, you'll see the sign for Salt Creek Recreation Area. Veer right.
Also on the Olympic Peninsula: Washington's Hole in the Wall. Read more here!
Salt Creek Recreation Area
Hiking, surfing, diving, camping, and tide pooling: There are activities here for days! The churning waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca come into view just after entering the gate. Striped Peak Trail is immediately to your right (read more about this epic trail below) and the campground lies ahead.
A couple car campsites share an open space with the RV sites (sites 1-50)–the view is insane, but don't settle just yet. The best sites are further on (sites 51-92), down a slightly hidden road to the west, sprinkled along the rugged coastline and many with their own private five-star views.
Pro tip: If you plan to camp between February and October, reserve your campsite WELL in advance. This is a hot commodity and sites book up fast! Otherwise it's first-come, first-served in the winter months.
Multiple cemented trails lead visitors down to tiny coves only accessible at low tide.
Stop to admire the anemones, sea urchins, and wolf eels that call these tide pools home and walk out to the island before the tide comes up. The waves here are POWERFUL and the currents are fierce, so be mindful and play it safe! We wouldn't want you getting swept away.
I'm not a diver myself, but I've heard they love the kelp forests, accessible by the same trails down to the coves.
Watch your step! Avoid stepping on wildlife whenever possible. Research shows that 200 steps an hour destroys every living thing in that area, and it can take up to 10 undisturbed years for the area to completely recover.
Never pick up or take anything home with you.
Lightly touching creatures like anemones, mussels, and barnacles is okay, but never force them off a rock, and make sure you understand what's safe to touch. There are some truly amazing organisms out there, some with impressive defense mechanisms!
Always keep an eye on the water. You never know when a wave might sneak up on ya!
Don't forget to keep an eye on the horizon! You're on the Whale Trail and there's a good chance you could see a couple of Grays (or even Orcas if you're lucky!). River otters and sea lions can also be seen playing in the tidal waves.
Remember to always check these creatures out from a distance!
Striped Peak Trail
Don't leave Salt Creek before hiking down to Eagle's Cove! The entire Striped Peak Trail is a 4.5-mile, out and back hike that starts along the coast before turning up through a gorgeous forest and ending with a view of the Strait and Vancouver Island in the distance.
The cove is about 0.9 miles from the Striped Peak Trailhead. You'll want to veer left at the fork, which takes you down a set of steep switchbacks. Stop for a photo at the gorgeous waterfall (which was wayyyy bigger than I expected) before continuing down a series of stone steps to the water's edge.
The beaches are completely submerged at high tide (which was when I happened to be there), but a few rocky outcroppings still offered prime spots to absorb the waves' intense power while eagles fly overhead.
If I did it again...
I'd hike to see the cove and then skip the rest of the trail. The trail eventually crosses a forest road (which you can actually drive), causing it to lose its "wilderness" charm for me. If you're looking to save time but still want the expansive views, drive up the forest road that's just before you enter Salt Creek Recreation Area's gate–you'll find way better views that accompany your entire drive!
As always, remember to leave no trace!
Know before you go! Check for closures, keep these maps handy so you don't risk any chance of getting lost.
Pack out everything you pack in. Wrappers, water bottles (try switching to reusable), masks, everything you bring needs to leave with you. If you bring a dog, make sure you collect all of their poop bags!
Have fires only in the designated fire pits (and don't burn garbage).
Be considerate of others. Keep music low, keep at least six feet between you and others at all times, keep track of your pets, and wear a mask.