The Olympic Peninsula in north west Washington State is a cornucopia of ecosystems and landscapes. Along the coast, vast beaches with huge tides accumulate endless collections of smooth ocean beach stones and massive driftwood timbers. The fog enshrouded sea stacks attract swarms of sea birds and the cold pacific ocean kicks up large swells and spumes of mist. Just inland along the western realms is the Ho Rain forest and other river basins which are the home to giant specimens of giant softwoods, covered in moss and other symbiotic plants.. The forest floor and flooded forests are covered with giant ferns, mushrooms, and fungus. Cascading out of the central alpine highlands are multitudes of waterfalls - we visited at least 12, but there are certainly twice that number easily accessible with short hikes. In the north east corner are the quaint towns of Port Angeles and Port Townsend, the later of which is a hub for wooden boat building. Port Townsend is crowded with interesting art galleries not too pretentious to warrant extended visits even if you are wearing shorts and flip flops. There are plenty of camping spots along the full perimeter route, and the sub alpine terrain surrounding Mt. Olympus access from the Hurricane Ridge or Ho River trailheads offer wonderful backcountry camping as well.
If you are going...:
- Visit the Hurricane Ridge to Hurricane Peal area for at least two days.. The day hiking and wildlife viewing are wonderful.. At most seasons there are wildflowers to view. In the winter mostly on weekends there is a delightful alpine skiing center with a few pommel lifts and fantastic side country routes. The pitch is perfect for skiing, but check on coverage ahead of time. The closest campsite is Heart O' the Hills, down the mountain 12 miles. Plan on extended days up high, planning your picnic meals to capture the wonderful sunset.
- Ho Rainforest - Ho River Trail - Moss covered maple trees, Fern covered grottos, massive spruce and hemlock trees - flat hiking/strolling along the stream - good campsites along the river - even for car campers. You can access the high country from the traihead here.
- Port Townsend Wooden boat festival ( www.woodenboat.org )- don't miss it first weekend in September. Stroll through Thursday for free or get a one day pass on the weekend for $10. Eat at a food truck at the festival - much cheaper than other options downtown. Camp at the nearby State Park(expensive) or at the equally convenient Jefferson County Fairgrounds (cheap)- think open field. Or stay downtown at the restored Water Street Hotel ( http://www.waterstreethotelporttownsend.com ). First weekend in October ins the Kinetic sculpture race. Rent Kayaks at Fort Worden State Park.. Other weekends check the state park for various music festivals. Open mic downtown at the Boilerhouse Cafe along with other live music.
- Waterfalls - many waterfalls to view all around the peninsula - get the brochure listing many of the falls, or check it out on-line: www.olympicpeninsulawaterfalltrail.com Be sure noit toi miss Rocky Brook Falls, un assuming trailhead - totally unmarked, but very nice setting, good year round flow, and dramatic cascades and dipping pool below.
- Bakery in Forks - -fresh bread and goodies. Get there early, or check out the sweet shop next door where the bakery takes their goods once they close.
- Ruby Beach - big driftwood, nice beach rocks, and some misty sea stacks.
- Rialto Beach - sandy beach - nice sea stacks too.
- Lake Crescent - great lunch spot at the East Shore day use area. This is a super kayak launch spot as well. Paddle to Devil's Punchbowl across the lake. Or, mountain bike ride on the old Spruce Railroad trail ( http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/spruce-railroad )