My husband, Dennis, and I were born and raised in Washington’s Puget Sound area and spent our vacations at Pacific Northwest parks in trailers, campers and vans of all sorts. When we retired, we traveled across the U.S., enjoying numerous sights. But soon we realized that for the highest variation of natural and cultural wonders packed in a tight geographic area, it’s hard to beat our own backyard.
The Olympic Peninsula’s 3,600 square miles offer visitors a unique microcosm of climates. The majestic Olympic Mountains are at the heart of the peninsula, which is bordered by Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. Huge variations in precipitation and vegetation are created as moist ocean clouds bump against the Olympic Mountains, disgorging their rain on the west side before regrouping, spent of their moisture, on the east. Which explains why the Hoh Rain Forest gets over 200 inches of rain a year and, only 40 miles away, on the other side of the peaks, residents (like us) get only 17 inches a year! Yet the whole peninsula benefits from a temperate marine influence providing mild temperatures both summer (averaging 70 degrees) and winter (40 degrees).
No wonder this area is known as a mecca for RVers as well as being a desirable retirement community! We have made our permanent home base at Evergreen Coho SKP Park in Chimacum on the eastern side of the peninsula. Here we have all kinds of sights to see and things to do within an easy drive on the Olympic Peninsula. Many are well publicized but here are some of our favorite peninsula treasures, including some that you may not have heard of before.
Numerous towns around Puget Sound offer cruises, and whale watching is a tourist favorite. But the Port Townsend Marine Science Center offers some special ones like Bird Migration Cruises and Puffin Cruises, as well as Protection Island Cruises aboard the 101-foot historic schooner, “Adventuress.” Call ahead to sign up at ptmsc.org/cruises.html.
Fort Worden State Park, just outside of Port Townsend, is a 434-acre park with more than two miles of saltwater shoreline, two campgrounds and over 100 buildings from the early 1900s housing four museums, a gift shop, theater, and convention center facilities. The 80 campsites are generous in size, with 30 in a forested setting and 50 in the beach area. Hike any of the 6-1/2 miles of trails on Artillery Hill where you can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the massive concrete gun emplacements tucked into the bluff. Or head for the fort’s beach to wiggle your toes in its sandy shore and to see Point Wilson Lighthouse. (parks.wa.gov/511/Fort-Worden)
The Dungeness SpitThe Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge near Sequim covers 636 acres and is one of the world’s longest natural sand spits (five and a half miles long) with tidelands and bay. In the forested area just above the spit, Clallam County offers the Dungeness Recreation Area campground with 64 campsites. Adventurous? Hike the 10-mile round trip to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, which stands guard over the entrance to Sequim Bay (be sure to allow about five hours). Or bring your camera for a short hike from the parking area to the beach. You’ll find over 250 bird species there, making it a bird-watcher’s paradise. Eagles are a common—and awesome—sight. (fws.gov/washingtonmaritime/Dungeness; clallam.net/Parks/Dungeness.html)
Continue farther west, toward Port Angeles, and you’ll find the road to Hurricane Ridge, the crown jewel of the Olympic Mountains. At an elevation of 5,242 feet, it offers visitors a year-round vista into the heart of the mountain peaks. Snap photos of the terrain and abundant wildlife or walk the easy, paved Hurricane Hill Trail from the visitor center. The center offers trail maps, exhibits, stunning views from its picture windows (great in winter months!), an information desk, gift shop, restrooms and snack bar. The weather is a bit unpredictable (Hurricane Ridge was named for a reason!), so check the weather before you head out. (nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/visiting-hurricane-ridge.htm)
Salt Creek Recreation AreaAfter your Hurricane Ridge adventure, travel just a few miles farther west and you can camp at Salt Creek Recreation County Park, with stunning and up-close views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Crescent Bay and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This 196-acre park includes upland forests, rocky bluffs, rocky tide pools and sand beach. There are 92 premium campsites, 73 with water views. (clallam.net/Parks/SaltCreek.html)
Makah Days and Ozette Archaeological Site
Neah Bay, on Washington’s highway 112, is the westernmost point reachable by car in Washington state. It is home to the Makah tribe, which celebrates Makah Days on the last weekend each August. If you can’t make that weekend, the drive will still offer great scenery and end with an impressive visit at the Makah Indian tribe’s extensive and impressive cultural center and gift shop. The Makah Museum interprets and houses 300-500 year old artifacts recovered from the nearby Ozette Archaeological Site.?(makah.com/activities/makah-days; makahmuseum.com)
Mora Campground and Rialto BeachSeveral great beach towns and campgrounds await RVers along Washington’s Pacific Ocean coastline, but our personal favorite is Mora Campground. It is surrounded by towering trees, lush undergrowth and the music of the Pacific surf. It is within Olympic National Park and its 94 campsites are about three miles from Rialto Beach, with its rocky beaches, giant drift logs, pounding waves and views of offshore sea stacks that are photographic wonders. The beach has the most amazing surf-flattened rocks of all sizes. If you love rocks, you’ll be on you knees in a heartbeat! (Warning: you’ll come back with pockets full of surf-polished rocks!) (nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/visiting-mora-and-rialto.htm)
So chart your course this summer for a trip exploring the treasures of the Olympic Peninsula. You’ll be glad you did!
Sandra Haven and her photographer husband, Dennis, are full-time RVers with a special love for the Northwest. Sandra is a professional fiction editor. Her website is SandraHaven.com
If You Go
There are numerous camping facilities on the Olympic Peninsula, including both public campgrounds and private RV parks.
Washington State Parks: There is an annual $30 Discover Pass required for all state parks in Washington. The pass gives you access to hundreds of parks, recreation areas and water-access points. You can find information about the Discover Pass and state campgrounds at parks.wa.gov.
The National Park Service operates 16 campgrounds in the Olympic National Forest, with over 900 campsites. Check length restrictions as you plan. (nps.gov/olym/index.htm)
Well regarded RV parks on the peninsula include the Skokomish Park at Lake Cushman (skokomishpark.com), the Waterfront at Potlatch (waterfrontatpotlatch.com) and the Glen Ayr Hood Canal Waterfront Resort (glenayr.com).