The Olympic Peninsula forms a protective arm of land around the western fringes of Washington State. The Pacific rolls in to the west, the Juan de Fuca Strait laps its northern shores, and Puget Sound and the Hood Canal flows to the east. It is home to the highest peak in its central mountain range–Mt. Olympus, and the USA’s third largest glacial system. No other region in America can match the diversity of weather or terrain in such a compact geographic area. The region is easily reached from Seattle via Washington State’s ferries and an hour’s drive to explore its lakes, rivers, waterfalls and temperate rain forests.
The Olympic National Park is a designated World Heritage Site and biosphere. Its position in the Peninsula’s heart, enables the rocky Pacific coast and snowy Olympic Mountains to contrast with the rain forests of its western coastal valleys. On the Park’s western slopes, large herds of Roosevelt elk roam and graze freely in its river valleys and temperate rain forests–the only rainforests in the continental United States. And these elk have been known to roam the cities of Sequim, Brinnon and Forks.
The Peninsula’s Quinault Valley is known as the ‘Valley of Giants’ because six of the world’s largest species of evergreens, cloaked in thick moss, flourish along with an astonishing array of lichens and mushrooms. With a rain shadow sheltering its northern slopes, the region’s valleys are well protected and provide a perfect environment for colorful flowers, particularly lavender.
Accommodation in the region ranges from quiet and secluded bed and breakfast inns, to fishing resorts, historic lodges and quaint country motels. The beautiful water-front city of Port Angeles is an excellent base with plenty of choice. An ideal B&B, The Angeles Inn, has great city views and overlooks the Juan de Fuca Strait and Victoria B.C. Written up in “Better Homes and Gardens,” this award-winning, contemporary dwelling is centrally located on East 7th Street with ground-level rooms. All have king beds and TV and a full breakfast is offered. Guests can also use the Inn’s computer workstations with high-speed Internet access.
The Inn is within easy reach of the National Park’s must see destinations. Amongst them is Hurricane Ridge–the jewel in the Park. It’s a 17-mile drive south of Port Angeles, which climbs to an elevation of over 5,000 feet. The spectacular mountain scenery is literally beauty beyond words. With a day lodge and numerous trails offering breathtaking views of the Juan de Fuca Straits and surrounding alpine meadows, unpack the snowshoes and explore the great outdoors. Finish off your day with an amazing sunset. For more details of The Angeles Inn, call (360)-417-0260, or visit www.angelesinn.com.
Hurricane Ridge and snowshoes blend well together. In the winter months, ranger-guided snowshoe walks are an experience not to be missed. The walks run from mid December to the end of March. They usually last for 90 minutes and cover less than a mile. Demand can be high, so visitors are required to sign up at the visitor center 30 minutes beforehand. A $5 donation helps maintain the program – and the snowshoes. The area also welcomes individual snowshoe enthusiasts, and while the area offers varied terrain, caution is paramount owing to the often changing weather conditions.
The Inn at Rooster Hill – a beautiful French country B&B – nestles in the foothills of the National Park. Re-opened in 2005 under new ownership, The Inn offers everything you could wish for. All rooms have superb amenities, including luxurious jacuzzis. The Inn offers in-room coffee machines with a special blend of coffee. Microwaves, refrigerators, televisions, CD and DVD players are also on hand.
Their speciality is family suites and longer stays, so if planning a full day hike, some rooms have kitchenettes for re-heating food and lunch preparation. Although they do not take children under 10, the accommodation is luxury at affordable prices. The Inn is minutes away from two National Park entrances as well as restaurants, downtown shopping and the ferry to Victoria BC. For more information, call (360)-452-4933.
The Olympic Peninsula is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Old-growth forests for hiking, mountain biking and camping are many, as well as scenic waters for fishing, boating, kayaking and diving. Amongst them is Lake Crescent. This is a crystal clear lake, 12 miles long and situated 17 miles west of Port Angeles on Highway 101. Its trails are plentiful. Marymere Falls runs for one mile along mostly level terrain from Storm King Ranger Station. Along its length, there are forests of moss cloaked trees and large ferns.
The Pyramid Mountain Trail, reached from the North Shore road, gives superb views of Lake Crescent, Aurora Ridge and Mt. Storm King. On the north shore, the Spruce Railroad Trail is not to be missed. It was originally used to haul spruce logs for WW1 aircraft. Heading westwards on Highway 101 brings you to the Sol Duc Valley road. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort offers dining, a small gift shop and store as well as three mineral and one fresh water pool. These are a great way to end a strenuous hike. A little further away, the spectacular Sol Duc Falls are an unforgettable sight.
With such diverse terrain and rugged scenery, the Olympic Peninsula offers an equally varied choice of leisure pursuits. Whether it is sampling world-famous oysters in Quilcene, or hiking and snowshoeing the region’s amazing trails, the choices are yours. If you prefer bird watching, or simply capturing awesome sunsets, take your pick. This region is one of the few areas where you can hike, snowshoe, watch humpback or killer whales and go wine tasting all in the same day.
For a complete overview, go to www.olympicpeninsula.org and enjoy the region’s contrasts.