Fall is the perfect time for a stress relief visit to the Olympic Peninsula. The crowds are smaller, the days are short (but still long enough), the air is crisp, and the colors are vibrant. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your fall visit:
1. Wildlife Viewing
Viewing wildlife is often a matter of luck and diligence, but the “seeking” is half the fun!
The Olympic Peninsula offers exceptional bird watching year-round, but the fall and spring migrations offer the greatest diversity in species. Notable locations for birdwatching include the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Ediz Hook (Port Angeles), Clallam Bay, Neah Bay, La Push, the shoreline along Hood Canal and Olympic National Park.
Along Hood Canal at Dosewallips State Park there is a family friendly wildlife viewing platform on the edge of a tidal marsh. The platform is a great place to view bald eagles, great blue herons, gulls, waterfowl, red-winged blackbirds, wrens and other feathered friends.
A healthy population of bald eagles resides beside the coastal estuaries along Highway 112. Follow Highway 112 Scenic Byway to Cape Flattery at the most NW point of the contiguous United States. Here you’ll find a great spot to see bald eagles, puffins, oystercatchers, phalaropes, marbled murrelets and several unique species of gulls. Migrating turkey vultures are of special interest in September and October. Scientists come to this area to count the vultures as they make their way south.
The Dungeness River Nature Center offers a wealth of information to interested birders. And visitors won’t want to miss the Bridge Lights event in late fall.
Fall is prime time to view the dramatic upstream salmon migration. While the fall salmon runs take place in most rivers in the national park, one of the best viewing points is Salmon Cascades Overlook on the Sol Duc River, off Highway 101, about five miles up Sol Duc Road. Between late September and late October, determined coho salmon battle their way from the salty ocean to the fresh waters of the Sol Duc River, leaping up waterfalls as they head home to spawn. Prepare to be awed.
In the fall, listen carefully for the bugling elk. Members of the deer family, the Roosevelt elk are native to the Olympic Peninsula. Places you might see elk include the Sequim Dungeness Valley, the Hoh Rain Forest, the town of Forks and along the Dosewallips River near Brinnon. The best opportunities for sightings are early morning and at dusk.
Safety Tip: Elk are large, strong animals with sharp antlers and hooves. Use caution and maintain a safe distance.
2. The Olympic Discovery Trail
Head out on the trail system that will connect Port Townsend to La Push using railroad right-of-ways, public roads and trails. The trail is growing as sections are completed and is being constructed as a non-motorized, accessible corridor, including equestrian use in most areas. Whether you are looking for a long ride, a nice day ride or a short family friendly ride, the Olympic Discovery Trail offers something for everyone, and a great way to enjoy a sparkling fall day. The Olympic Adventure Trail west of Port Angeles, around the north shore of Lake Crescent, is suitable for mountain bikes, equestrians and hikers and gets a lot of use.
3. Beach Walking
In the fall it’s hard to resist the scenic ocean shores along Olympic National Park’s 73-mile wild and rugged coastline. At Kalaloch (pronounced clay-lock), 15 miles south of Rain Forest Road on Highway 101, there is an easily accessed, exposed sandy beach where you can fully experience the Pacific Ocean. The pebble beach, dramatic surf and tidal pools of Beach Trail 4 leave you chock full of memories of a beach vacation well spent. Picturesque Ruby Beach, with its meandering creek, dramatic sea stacks and drift logs, is named for its sometimes garnet-colored sandy beach. All winter long you can relive the memories of a warm fall day or brisk walk in the crisp air.
Further south, take a beachfront road trip on the Hidden Coast Scenic Byway hugging the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula as it winds its way along Highway 109. Here you’ll find an abundance of wide, sandy beaches, charming small towns and wildlife galore.
Safety Tip: Beware of the strong undertow and be sure to check the tide levels before you visit any beach.
4. Festivals and Events
Join the locals in a wide array of fall festivals! Many events are reflective of the communities that host them: Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Forever Twilight in Forks Festival in Forks, Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival in Port Angeles, and OysterFest in Shelton.
You’ll find events such as the Apple & Cider Festival in Chimacum and the North Olympic Fiber Arts Festival in Sequim. Races, farm tours, farmers markets, arts festivals and cultural events are planned. For more info on happenings around the peninsula, check out our Calendar of Events.
5. Just Chill
Whether your idea of stress relief is a full-service waterfront resort, a charming B&B, a cozy fireplace at a national park lodge, or the perfect campsite with a sunset view, you’ll find it here on the Olympic Peninsula. Not only is lodging more available in the fall, but you will find packages and lower rates than during summer. Pair that with a great meal of locally sourced Olympic Coast cuisine and a local wine, and just feel the “ahhh” wash over you. You might even indulge in one last picnic before the winter snows fly!
To those in the know, autumn is the best season to explore the Olympic Peninsula. Come experience it for yourself. Relax, refresh and return home renewed!
Originally published August 14, 2019 | Updated September 13, 2022