Summer is always a popular time to travel. However, when it comes to planning your trip to the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, it’s time to change it up. Fall is the ideal time to visit since crowds have dispersed, colors are breathtaking, outdoor activities are at their best, and the culinary scene is mouth-watering. Discover the perfect activity-packed, fall vacation as you take a journey around the Northwest section of Highway 101 on the West Coast, USA. To fully enjoy your time, be sure to plan ahead, make reservations, and always recreate responsibly.
Day #1 on the Olympic Peninsula
Along Hood Canal
Get an early start, hop in the car, and drive onto a Washington State ferry in downtown Seattle. Once you arrive on Bainbridge Island, head southwest on Highway 3 toward Belfair which becomes Highway 106, hugging the shores of the Hood Canal, and merging with Highway 101. As you drive along the water through tall trees reaching to the sky, your senses will be on joyous overload with evergreen scents and a kaleidoscope of autumn color. Take time to stop and stretch your legs, grab a snack, or hike to a waterfall. The Hama Hama Oyster Saloon is a must-do when you are driving along the canal. Located on the water, you’ll see the oyster beds, taste their sweet, briny deliciousness and enjoy your favorite drink amid the natural beauty of the area.
Heading North on the Olympic Peninsula
As you drive north toward Port Townsend, stop in Chimacum. There, you will find Finnriver Farm and Cidery. The 80-acre orchard and farm will fuel your taste buds with delicious hard cider and local food. What complements autumn better than locally brewed cider? Following new safety protocols, Finnriver invites you to relax and join them for a taste of life on the land.
Port Townsend and Fort Worden State Park
Port Townsend is Washington’s Victorian seaport and arts community. This vibrant town is rich in talent and inspiration. Slow down and wander through the charming downtown. Support some local artists by bringing home a locally crafted memory with you.
Fort Worden State Park is just a short drive north. There you’ll find campgrounds, vacation rentals, two miles of beautiful shoreline, and the historic Point Wilson Lighthouse. Built as part of the early 20th century coastal defense system known as the “Triangle of Fire,” Fort Worden’s setting high on the bluff offers spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This part of the West Coast, USA has a unique personality that you’ll want to learn more about.
Onward for Sequim
Sequim is another charming small town on the Olympic Peninsula that has abundant activities. Railroad Bridge Park is located nearby on the Olympic Discovery Trail where you can explore the Dungeness River Audubon Center. This center honors the Olympic Peninsula’s unique natural and cultural resources, with emphasis on birds, rivers, fish, and native peoples.
Day #2 on the Olympic Peninsula
Wake up and smell the lavender! Sequim is the “Lavender Capital of North America®” and offers unique, organic beauty. Even though fall is the end of the season for these farms, you can still drop in for a visit, enjoy the peaceful fields, learn how lavender products are made, and shop for them around town. While you’re in Sequim, take a walk along the Dungeness Spit, the longest natural stretch of sand in the USA.
Port Angeles and Hurricane Ridge: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea
Port Angeles is a working port town known for its maritime history, scattered artistic gems, and Native American heritage. It is also a gateway to Olympic National Park. You will truly understand the meaning of “where the mountains meet the sea” as you drive from sea level up 5,000 feet to Hurricane Ridge. There you can take in the 360-degree views of the breathtaking mountain ranges of Olympic National Park, as well as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island to the north.
West on Highway 101, a West Coast, USA Classic Highway!
This part of the highway is full of easily accessible natural wonders you won’t want to miss. A short detour off the highway will take you to lovely Madison Creek Falls. Lake Crescent is another beauty right off the highway. If you have time, take a kayak out on the lake or hike to Marymere Falls nearby.
Sol Duc Falls
Another detour off Highway 101, and further into Olympic National Park, you will discover a hiking trail to the magnificent Sol Duc Falls. As you walk through the magnificent enormous trees, you’ll feel dwarfed by their size. A “hidden gem” on the way to or from the falls is Salmon Cascades, so named for the salmon migrating upstream where they spawn, and are best seen from late September into November, especially after a heavy rain.
Continue Toward Forks
Forks is a small town with a big heart located on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula, at the edge of one of the peninsula’s temperate rain forests. Nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Forks is a great basecamp for exploration. If you’re a fan of the Twilight Saga, this is where the novels are based and where a replica of heroine Bella Swan’s truck is parked. You can also explore the Forks Timber Museum to learn more about the area’s logging industry.
Lodging in Forks
Forks is a wonderful place to reset, relax, and get away from it all. There are many choices for places to stay near Forks, some hidden between the trees of the rain forest, such as the serene Quillayute River Resort. Here, your front door opens to the Quillayute River, with the rain forest surrounding the rest of the property.
Day #3 on the Olympic Peninsula
A Day of Beach Hopping
Start exploring the Pacific Coast beaches, where your day may begin with a foggy morning at stunning Rialto Beach, just a few miles from Quillayute River Resort. How often do we get to enjoy fresh ocean air mixed with that of a rain forest? It’s a wonderful sensation. Time your beach visit with low tide and you might be able to walk out to Hole-in-the-Wall, a sea-carved arch, for some tidepool discoveries.
Traveling south on Highway 101, you won’t want to miss Ruby Beach. Located within Olympic National Park, Ruby Beach, so called because of the ruby-like crystals in the sand, is often considered the prettiest beach in Washington. The weathered driftwood, dense rain forest and protruding sea stacks give this beach dramatic beauty—truly a must visit. Just a little further south, stop at Kalaloch Beach to see the renowned Tree of Life.
Quinault Rain Forest and Lake Quinault
After a day filled with Pacific beaches, it’s time to trade in salt water for fresh water. Quinault is an ideal spot to enjoy nature at your leisure. You can take a kayak or boat out on the lake, rent a bike, go fishing, or take a hike through the colorful, enchanting forest. These hikes are filled with stunning waterfalls, moss-covered trees, and flowing rivers.
Lake Quinault Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge is a bucket list place that you’ll be delighted to experience. Built in 1926, this rustic, cozy lodge is surrounded by the trees of the Quinault Rain Forest with views overlooking Lake Quinault. Worries melt away next to the calm water, fairy-tale forest, and blazing sunset at this lodge.
Wrapping up your West Coast, USA Route
The Olympic Peninsula region on the West Coast is beautiful and vibrant. It is the perfect combination of rain forest, striking mountain ranges, and dramatic beaches. Even better, visiting in the fall is the best way to ensure that the crowds don’t distract from the serenity of this much-loved destination.
This article was created in partnership with the VisitUSAPark.com. Originally written by Erika Land. All photos © 2018 Erika Land.
Due to Covid-19, we recommend checking ahead to all locations and businesses mentioned below for current hours and operation policies.