The Olympic Peninsula’s west side boasts 100 miles of saltwater shore, more than 200 miles of wild rivers brimming with salmon and steelhead and 2,000 square miles of diverse landscape waiting to be explored.

Experience unique small towns and learn about centuries-old Native American tradition and culture. Soak up dramatic waterfalls and a glacier-fed lake, or soak in soothing hot springs. Traverse a lush rain forest, beach or a wilderness trail, or follow in the tracks of your favorite Twilight character.

Whether you have a few hours or plan to spend several days, this guide to five-day trips on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula will help you discover this unique corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Day 1: Hoh Rain Forest and Kalaloch Beaches

Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest sits atop the list of must-do attractions on the Olympic Peninsula. One of only a handful of protected temperate rain forests in the Northern Hemisphere, this misty, moisture-laden area sees an average of 140 inches of annual rainfall.

Stop at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center for information and tips on what to see and do during your visit. Right outside the door, you’ll find three easy loop trails worth exploring. The Hall of Mosses Trail (.8 miles) features moss-draped maples and flora and fauna that changes with the seasons. The Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles) meanders through younger forest of red alder and cottonwood, spotlighting landscape carved over thousands of years by glacier-fed waters. A paved, quarter-mile nature path easily accommodates wheelchairs and strollers.

The visitor center is also a starting point for longer, more challenging treks, including the 17.3-mile Hoh River Trail. If you’d like to hike for miles without the heavy load, consider using a llama to carry your gear.

Hiking is just one of several options for visitors. Hoh River float trips are a popular summer activity, and local guides offer fishing and photography trips year-round.

Kalaloch Beaches
Just 15 miles to the west, you’ll find yourself along the scenic Pacific Ocean coast. Easy access is available in the Kalaloch (pronounced clay-lock) area along U.S. Highway 101. Pebble-strewn Beach Trail 4 offers dramatic surf, brimming tidepools and opportunities to dip for smelt. (Watch out for the strong undertow.)

Don’t miss Ruby Beach, aptly named for its ruby-like rocks in the beach sand. Wander among sea stacks and driftwood logs and imagine the long-ago gold mining operation that stood on the spot in the early 1900s.

 

Day 2: Around Forks and La Push

Forks
The historic timber town of Forks attracts thousands of fans each year eager to pay homage to the place that inspired Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books.

Located 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the rural community of Forks is home to about 5,000 friendly folks and offers restaurants, lodging and a full menu of services. Make your first stop the Forks Visitor Information Center for tips on what to see and do.

Twilight Photo Op Alert: Be sure to get your picture taken with Bella’s red 1950s Chevy pickup truck.

Next door, check out the Forks Loggers Memorial and Forks Timber Museum (open May through October), featuring an authentic fire lookout tower and artifacts and exhibits of pioneer and regional history. If you’re visiting on a Wednesday, May through September, immerse yourself in the town’s timber industry with a free, three-hour logging and mill tour. Space is limited. For reservations, call 360-374-2531.

West of Forks, visit Rialto Beach on the north side of the Quillayute River. It’s the ideal spot to take in dramatic waves and watch for shorebirds, eagles and seals. It’s also the starting point of an amazing waterside walk. Follow the beach a mile and a half to Hole-in-the-Wall, a rock arch carved out by the surf. The ocean views, pounding waves, sea stacks and driftwood will leave you breathless.

La Push
On the south side of the Quillayute River you’ll find La Push, home to the Quileute tribe. This hospitable community offers lodging, restaurants, a marina, fishing charters and three outstanding beaches:

  • Mile-long First Beach is known for great surfing and whale watching.
  • Second Beach is a popular spot for photographers. A forested trail (.7 miles) leads to a two-mile stretch of sandy beach. Keep your eyes peeled for eagles.
  • The trail to Third Beach (1.5 miles) wanders through a sometimes foggy second-growth forest of towering hemlocks. Why second growth? In 1921, winds up to 170 miles per hour flattened the area. The “21 Blow” took down nearly 8 billion board feet of timber, enough to erect 600,000 three-bedroom homes.

Travel 13 miles north of Forks to the Sol Duc Salmon Hatchery where you’ll find interpretive displays, river access and a picnic area. In the fall, watch for fish in the trap past the water-cooling tower and large pond near the river.

 

Day 3: Explore the Northwest Coast

Around Neah Bay, Sekiu and Clallam Bay
Find yourself at the northernmost tip of the contiguous United States. Explore the wild coast, do some whale watching, walk the beach and visit the internationally-renowned Native American Cultural Center.

Strait of Juan de Fuca
Follow Washington State Route 112, the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway through the small towns of Neah Bay, Sekiu and Clallam Bay. Take in jaw-dropping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada’s Vancouver Island, and stop along the way to explore the friendly communities. Seasonal whale watching tours, scuba, fishing charters, kayak rentals and guided coastal tours are available. This dramatic stretch of highway is a birder’s paradise, so bring the binoculars. The Great Washington State Birding Trail guide provides a comprehensive list of species and viewing sites on the Olympic Peninsula.

Sekiu and Clallam Bay
Some of the best tidepools in Washington state can be found at Slip Point near Clallam Bay. You can access the county day-use park in town. Be sure to check the tides and allow plenty of time. In Sekiu, stroll the boat marinas and watch for halibut, lingcod or red snapper caught fresh from the water. Be on the lookout for gray whales that feed in the shallow reefs along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Neah Bay
Explore the remote and historic town of Neah Bay, steeped in tribal tradition and culture and a popular destination for sport fishing, kayaking, surfing, birding and scuba. A visit to the Makah Cultural and Research Center is a must. Learn about the Makah tribe’s centuries-old connection to the land and water and view a fascinating exhibit of tribal artifacts more than 500 years old.

 

Day 4: Ozette Wilderness Hike

Cedar boardwalks, towering trees, abundant wildlife and crashing waves. The northern corner of the Olympic Peninsula offers a premiere hiking destination, delivering a stunning pairing of forest and coastline.

The northwest entrance to Olympic National Park is your gateway to 57 miles of coastal wilderness at Lake Ozette, your starting and stopping point for the nine-mile Cape Alava Loop (Ozette Triangle).

Three miles of plank-and-stair trail lead through dense forest before opening onto the beach at Cape Alava. Take a moment to absorb that you’re near the site of an ancient Makah tribal village, partially buried in a mudslide, more than five centuries ago. (The closed site is marked by a memorial kiosk.)

Turn left and head south along the beach. Explore the rocky shores and reefs at low tide. You’ll pass dozens of ancient Makah petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, the first headland south of the trailhead.

Hug the shoreline until you reach Sand Point, the southern tip of the triangle. This is a prime spot for agate hunting and home to a large sea otter population. A large disk marks a trail near the woods that will take you inland. A level planked trail (2.8 miles) leads you back to Lake Ozette.

Pro Travel Tip: To learn more about the Makah people, culture and tradition, and to view tribal artifacts more than five centuries old, plan a visit to the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay.

Travel Note: Be prepared and check tide tables to time your beach trek with outgoing tides and carry the 10 hiking essentials. Planks are slippery when wet. Soft-soled athletic shoes are a better option than Vibram-soled hikers.

 

Day 5: Lake Crescent, Waterfalls and Sol Duc Hot Springs

A glacier-carved lake, waterfall-laden trails, recreation and adventure, and a resort that will soothe, restore and renew. This little bit of paradise has something for all.

The turquoise-colored waters of stunning Lake Crescent offer swimming, boating, fishing and diverse hiking trails. Take a shoreline path that was once a railroad grade and ascend to breathtaking vistas. Or take a forested trail with waterfall rewards. Marymere Falls is just a one-mile walk from the Storm King Ranger Station at Barnes Point. Much-photographed Sol Duc Falls can be reached via an easy trail (.8 miles) from the end of Sol Duc Hot Springs Road off U.S. Highway 101 at the west end of Lake Crescent. East of the lake on Olympic Hot Springs Road you’ll find Madison Falls. Stroll the paved 600-foot path near the tollbooth to see the cascade in action.

On the north shore of Lake Crescent, a four-mile trail follows the old Spruce Railroad grade and is one of two trails in the park that allows mountain bikes. Looking for more of a hiking/biking challenge? East of Lake Crescent, opt for the lightly traveled 13-mile Mount Muller Loop, considered one of the best ridge hikes in the Olympics. You’ll gain 2,700 feet and be rewarded with incredible views. Bring the pup on this dog-friendly route, which is also open to horses.

If you’re looking for adventure on the water, check out boat rentals and tours at Lake Crescent Lodge.