Last Updated on: 8th March 2023, 09:58 pm
Planning an Olympic Peninsula vacation, road trip, or weekend getaway? This area of Washington is blessed with an embarrassment of riches, so you can’t ever run out of Olympic Peninsula activities and fun!
From a UNESCO World Heritage Site that doubles as a US National Park to famous filming locations to the lavender capital of the USA, here are the best things to do on the Olympic Peninsula!
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My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2023
These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Protect Your Trip via Safety Wing
Find the best city tours, day tours, bus tours, & skip-the-line tickets on GetYourGuide and Viator.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For English-speaking private airport transfers, book through Welcome Pickups.
For road trips and independent travel, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Book an affordable family or romantic photography session on your trip through Flytographer (Use the code HISTORYFANGIRL for 10% off your first photoshoot).
For travel guidebooks to have with you during your trip, I always pick one or two from Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.
Good to Know: During this portion of my trip to Washington, I was hosted by the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission, a nonprofit that promotes tourism to the Olympic Peninsula.
We explored many parts of this corner of the Pacific Northwest, including Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Sequim, and Port Ludlow.
While the trip was hosted by the OPTC, all opinions are my own, including thoughts I share about my visit and my tips for what you should do during your trip to Washington state.
5 Most Popular Olympic Peninsula Tours
Before you dig into all the Olympic Peninsula has to offer, here are the most popular guided tours and day trips:
Hoh Rain Forest and Rialto Beach Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Electric Bike Ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail
Hurricane Ridge Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Sea Kayak and Mountain Bike Adventure near Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
The Best Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula
Here’s what to put on your Olympic National Park bucket list. And don’t worry if you don’t see it all on your first trip – you could explore the OP for a month and still not see everything worth doing!
Be prepared to want to come back again and again!
Visit Olympic National Park
One of the most visited US national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Olympic National Park is one of the most famous places to visit in the United States.
Many people (myself included) plan to visit the Olympic Peninsula mostly out of their excitement to see this national treasure.
However, that doesn’t mean that ONP still isn’t underestimated. If you only set aside one day to visit the park, you will realize quickly that you won’t be able to fit in all of the park’s highlights, let alone its hidden gems!
The treasures hidden in Olympic National Park are seemingly endless as are the different ecosystems you experience within just a day or two.
The park is famous for old-growth forests, temperate rainforests, stunning mountain peaks, haunting driftwood beaches, charming sea stacks, and crystalline blue lakes.
Some of the most famous sites in Olympic National Park include the Hoh Rainforest, Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Lake Quinault, the Sol Duc Valley, and the Quinault Rainforest.
Good to Know: This list doesn’t even include the park’s most famous waterfalls, hiking trails, visitors’ centers, scenic drives, or beaches, since I mention most of them below!
The cost to visit Olympic National Park varies. A pass for one non-commercial vehicle is $30. The pass is good for seven days.
If you have an America the Beautiful Parks Pass, you can use this for free entry.
If you don’t want your time in Olympic National Park to end at nightfall, you can plan to stay in the park.
Olympic National Park is blessed with several famous park lodges (though they book up insanely early).
There are four lodges and resorts in the park: Lake Crescent Lodge, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, Log Cabin Resort, and Kalaloch Lodge.
You can also camp in Olympic National Park, but you will want to make your reservations as early as possible since campsites also book up fast.
Use the park’s Eating & Sleeping resource page to make your reservations, and do not dawdle!
Summer accommodations book up months in advance, though spring and autumn are great times to visit the park with fewer crowds!
Prefer a guided trip to Olympic National Park? Check out these highly-rated tours:
From Port Angeles
Hoh Rain Forest and Rialto Beach Guided Tour
Hurricane Ridge Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park Tour from Seattle
Best of Olympic National Park from Seattle: All-Inclusive Small-Group Day Tour
Read next: my best Olympic National Park travel tips!
Escape the Crowds in Olympic National Forest
While Olympic National Park might be more famous, Olympic National Forest should not be overlooked!
What’s the difference between the two? While Olympic National Park is overseen by the National Park Service (NPS), Olympic National Forest is managed by the USDA Forest Service.
The two are next to each other, and you can enjoy the peninsula’s hiking, camping, lakes, and mountains here as well as in ONP.
There park is administered in two sections, the Pacific Ranger District and the Hood Canal Ranger District, and the headquarters are located in Olympia.
You can easily visit the forest from most OP cities and towns, though I would note what you want to do in the forest before determining where to stay, as it covers a very large area!
Popular things to do in Olympic National Forest include visiting Lake Cushman, the Wynoochee Dam, and the Mt. Skokomish Wilderness.
Some famous ONP sites are shared by both, like the Quinault Rainforest and Lake Quinault.
Historic sites at ONF include the Louella Guard Station and the Interrorem Cabin, which are structures from the early days of the Forest Service.
If you want to stay in the Olympic National Forest, it boasts the historic Lake Quinault Lodge as well as many campsites.
If you are using your national parks pass, your entrance to ONF is covered. Otherwise, entry fees are $5 per day.
Go Chase Waterfalls
The rain-soaked peninsula makes for great waterfall country, so go chase a few while you’re here! There are so many waterfalls here that you would never be able to see all of them in one regular-sized vacation!
Most of the waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula have waterfall hikes to enjoy on your way, though some make for good roadside stops.
I’m dividing this up into waterfalls in ONP, ONF, and independent falls to help you decide which to see on your trip.
Olympic National Park Waterfalls
There are waterfalls in Olympic National Park that are must-dos on the Olympic Peninsula, like Marymere Falls, Sol Duc Falls, and Madison Creek Falls.
If you can’t get enough and are an avid hiker and backpacker, you can pursue the 28-mile hike along the Quinault River to the Enchanted Valley, passing through what locals refer to as the Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls.
Prefer a guided waterfall hike? Check out:
Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls Guided Tour in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Forest Waterfalls
While not quite the household names that Sol Duc Falls and Marymere Falls are, Olympic National Forest boasts some fabulous waterfalls!
While here, check out Wynoochee Falls, Merriman Falls, Hamma Hamma Falls, Murhut Falls, Willaby Creek Falls, and Fallsview Falls.
Waterfall trails located outside of national parks are great for those who want something closer to their hotel, are looking to hike with their pet (on a leash), and are families looking for accessible or family-friendly hikes.
While there aren’t as many waterfalls outside of the ONP and ONF as there are inside them, there are a few good ones, including Ludlow Falls, Beaver Falls, and Snow Creek Falls.
Read next: how to hike the half-mile Ludlow Falls Interpretive Trail
Walk or Bike the Olympic Discovery Trail
Stretching from Port Townsend in the east to La Push on the Pacific Ocean, the Olympic Discovery Trail is over 130 miles long and takes almost fifty hours to complete from start to finish, though many use portions of the trail rather than walk the entire length.
You can use the website for the Olympic Discovery Trail to plan your visit and select which portions of the trail you want to attempt during your visit to the Olympic Peninsula.
If you choose to do the entire thing, make note of which sections are gravel versus paved and where construction or other issues are happening.
You can also sign up to get alerts from their mailing list to help you en route.
Feeling competitive? You can sign up to walk or run the North Olympic Discovery Marathon, which traverses the northern route between Sequim and Port Angeles.
For those who don’t want to do a full 26.2, there are half-marathon, 10k, and 5k options as well.
View upcoming race dates on their website.
Good to Know: Many hotels will let you rent bikes if you prefer not to travel with a bike.
You can also book a group Electric Bike Ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail in Port Angeles.
Reserve a spot on the Electric Bike Ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail!
Seek Out Olympic Peninsula Totem Poles
Many nations and tribes of the Pacific Northwest have been carving totem poles for centuries.
If you are not from this part of the world, seeing one in person for the first time can feel a bit overwhelming since they are likely much taller, more intricate, and more colorful than you might imagine.
There are many places to see totem poles on the Olympic Peninsula. You can start with the 35 that are located on the campus of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and their 7 Cedars Hotel.
There are also beautiful individual totem poles in Sequim, Port Townsend, and Port Ludlow.
If you want to learn more about totem poles from the Jamestown S’Klallam, you can check out Totem Poles of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe: The Art of Dale Faulstich.
Support Native-Owned Businesses
There are eight Olympic Peninsula indigenous nations and tribes that are involved with Olympic National Park and other important Olympic Peninsula locations where tourists often find themselves.
These tribes are the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah.
This is not a complete list of the peoples who made the area their home, but it’s a good introduction to the tribes and nations you will encounter during your time on the OP.
Supporting Native-owned businesses as well as artisans and craftspeople is a great way to contribute to the prosperity and security of the Indigenous nations of the Olympic Peninsula.
Indulge in the Local Wine Scene
Whether you already love Washington state wines, or you are just dipping your toes in, you can sample Olympic Peninsula wineries during a wine tasting at a tasting room, pick up a bottle from a local market, or dine at restaurants that showcase local vintners.
If a wine tasting or winery visit is something you want to add to your itinerary, you can use the Olympic Culinary Loop’s wine list.
The Olympic Culinary Loop is a carefully curated list of the best of Olympic Peninsula’s food and wine scene (as well as cideries, breweries, etc).
You can use this list to pick wineries as well as discover the best wine bars and restaurants with well-stocked wine cellars.
And while you should check out some local OP wine, if you aren’t from Washington you can use your trip to discover the wonderful Washington wines that come from all over the state.
Learn Why Washington Cideries are so Apple-ing
Forgive me my fruit pun (I just adore a good travel pun), but I can’t get over how joyful it was to visit an Olympic Peninsula cidery during our trip!
We did a tasting and tour at Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, learning about how they are pushing to elevate cider in the public’s mind as well as educating Americans about what good cider should taste like.
We sampled many different versions of cider from their most straightforward to their fanciest to their bubbliest, and I left with an appreciation for the art form that I had never had before.
If you’ve been to distilleries, wineries, and breweries – but never to a cidery – Washington is the perfect place to start your apple cider education. The apple is the Washington state fruit, after all!
You can book a tasting at Finnriver or use the Olympic Culinary Loop Wine & Cider guide to pick a few local spots to visit during your trip.
Taste the Freshness of the Local Seafood
Before vacationing on the Olympic Peninsula, I had no idea how good the food was. Seriously, with one small exception, each meal I had was perfect though they were different from each other.
This was due in large part to just how fantastic the seafood is out here. From King Salmon from Neah Bay to Dungeness Crab named after the peninsular town of Dungeness to Northwest Clam Chowder, I was in seafood heaven!
I could easily have scallops for lunch with salmon for dinner (or vice versa), and I never got tired of eating the fresh local catch!
So much so that I had a Pacific Salmon Chowder and a Smoked Salmon Tartine at a wine bar at the Seattle Airport before my flight. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
See the Olympic Peninsula on Foot on the OP’s Best Hiking Trails
While your tastebuds will certainly be tickled during your time here, an Olympic Peninsula vacation is one for all five of your basic senses.
And what better way to indulge your other four senses than by getting out into nature?
This is where you can see the beauty of old-growth forests, touch the soft moss growing on benches, listen to the sounds of wildlife and water on the move, and smell the fresh, dewy air.
There are great hikes all over the peninsula, as well as hikes of varying difficulty.
Whether you like an easy hike that takes an hour or you want a hard day hike that will keep you out on the trail all day, there’s a hike or two here for you to enjoy!
I’m going to list some of the most famous Olympic Peninsula hikes by location and difficulty; however, always research a trail on your own before deciding to tackle it.
Olympic National Park Hikes
There are over six hundred miles of trails in Olympic National Park, so it’s unlikely you will run out of options here during your first or second visit.
The most famous easy hikes in ONP include the Marymere Falls Trail, the Hall of Mosses Trail, the Hoh River Trail, the Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail, the Staircase Rapids Loop, and the Spruce Nature Trail.
Moderate hikes worth looking into at ONP include Hurricane Hill, the Hole-in-the-Wall Trail from Rialto Beach, and the Ozette Triangle Trail.
Some of the most famous difficult hikes in ONP are the Mount Storm King Trail, the High Divide and Seven Lakes Basin, and the Lake Angeles Trail.
Olympic National Forest Hikes
With over two hundred and fifty miles of hiking trail, Olympic National Forest is a great place to come out for a day hike!
If you’re looking for easy hikes in Olympic National Forest, start with the Ancient Grove Nature Trail, Spider Lake Trail, and the Quinault Big Sitka Spruce Tree Trail (which takes you to the world’s largest Sitka Spruce!).
If you want a moderate challenge, check out the Lower Lena Lake Trail, the Upper Big Creek Loop Trail, the Mount Zion Trail, and the Murhut Falls Trail.
For those looking for difficult hikes, the most well-known hard hikes in ONF are the Mount Ellinor Trail, the Mount Townsend Trail, and the Mount Walker Trail.
Ludlow Falls Interpretive Trail (Easy, Port Ludlow)
Cape Flattery Trail (Easy, Makah Indian Reservation)
Elwha Overlook Trail (Easy, Elwha River Restoration Interpretive Center)
Striped Peak Trail (Moderate, Salt Creek Recreation Area)
Read Hill Trail (Moderate, Forks)
Shi Shi Beach Trail (Moderate, Makah Indian Reservation)
Mount Pleasant (Hard, Port Angeles)
Good to Know: The Cape Flattery Trail is one of the most famous trails in Washington and takes you to the most northwestern point in the continental US where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Pacific.
It is known for its rock formations, cliffs and bluffs, and well-maintained boardwalk, and belongs on your Olympic Peninsula Bucket List!
To access any trails or beaches on the Makah Indian Reservation, including Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach, you must buy a $20 Recreation Use Permit ahead of time. They are not available at the trailhead.
Experience the Peninsula’s Wild and Romantic Beaches
While I did spend some time out on the water, one of my biggest regrets was not making enough time to experience the Olympic Peninsula’s famous beaches.
Oh well, it’s always nice to save something for your next trip!
As with hikes, always research the specifics of each beach before adding them to your itinerary, as these are spread out across the OP and have different levels of accessibility.
These are the beautiful beaches that I have on my OP bucket list for my next trip:
Kalaloch Beach (the location of the Tree of Life)
Shi Shi Beach
Good to Know: The Olympic Peninsula is famous for beautiful driftwood beaches, fiery sunsets (especially at the beaches near La Push), and tide pools teeming with life.
You want to use proper beach and ocean safety, as well as know when high tide and low tide will be so that you can have a fun and safe visit to the beach.
If you plan on examining tide pools during your visit, make sure to read up on tide pool etiquette so that the animals you encounter remain safe and healthy.
Get Out on the Water and Go Kayaking
There are many great places to go kayaking in Puget Sound and around the Olympic Peninsula.
If you’re an avid kayaker, you can BYOK (bring your own kayak) or you can rent them from local sports outfitters who specialize in kayak and SUP rentals.
If you want to experience kayaking the Olympic Peninsula in a group or you’re a beginner, joining a kayak tour is a great way to get started!
This half-day guided kayak tour includes all equipment, hotel pick-up and drop-off, and a wine tasting in Port Angeles!
Want even more adventure? This full-day sea kayak and mountain bike tour will get you out on the water as well as on a mountain bike. Equipment is included and no prior experience is required.
Reserve your half-day kayaking tour or full-day kayaking tour for your trip to the OP!
Experience the Lavender Capital of North America in Sequim
I love lavender tourism, so whether I’m planning a trip to Croatia, shopping for lavender souvenirs from France, or drinking lavender honey matcha in Sequim, I’m happy as a clam.
While I didn’t get to experience fields of purple heaven (it was the wrong time of year), I did get to experience Sequim’s exquisite lavender harvest in the form of drinks, both the matcha at lunch and a Lavender Lemon Drop at dinner the following night!
While most of the Olympic Peninsula is shrouded in fog and rain most of the year, Sequim lies in a rainshadow which earns it the nickname “Sunny Sequim.”
This special weather makes for the perfect lavender crop, and if you come during the lavender season you can go to a U-Pick lavender farm, listed here.
Make Like a Twihard on Self-Guided Twilight Tour
Even though it’s been years since the Twilight books and movies came out, they still visitors out to the Olympic Peninsula.
I was shocked to learn that at some places associated with Twilight, locals are still fielding six or more requests per week for the specific meal eaten at a restaurant in the books or the exact book that was discussed at a bookshop.
You can head to Forks, where the local visitor center will happily give you a copy of the Twilight packet, which includes a map of local spots like the Swan house.
Forks is also home to a collection of props and costumes from the movies.
If your #teamjacob, then spend some time in La Push, which is home to the Quileute Tribe. You can visit local beaches, stay at their resort hotel, and visit their heritage museum.
If you do visit Quileute Tribal lands (or any tribe or nation of the Olympic Peninsula), please make sure to use good etiquette for visiting tribal lands.
If you’ll be in Port Angeles, there are two stops you must make:
The first is Bella Italia, where Bella and Edward had dinner after she was nearly attacked. If you want to be a purist, order Bella’s favorite – the mushroom ravioli. (It was sensational, by the way).
The restaurant is a great choice even for non-Twilight fans, as the menu and wine list are just insane. There’s no other way to put it. I lived in South Philadelphia for almost a decade, but this is some of the best Italian food I’ve had anywhere in the states.
The second stop is just down the block and Port Book and News. While the bookstore wasn’t mentioned specifically by name, it’s the bookstore right by the Italian restaurant, so one can deduce this is where Bella stopped.
The bookstore is also a great place to look for local Olympic Peninsula souvenirs, even if you won’t be buying a copy of the Twilight Saga for your very own.
Plan Ahead: If you don’t know much about Twilight, but you’d like to read it before your trip, you can pick up a set of the books on Amazon.
Celebrate the Best of 1980s Cinema by Walking in the Footsteps of Debra Winger and Richard Gere
One of the most romantic movies to come out of the 1980s – a decade known for producing its fair share of schmalzy romances – An Officer & a Gentlemen was filmed on location in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula.
Fort Worden Historical State Park, a deactivated US Army Base, was used as the setting of the AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School) Gere attends, since the Navy wouldn’t allow the movie to be filmed at the real one in Pensacola, Florida.
Besides the scenes filmed at Fort Worden, there are several important filming locations throughout Port Townsend, including The Tides Inn, Mountain View Elementary School, Tremont Street, Mill Road, and the Point Hudson Marina.
You can use this list of filming locations to plan your own An Officer & a Gentleman tour.
Good to Know: A few early scenes of the movie were also filmed in Bremerton on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Are you a huge fan of the move? Stay at The Tides Inn during your Olympic Peninsula vacation!
Celebrate Modern Reality TV at Sequim’s 90 Day Fiance Filming Locations
So Twilight and An Officer & a Gentlemen are internationally famous with hordes of adoring fans…and yet the filming locations on the OP that got me the most excited are actually from a modern reality tv classic.
Yes, I’m talking about the TLC trash show (and one of my faves) 90 Day Fiance.
You see, Mike Youngquist, of Mike & Natalie (90 Day Fiance Season 7 and 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After? Season 6), is from Sequim.
And it is this beautiful, sunny, lavender-filled town that Natalie constantly compared to a horror movie.
So I don’t suggest going to Mike’s farm (that would be weird), but you can see some of the other places that he filmed around town and see for yourself if Natalie was right about Sequim.
Hint: she was not.
Keep on the Lookout for the Peninsula’s Wildlife
If you need a palate cleanser after all the soapy love stories and trashy tv, head back into nature and be on the lookout for wildlife!
During my visit, I saw a Bald Eagle on the Hood Canal Bridge and deer and ducks in Olympic National Park.
Other famous animals from the Olympic Peninsula include sea lions, black bears, elk, mountain lions, and sea otters.
And while I didn’t get to see a black bear or an elk this time, I have seen both at other US national parks, and those experiences are ones I treasure.
Great places to look for wildlife on the Olympic Peninsula include Olympic National Park, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Olympic National Forest, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
After Looking for the OP’s Most Common Animals, See if You Can Find the Reclusive Sasquatch (AKA Big Foot)
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife – but keep your ears perked as well!
Now, I’m not saying I for sure heard Sasquatch in Olympic National Park.
But what I am saying is I heard a noise repeatedly that consisted of five deep whoops in a row (made over and over again), and when I Googled it, the results said it was probably Sasquatch.
Which is good enough for me!
So yes, I DEFINITELY heard Sasquatch near Hurricane Ridge (wink-wink / don’t sue me), and if you want to as well, then keep your ears open for unidentifiable sounds coming out of the thick ONP woods.
They may not tell you that it’s Sasquatch at the ranger station, but you have my permission to tell everyone back home what you know you heard.
And if for some reason, you don’t come across “evidence” of a reclusive/fictional animal in the woods at Olympic National Park, you can always go to Sasquatch Donuts in Port Angeles to find a Sasquatch-shaped donut to fill your sorrow with.
Then go buy a few Sasquatch souvenirs at Port Book & News to remember your trip!
Good to Know: Deb got more footage of the sounds than I got, so if she reports back anything Sasquatch-related, I will update this post. 😉
Be Transported Back in Time at a Victorian Seaport
There are three registered Victorian Seaports in the US, and one is right on the Olympic Peninsula!
Port Townsend (along with Cape May in New Jersey and Galveston in Texas) offers a glimpse into what life was like in coastal towns during the second half of the nineteenth century.
What was once the second-busiest port on the West Coast, you can learn about the town’s important rise (and unfortunate fall) at the Jefferson Museum of Art & History.
You’ll also want to set aside time to experience the beautifully preserved Victorian architecture of this whimsical village-by-the-sea.
Get Your Fjord On with a Drive Over the Hood Canal Bridge
Fjords aren’t just for Scandinavia! If you find yourself drawn to the fjords of Norway, but want to be in North America, then you’ll be thrilled to know that most of North America’s fjords are located in Alaska and Washington.
Puget Sound is a system of multiple fjords and is the southernmost group of fjords in the US. It is part of the Salish Sea, which also includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.
Traversing Hood Canal fjord, which is part of the Puget Sound, is one of the most common ways to drive to the Olympic Peninsula from the Seattle Airport (via the Kitsap Peninsula).
This bridge will give you amazing views of the fjord, as well as the chance to experience the Hood Canal Bridge, the third-longest floating bridge in the world.
Keep your eyes peeled here and you may get lucky! We spotted a Bald Eagle flying over the bridge during our wait for it to open!
Use this website to keep up with traffic conditions on the bridge for your trip.
TIL Writing this Post: Hudson River is actually a fjord and the only official fjord in the eastern US! I had no idea.
See the Summer Whales on a Whale Watching Tour
One of the most popular day trips to take during your time on the peninsula, you can go whale watching from May through September.
Most trips depart from Port Townsend and Port Angeles, crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and visiting the San Juan Islands or Vancouver Island.
Book your whale watching tour through Puget Sound Express.
Explore the Olympic Peninsula by Bike (or Electric Bike)!
A great way to experience Olympic National Park and the Olympic Discovery Trail is on a bike!
If you aren’t BYOB – bringing your own bicycle – you can see if your accommodations have rentals available (our hotel in Port Angeles, the Red Lion Hotel, had bikes out front for customers).
If you prefer to use an E-bike, you can sign up for a guided tour.
Reserve a spot on the Electric Bike Ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail!
Experience Some of the West Coast’s Best Lighthouses
I love lighthouses – don’t you! I love old ones, and I even love new ones that are made to look old.
While Canada and California have their fair share of west coast lighthouses, there are quite a few beautiful ones on the Olympic Peninsula!
The easiest to see in person is Point Wilson in Fort Worden State Park. Some, like Cape Flattery’s Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, can be seen from afar.
Read next: The best quotes about lighthouses and lighthouse puns
Play Lighthouse Keeper on the Dungeness Spit
If you loved the novel Lighthousekeeping as much as I did, then you’ll be excited to know that you can be a lighthouse keeper for a week on the Olympic Peninsula!
I hadn’t heard about the New Dungeness Lighthouse Keeper Program before my trip, but I was told all about it during a particularly delicious lunch in Sequim, and now this experience is high on my bucket list.
During your week as a keeper, you and your group of up to eight are responsible for giving tours and greeting those who made the 5-mile walk out to the lighthouse as well as other general housekeeping duties.
Good to Know: One reason that I will have to wait a few years is that families can do this together, but children must be at least six years old. So we have a few years to wait before we will make the cut!
See the Peninula’’s Colder Side by Visiting the Olympic Peninsula In Winter
Summer is the most popular time of year to visit, but that means crowds! If you come during the winter or early spring, you’ll get much more of the OP to yourself, and you can enjoy some winter fun like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and taking snow selfies.
(Okay, that last one isn’t a real “winter activity” per se, it’s just my favorite thing to do on the Olympic Peninsula in the snow).
Good to Know: Come prepared for high altitude to feel like winter – even in late spring! On Hurricane Ridge, even at the tail-end of April, the piles of packed snow were as tall as I am – and I was dressed in just a jean jacket!
Look for New-to-You Plants and Wildflowers
If you aren’t from the Pacific Northwest, you will get the opportunity to see a lot of plants, trees, and wildflowers that are different than what you have back home.
For me, coming from the Great Plains, it was wild to be surrounded by trees that felt like giants and to see moss-covered-everything since the climate stays wet most of the year.
I loved diving into the plant life and the wet climate, though we did get almost five days of sun in a row with very little rain!
The most popular trees to be on the lookout for are Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Golden Fir, and Western Hemlock.
I was personally taken with the variety of fern on display (and how they gather the morning dew on their tips), as well as spotting charming wildflowers hiding in the brush.
You can also find plants endemic to the Olympic Peninsula (and found almost nowhere else!) throughout your time here.
These include the Olympic Violet, Flett’s Fleabane, and Olympic Mountain Milkvetch.
If you want to go beyond plants, keep your eyes out for the wide array of fungi that grow in the wet climate.
Indulge in a Scenic Drive or Two
The most famous scenic drive on the Olympic Peninsula is the Olympic Peninsula Loop, though it’s an eight-hour drive without stops, so it makes for a better road drive than an afternoon drive.
However, if you love to drive pretty roads, it’s good to know that it’s not the only scenic drive on the Peninsula!
Olympic National Park has many beautiful roads to drive, including Hurricane Ridge Road, Highway 101 between Ruby Beach and Kalaloch, and Obstruction Point Road.
Good to Know: Hurricane Ridge Road takes ninety minutes as an out-and-back (factor in additional time to stop at the scenic overlooks). This road is stunning, but be on the lookout for deer (and Sasquatch).
Investigate the Paranormal and Go Looking for Ghosts
The towns of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula and Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula are two of the most haunted places in America – and they just so happen to only be forty-five minutes apart!
(Well, depending on the Hood Canal Bridge’s schedule).
Port Townsend boasts two haunted hotels (Manresa Castle and the Palace Hotel) and a haunted museum (The Rothschild House).
If you happen to be in the area for the annual Port Gamble Ghost Conference, make sure to set aside time before or after your trip to investigate Port Townsend as well!
Visit One of the Peninsula’s Many Fabulous Museums
I’ve mentioned Indigenous people’s museums, historical museums, and haunted museums, but there are a lot of great museums to potentially add to your itinerary.
Decide how much time you want to spend indoors, and then add a few museums to cover that amount of time.
And then write down two or three more that interest you and keep those in your back pocket for a rainy day.
And since it’s the Olympic Peninsula, you’re probably going to have a rainy day or two!
Here are some of the most popular museums on the Olympic Peninsula:
Museum at the Carnegie (Port Angeles)
Sequim Museum & Arts (Sequim)
Makah Cultural & Research Center Museum (Neah Bay)
Jefferson Museum of Art & History (Port Townsend)
Forks Timber Museum (Forks)
The Rothchilds House Museum (Port Townsend)
Lake Quinault Museum (Quinault)
Visit a State Park…or Six
Olympic National Park gets a ton of love, but the peninsula also has some amazing state parks you can visit as well.
Washington’s State Parks Olympic Peninsula Region lists six state parks, which is crazy when you think about how much of the peninsula is already accounted for between ONP, ONF, tribal lands, and towns.
We visited Fort Worden Historical State Park (or An Officer & a Gentleman fame), but there’s also
Fort Townsend Historical State Park
Sequim Bay State Park
Dosewallips State Park
Bogachiel State Park
Triton Cove State Park
These parks have different climates and amenities. They also make great places to camp if you want to stay outside of the ONP and ONF.
See the Colorful Side of the Olympic Peninsula through Street Art
The city of Port Angeles may not feel like the “big city,” but, with nearly twenty-thousand residents, it is the biggest city on the Olympic Peninsula.
And one benefit that comes with being the biggest city around is that you have lots of empty walls and parking lots that are perfect for street art.
You will probably spot one or two on your own while you’re here, but if you want to look for the best murals in Port Angeles, head out on the Port Angeles mural trail!
A few of my favorites are Sluicing the Hogback, the MV Kalakala Mural next to it, and the Olympic Visions Mural right across the street.
All three are also conveniently located right by Bella Italia and Port Books and News.
One mural I did miss that I have on my list for next time is the Welcome to Port Angeles mural. I know every town has them, but I love these kinds of welcoming city murals and postcard murals and try to visit as many of them as I can.
Make Like a Local and Debate Which Mountain is Which
Something I didn’t know was a thing until I got here was just how smitten Washingtonians are with their mountains, and how excited they are when you can see them. (All those foggy days do take a toll, after all).
And along with that comes figuring out which mountain you’re looking at, based on the shape and your location.
Mount Rainier is the most famous mountain in Washington, and while we did see it driving from the Tri-Cities over to Gig Harbor, we didn’t see it from the Olympic Peninsula.
We did see Mount Baker, which at times was thought to be Rainier. The debate went back and forth until my friend Kim whipped out the app PeakVisor and concluded that it had to be Baker.
Guys, the tension was palpable.
It’s possible no one in the world is as passionate about their mountains as Washingtonians.
Whenever we could see the Cascades in the distance from Port Ludlow, the views took my breath away. Unfortunately, due to weather, this isn’t always possible.
A lesson I learned from the Washingtonians: never take mountain views for granted!
Of course, when you’re on the Olympic Peninsula, you will probably get views of the Olympic Mountains – weather permitting.
The highest peak is Mount Olympus, which we didn’t see during our trip, but we did see many other Olympic peaks while up on Hurricane Ridge.
Hurricane Ridge Road has lots of pull-offs, but not every stop is equal. We tried to find the few with the best mountain viewpoints (and I think we succeeded).
Between the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades, I saw more than my fair share of mountains during my trip!
Shop-til-You-Drop for Olympic Peninsula Souvenirs and Gifts (or Your Suitcase is Full)
If I’m being perfectly honest, I only stopped souvenir shopping during my trip because my suitcase, backpack, and extra tote bag were STUFFED TO THE GILS.
If I had bought so much as one more magnet, I think my suitcase would have burst open in protest.
I found some of my favorite souvenirs in the form of Washington wine, which luckily made it home just wrapped in a few pairs of leggings.
But you can’t take many bottles home safely that way.
Next time I go to Washington, I will be investing in a few of these (or maybe an entire wine suitcase) because I’ve looked for some Washington wines since getting back and my local stores don’t have the variety I’d like.
Other souvenirs and gifts I brought back include a magnet from Olympic National Park (bought at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center).
We always get a refrigerator magnet when we visit national parks!
And while I couldn’t, for logistical reasons, purchase everything I wanted, here are some gems that I saw that I wish I had:
Port Angeles and Hurricane Ridge souvenir stickers from Port Book and News
Books and Blankets from the 7 Cedars Gift Shop
Bath Salts from the Resort at Port Ludlow
Every Kind of Cider from Finnriver
If you came back with your own Olympic Peninsula souvenir, share it in the comments so I can shop (live) vicariously through you!
How to Get to the Olympic Peninsula
For my trip, we drove from the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington to the southern route that goes by Tacoma and then up to Gig Harbor, staying a few days on the Kitsap Peninsula before making our way to the Olympic Peninsula via the Hood Canal Bridge.
This allowed us to skip waiting for ferries and go a longer, but more reliably timed route.
As an Oklahoma who recently drove the seventeen hours from North Dakota to OKC in one day, a few hours in the car like this is nothing to me.
When we left the peninsula, we drove back over the Hood Canal Bridge and south again through the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and our group dropped me off at the Seattle Airport about two and half hours after we departed Port Ludlow.
If you are from the Seattle area, you most likely already know whether you prefer to drive a longer route south via Tacoma or play ferry roulette with the (potentially) faster ferry routes.
If you are not from the area, here are some things you should know to help you plan your route to the Olympic Peninsula.
Flying into Seattle and Driving
If you are flying roundtrip, you most likely will fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA aka SeaTac).
From Seattle, you will take the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Highway 16, and the Hood Canal Bridge to reach Port Ludlow.
The listed drive time from SEA to Port Ludlow is two hours. This does not take traffic conditions and the bridge openings into account, plus you will likely need additional time unless you are staying in Port Ludlow as your first destination.
If you plan on driving, you will need to get a rental car. I use Discover Cars to rent cars when I travel.
Make sure to reserve your car early, as rental car prices in the US right now are in flux (read: bonkers) and cars are selling out early.
Reserve a car for your Olympic Peninsula trip!
Good to Know: If you would prefer to have a guided tour prepared for you, complete with airport pickup and a driver, we worked with Robin from Inquisitours.
Her company specializes in customized, small group tours of the Pacific Northwest.
I can highly recommend her team if you want to put something together that’s customized for your group!
Create a Custom Pacific Northwest Itinerary with Inquisitours
Flying into Victoria, BC, and Taking the Ferry
If you are flying from Canada, you may find that it’s much cheaper to fly to Victoria and ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Check the Coho Ferry website for prices and schedules.
From here you can pick up a rental car in Port Angeles for your time on the peninsula.
Driving to the Olympic Peninsula
If you are not coming from Seattle or northern Washington State, getting to the Olympic Peninsula becomes more straightforward.
If you are coming from the east, you will most likely still drive Tacoma -> Kitsap -> Hood Canal Bridge -> Port Ludlow.
If you are coming from the south, you can take Highway 101 out of Olympia.
Good to Know: the drive from Portland, Oregon to Port Angeles via Highway 101 is about four hours plus traffic and stops.
5 Things to Pack for a Trip to the Olympic Peninsula & Olympic National Park
Along with a good Washington State or Olympic National Park guidebook, make sure to bring the following:
A Packable Down Jacket – everyone in our family has one. They’re light and easy to keep in your backpack or car, but they’re warm enough to make a huge difference if the weather turns cold.
I have this women’s version. I loved having it at ONP even in late April. My husband has this men’s version. Our son just outgrew this child’s version.
A Lightweight but Durable Backpack – My Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack was a steal for the price. It’s survived 17 national parks as well as trips to Mexico and El Salvador!
It won’t last forever, but it has more than proved its worth so far.
See the Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack on Amazon
A Pair of Binoculars for parks where I’m going to be looking for wildlife. I use these binoculars, and my husband has a separate pair.
A Portable Charging Bank in case my phone dies. Having a portable charger for your phone is crucial.
This is a safety issue as my offline maps may be the only way to navigate in the park where there’s no cell phone data available, as well as the convenience of being able to use my cell phone camera.
I relied on this heavily during my time in Olympic National Park, as cell phone coverage on the Olympic Peninsula was spotty in places and nonexistent in swaths of ONP.
A Basic First Aid Kit to handle minor issues while you are out. Don’t let a hot spot on your foot turn into a blister, or leave a small cut open to the elements.
I keep a small first aid kit in my backpack at all times when we are on the road.
Other items to consider: a pocket knife and a water bottle with a filter.
More Washington State Resources
Here are all the resources I have written about travel in Washington state.
Washington State Guides
50 Fabulous Things to Do in Washington State: Bucket List & Beyond!
The 17 National Parks in Washington State: How & Why to See Each One!
Olympic Peninsula Guides
The Best Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula
27 Essential Olympic National Park Travel Tips: Planning a Trip to Olympic National Park the Easy Way
17 Things to Know about Hurricane Ridge Road in Olympic National Park: Best Viewpoints + Travel Tips!
21 Things to Know Before Hiking Marymere Falls Trail in Olympic National Park, Washington
Things to Know Before You Hike to Ludlow Falls
Kitsap Peninsula Guides
27 Blissful Things to Do in Poulsbo + Tips to Visit Poulsbo, Washington’s Little Norway on the Fjord
23 Perfect Things to Do in Port Gamble, Washington: Activities for History Lovers & Ghost Hunters!
Tri-Cities and Southeastern Washington Guides
17 Fabulous Things to Do in Palouse Falls State Park & Nearby + Tips for Visiting Palouse Falls
Where to Stay on the Olympic Peninsula
You can stay at one of the park lodges or camping grounds, but they do book up very far in advance! In fact, everything on the peninsula books up early (especially in the summer) so always get a room as soon as you can.
We stayed in two towns: Port Angeles and Port Ludlow
In Port Ludlow, we stayed at the Resort at Port Ludlow. This hotel was one of my favorites that I stayed at near any US national park.
Our dinner at the hotel’s Fireside Restaurant was an outstanding meal in a region already known for great cuisine.
My room was cozy, with a beautiful view of the water and boats in the marina.
Oh, and it had a working fireplace, a large jacuzzi bathtub, and windows in your room so you enjoy them at the same time!
There’s also a golf course if you and your partner are into that sort of thing.
I adored my time at this hotel and hope to make it back one day!
Book your stay at the Resort at Port Ludlow!
In Port Angeles, we stayed at the Red Lion Hotel. While I’ve heard other Red Lion’s in Washington are out-dated, ours was renovated and located right on the water!
My room was comy and clean, and you really can’t beat how close Port Angeles is to Olympic National Park. This was a great choice for a base for exploring the park!
Book your stay at the Red Lion Port Angeles!
If you are looking for a different vibe, make sure you get a hotel on the Olympic Peninsula and not across the Hood Canal Bridge.
While I love the towns on the other side of the water on the Kitsap Peninsula, you don’t want to be stuck having to cross the bridge each time you want to get to OP.
We spent thirty minutes waiting for the bridge to go up and back!
Look for more hotel options on the Olympic Peninsula.
Good to Know: the OP gets booked up for summer months in advance. Never delay making hotel reservations in this part of the world!
Before You Visit Washington – Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Whenever I go on a trip, I always make sure to get travel insurance!
The company Safety Wing is the travel insurance company I always look to first, and I happily recommend them!
I always make sure to get travel insurance whenever I’m going to be over one hundred miles from home, in large cities where tourists can be the target of pickpockets, and anytime I’ll be doing outdoor adventure or beach activities.
It makes my life easier knowing if something should happen, I’ll be able to take care of it!
2 thoughts on “33 Perfect Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula: Bucket List & Beyond!”
Wow, I’ve always wanted to explore the Olympic area of Washington and your guide is fantastic for when I get a chance to explore here.
Thanks so much! Great meeting you!