As a kid in a family of six, my family and I didn’t have tons of money to spend on travel. Instead, we would pack up the ol’ Ford pickup truck and venture to different places around the Pacific Northwest. One of our favorite places was the Washington Coast, which is about a three-hour journey from where I grew up. We camped at Ocean Shores and Long Beach. We hiked around the Olympic Peninsula. 30+ years later, I still find myself gobsmacked by the beauty of the Washington coast.
For those who have not had the opportunity to go, here are a few of my favorite spots to give you the flavor of the peninsula:
Tucked deep in the Olympic National Park, Sol Duc Hot Springs is the perfect getaway for couples and families. Visitors can rent one of the rustic cabins in the resort or nab one of the spots at the campground. Both resort guests and campers can soak in three different piping hot mineral pools or go for a swim in the freshwater pool. Sol Duc is also a kick off point for a dozen hikes geared for all levels of hikers. The price for entrance to the park has increased a bit over the years, but I see it as a small price to pay to help support and preserve some of the best natural wonders Washington has to offer. To get into the park, visitors must pay a $30 fee for one non-commercial vehicle (up to 15 passengers). The pass is valid for 7 days. For those who think they may visit any of the Olympic National Parks for longer than a week, you can purchase a yearly pass for $55. Keep in mind that overnight accommodations and use of the hot springs are extra.
Neah Bay is located on the gorgeous Makah Indian Reservation, about an hour north of Forks. Visitors can take a short 30-minute hike along a raised wooden path that snakes through the forest to the most northwestern point in the continental United States: Cape Flattery. Aptly named, Cape Flattery boasts some of the best views in Washington State. The water is so blue – like blue blue – and is surrounded by carved cliffs and caverns below Visitors will have an unobstructed view of the Pacific and may even catch a glimpse of a passing pod of whales. Visitors must purchase a Recreational Use Permit for $10 which can be purchased at several places on the reservation. Permits are valid for one year.
Just outside of La Push is the phenomenal Rialto Beach. Not surprisingly, it attracts tons of visitors each year as it’s one of the most stunningly beautiful places on Olympic Peninsula. It’s hand down my favorite spot, and it’s always a must-see when I’m on the coast. This might sound a bit corny, but this beach awakens every single sense, from the sea stacks jutting from the water like broken teeth to the tang of salt in air. For me the sounds of Ruby Beach are what stick in my mind the most. It’s blanketed with tons of tiny pebbles, which create a such a striking sound when the water runs over them. If you close your eyes, it almost sounds like the sizzle of hot water.
Rialto is also home to Hole-in-the-Wall, a natural stone arch that was carved by the ocean. Starting just below the parking lot, visitors can make the short 1.6-mile trek along the beach to Hole-in-the-Wall. It’s a great place for a photo-op with the family!
If you’re pressed for time and you have to choose just one place to go on the peninsula, my vote would be for Rialto.
Further down Highway 101 and about an hour’s drive from Rialto is the lovely Kalaloch Beach. This beach is perfect for a stroll, picnic, or simply plunking down in the sand to watch the waves roll in. Be sure to pack your shoes or flip flops. Yes, it’s rocky in places, but Rialto has some of the best skipping stones I’ve ever seen in my life. Millions of perfectly smooth stones just begging to be hurled across the water. Not to mention this spot is home to one my favorite campgrounds. Most of the camp spots are nice with a handful of truly spectacular ones. If you’re one of the fortunate ones who is able to nab a spot right along the cliffs above the water, I’ll tip my hat to you. It’s a feat I have yet to pull off.
Perhaps the most remarkable trait of this beach is the enormous amount of driftwood along the shore. Aesthetically, it’s stunning, and this picture of the driftwood below is one of my favorites of all time.
For those looking for more of a resort town, Ocean Shores is a family-friendly place with a little something for everyone. Visitors have the option to stay in resort hotels, smaller motels, or camp. Ocean Shores has a massive span of sandy beaches, which are fun for sunbathing, kite flying, beach combing, and sandcastles. Ocean Shores also boasts a huge variety of restaurants and souvenir shops. For those who are looking for some grown-up entertainment, the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino is a fun option. The resort has a modest casino and two great restaurants. The rooms are super cozy complete with a fireplace and offer fantastic views of the coast.
One last suggestion: if possible, travel off-season. The Washington coast can get pretty crowded during the summer months. Resorts, hotels, and campgrounds fill up quickly and traffic and ferry lines can be a nightmare. Early September after Labor Day is the best time for travel. The weather is usually nice, and the roads, campgrounds, and hotels are relatively quiet. Make sure to allow three-and-a-half-hours travel time from Seattle.
Hike in the rainforest. Soak in a hot spring. Swim if you can brave the cold. Roast marshmallows around a campfire. Or just plunk your buns in the sand. Whether you are looking for a quiet vacation or a fun getaway for your family, the Olympic Peninsula has much to offer for everyone and will certainly deliver an unforgettable experience.