Southwest Washington Coast
As I have stated in a few other places, the southwest Washington coast doesn't have as much to attract people to it as elsewhere on the Washington coast. From Ocean Shores south the Olympic Peninsula ends, and the forests are managed as commercial logging operations. Additionally, the hills along the coast are fairly small, so the spectacular scenery seen further north just isn't available on this part of the Washington coast.
However, this is not to say that there are not a few things to see here. It's just that for the most part what is available elsewhere is far more unique than what you will find through this part of Washington. To that end, here are a few things on this part of the Washington Coast:
+ Ocean Shores: This is a very touristy town designed by someone from California in the 1960s, when suburban sprawl based around the automobile was all the rage. There are some nice beaches and some great views of the Olympic Mountains (and even Mount Rainier can be seen on a few clear days) but it just isn't that great a location. There are many places where it is impossible to safely walk from one place to another due to the road design, for example. It's OK, but there are better places to spend time.
+ Hoquiam: A number of small attractions including a local museum, and a few parks.
+ Aberdeen: famous for being the home town of Kurt Cobain. Otherwise, it has some decent restaurants and a downtown area where it is actually safe to walk (unlike Ocean Shores). It is a smaller port city on Gray's Harbor, and pretty severe in the way industry dominates the community.
+ Bottle Beach State Park (formerly home of the community of Ocosta, which is how it is listed in the VirtualTourist database) has an tiny inland beach. Shore birds gather here on migration. Nearby, there is a seafood plant that offers tours.
+ Westport: A nice counterpoint to Ocean Shores, this town actually has a downtown with sidewalks and a more traditional layout so it is possible to walk between places in the downtown area. A marina is the home base of a fishing fleet as well as having some small tourist boats that are not for the faint of heart. There are beaches nearby but are fairly small.
+ Tokeland is primarily a fishing village, with an Indian Casino just north of town. There aren't even beaches here, exactly, but mudflats are popular with birds and thus bird watchers do show up as well.
+ Raymond: sawmill community at the far reaches of Willapa Bay. An artistic effort has attempted to keep the community from becoming just another giant strip mall along highway 101. There are a couple of museums here, including a unique Horse Carriage museum.
+ South Bend: stole the county government from nearby Bay Center. Has impressive courthouse and small waterfront.
+ Bay Center: has a small park, a small beach, and a restaurant. Otherwise a fishing village with huge piles of clam and oyster shells surrounding the community.
+ Long Beach: claims to have the longest beach in the world. Also has a very long running kite festival every year, and eventually formed a Kite Museum. Furthest north on Pacific Ocean explored by Lewis and Clark / Corps of Discovery. Beach is drivable, which means it is very hazardous to walk on it for any length of time.
+ Cape Disappointment State Park: Home of the Lewis and Clark Museum of the west coast, and home to a few other unique displays. Has the most spectacular coastal hills (though they are quite small) of this part of the Washington coast. Probably the best of places on the southwest Washington coast.
+ Ilwaco: Small fishing village that is sort of turning into a suburb of Long Beach. Has the local history museum, and a summer outdoor market with some food and fish, and some unique local artwork.
If you are continuing south into Oregon, please see my Pacific Wonderland tip and the North Coast Suggested Routes and Locations tip.Related to:
I took the Bremerton ferry, which is an hour each way and costs under 3 bucks. This is a great way to experience Seattle and the skyline. You see jellies, birds, fish, etc. Nice way to people watch and talk to other tourists. There was a lady feeding fritos to the flying gulls and a group of young cheerleaders that were cheering at the NFL game that night. Besides, the ferry there is Kerry Park and the Locks for free.Related to:
- Family Travel
East Side Trip - Some Suggested Routes
There are a fair number of people that come to the VirtualTourist forums looking for advice on traveling the western states, usually starting in a northern city (Seattle, Vancouver BC, etc.) and continuing south into California. This is part of a larger series of tips about various routes. This route covers the much drier east side of the Cascades.
There are quite a number of possible routes and it is difficult to suggest and one particular one as it is going to depend on the amount of time available and interests. However, here are some basic ideas to consider:
+ Highway 20 going east out of Burlington: great scenery, and much less traveled. It is closed for many months of the year due to heavy snow. Gateway to such places as North Cascades National Park. Going south on Hwy 97 from Omak leads to famous Lake Chelan. Then, Wenatchee (see below):
+ Highway 2 over Stevens Pass from the suburbs north of Seattle: Nice route, and open for travel for a longer season than Hwy 20. Biggest tourist draw is Leavenworth, a once typical northwest town that rebuilt itself as a Bavarian village. Wenatchee has a few small attractions as well, including a pretty nice park and loop trail system leading in a circle around the Columbia River.
+ Interstate 90 going east out of Seattle: Snoqualmie Falls is perhaps the biggest attraction along this route. Eventually you will likely get to Yakima. This is famous for its fruit orchards and there are wineries in the area as well.
+ Any of several routes through Mount Rainier National Park. This requires the payment of the National Park Fee. This may be Interstate 5 to Highway 12, or highway 7 south from Tacoma, or several other routes. Keep in mind that for much of the winter the roads around Mount Rainier are closed, with the possible exception of highway 12 between Elbe and Paradise. Some of the roads have such heavy snow they are open only two or three months of the year.
Once you get to the east side of the mountains, and then head south out of Yakima, you would then hit:
+ Toppenish, and its Watching the Paint Dry festival and the resulting murals.
+ Fort Simcoe State Park, with a small number of relics from the settlement of the area.
+ Goldendale, with its large telescope. East of there is the Klickitat River Canyon
+ Near the area where Highway 97 crosses the Columbia River, there is the Stonehenge War Memorial, and just slightly west the Maryhill Museum, and somewhat west of there Horsethief Lake State Park with its %L[http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/dadce/ ]petroglyphs.
From here you can continue south into Oregon, or head west into the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is filled with all sorts of attractions, but the route south to Bend has its own set of attractions as well. This trip to the south will be continued in a different tip.Related to:
- Road Trip
Road Trip down the Washington Coast
This question is designed to be part of a larger group of tips about doing a west coast USA trip, and posting questions to the VirtualTourist forums asking something similar to:
"I'm starting in (Vancouver BC or Seattle or some such) and will drive highway 101 down the coast. I have two days to see everything. What should I do?"
Sit down and cry? That may be a little harsh sounding, but there are many who have devoted a week just to the Olympic Peninsula and realized that wasn't enough time - and that is just a few miles of highway 101 through Oregon and Washington. So, just realize that you probably won't have enough time (even if you have planned for a week) to "see everything", and you will have to pick and choose what you want to do here.
First, however, we must cast aside some misconceptions:
1. Highway 101 doesn't go down the west coast in Washington, at least not completely. Take a look at the map, and you will see that if you want to visit the Pacific Ocean, perhaps only 1/4 of the Washington Coast is covered directly by highway 101. Highway 101 doesn't go into Seattle or Vancouver BC either. Instead, it turns south and ends in Olympia after spending over 100 miles alongside inland waterways. Even in places where highway 101 hints at the coast, in most places you must take local roads to actually see the Ocean from the road. For example, compare highway 105 and 101 between Aberdeen and Raymond.
2. Seattle, Vancouver BC and a few other major cities aren't really on the coast. They are located over 100 miles inland on a huge set of bays and passageways. This includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Georgia. So, you can't go down the coast and go to Seattle as well. From Seattle you need to head west to get to Highway 101 and the coast.
This is why answering this question becomes complicated. People think the entire west coast of the USA is set up like California, where the major cities are directly on the Ocean. Oregon and Washington and British Columbia aren't that way, exactly.
As to what to see, that also becomes very difficult to answer as it depends on the season, the route chosen, the time available, and what you are interested in seeing.
Let's start with what you might want cut out:
The Ocean Shores -> Aberdeen -> Westport -> Raymond -> Long Beach -> Seaside, Oregon section has a bunch of smaller towns and smaller attractions and while there are the typical small town museums and a few beaches and some popular vacation areas, for most people traveling through on a coast trip this is a place that could be skipped if needed. The scenery isn't spectacular as it is mostly low hills rather than rugged coastal mountains. The forests through there are mostly commercial National Forest land that is heavily logged, so while the trees may seem a bit large they really aren't that big or old compared to what you may find elsewhere. It's more scenic than Interstate 5 but Interstate 5 is much faster.
This above paragraph is extremely important to pay attention to: please note that if you take the all-road route from Seattle to the coast, you wind up on Interstate 5 (a 60 mile traffic jam crammed into a concrete trough), hit highway 101 at Aberdeen, and thus your first impression of the Washington coast will actually be this stretch which really isn't the best part of the coast to begin with, and following 101 south from there only goes through commercial forest land that is almost void of scenery of any sort - it doesn't even follow the coast.
Thus, if you want to see the best of the Washington coast, you need to figure out how to include the Olympic Peninsula in your trip. Unfortunately, here again highway 101 doesn't cover the most scenic parts, but instead you need to travel on a bunch of local roads to see the best of the scenery. Many of those are dead ends and require backtracking to get back on the highway to continue your trip, so you will wind up taking more time than you expect.
Interstate 5 from Blaine south to Olympia is mostly suburban sprawl, with some mildly scenic sections. There is stuff to see through there, but you have to get off the highway and hunt for it.
Many areas on the west side of Puget Sound, such as around Bremerton and along highway 3 to Shelton, and north up to Poulsbo is also mostly suburban sprawl. There are some jems through there but they are not easy to find.
If you are starting in Seattle, your best bet is to go north first, and start to pick up some of these attractions. If you lack sufficient time to do go north first, then your best bet is one of the more direct routes to the Olympic Peninsula. If you are coming from Vancouver you have the option of avoiding the traffic mess in Seattle completely by going to Deception Pass. See my Seattle to Olympic Peninsula Options tip to see some of the suggested routes of getting to the Olympic Peninsula, including many slower scenic routes.
So, the highlights of the "coast" (including the inland water areas) are, from North to South:
Blaine: Peace Arch is a popular tourist attraction here
Bellingham: A nice small university town that has a few attractions
North Cascades National Park: east of Bellingham. Lots to do, but requires getting far away from a coastal road trip, and really deserves a bit of time.
Anacortes: the gateway to the San Juan Islands is also a nice little town, but may be skipped if you need to.
San Juan Islands: it takes a while to get here because of the ferry and you really need a week or so to see a good portion of the islands here. A day or two covers the basics though.
Deception Pass State Park: just south of Anacortes on highway 20. Very scenic location. Most visited state park in Washington.
To continue on highway 20 you take the ferry from Fort Casey State Park to the Olympic Peninsula.
Port Townsend: A mistake preserved this town as a nice example of late 1800s optimism.
From Port Townsend west and south to Ocean Shores is really part of the Olympic Peninsula experience, and that section will be covered in my Olympic Peninsula Loop description.Related to:
- Road Trip
The San Juan Islands
Reasonably well known yet not really that well understood by those that haven't visited them, the San Juan Islands are one of the more famous destinations in Washington. There are some 200 islands in the system, but only about 180 or so of them have names. The chain of islands continues north and west in what is called the Channel Islands, but those are in Canada and therefore not officially part of the San Juan Islands, though they are geologically connected. To the south and east there are more islands: Camano Island, Lummi Island, Whidbey Island, and more. However, those are also considered to be outside the definition of the San Juan Islands.
So, the first thing to understand is that there are a large number of islands, and the San Juan Island definition has only been created by those drawing a line in the water. Those lines may or may not make sense, and the definition can shift a little bit depending on who is doing the talking. In ages past, historic trade routes had a much different sense of the practical borders.
Only four of the islands in the San Juan Islands are accessible by public road via the Washington State Ferry system. Everything else requires either your own boat or other arrangements. Some are privately owned, others are state parks, and still others have no permitted public access at all as they are part of a marine wildlife refuge.
So, the next thing you need to know is that access is not cheap or easy if your goal is to explore most of the San Juan Islands. Some are simply not accessible by any means, while others require renting a boat or bringing your own, or learning how to kayak.
The good news is that the four islands that are easiest to access have enough to do that most people don't find the other islands that vital to visit.
As each of these locations are worthy of their own set of travel pages, I have set up a number tips and travel pages about these destinations:
So, to that end, for more information please see:
My San Juan Islands Page at http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/5f9c8/da6a0/
+ San Juan Island is the most populated of these islands, and is also the furthest west that is easily accessible.
+ + Friday Harbor is the most populated of the communities on the island, and in fact is the only incorporated city anywhere on the islands. It faces east, towards the mainland and has a ferry terminal. This is where many of the whale watch trips depart.
+ + Lime Kiln State Park is tiny but famous for whale sightings. It is on the west side of the island, facing Canada.
+ + San Juan Island National Historical Park is the remains of the old military dispute about who owned the islands. There are two sections: American Camp and English Camp.
+ + Roche Harbor was once a center of the lime mining industry on San Juan Island. Today it is an attractive resort community.
+ Orcas Island is the recreational soul of the islands, and is nearly as large as San Juan Island. However, it doesn't have as large a population.
+ + The tiny community of Orcas is where the ferry terminal is. There are two hotels, two restaurants, a small grocery store, and a shop that also rents cars, mopeds and bicycles. Other than these, there isn't too much to this community.
+ + Eastsound is the community that is closest to a city on Orcas Island. There is a large grocery store here, plus several places to stay, a number of restaurants, and even streets laid out in an actual street grid.
+ + Moran State Park was created when a wealthy ship builder contributed land to form the park. It contains the highest point in the San Juan Islands.
+ + Rosario was a private retreat built by the same wealthy ship builder. Today it has been turned into a resort community. Some things are open to the public without being a guest.
In addition to all these separate locations, there are some things that are relevant to all of the San Juan Islands, or at leas the major ones. These are the tips that I have written elsewhere on the San Juan Islands pages, but include such things as:
+ Several tips on getting to and from the islands, including By Water (float plane or boat) and Transit as well as Airporter Bus.
+ Several tips on getting around in the islands, including Seasonal Bus Service and Interisland Ferry.
The Dry East Side
When people think of the state of Washington, or Oregon for that matter, they usually think of the wet part of the state - Seattle, and Puget Sound and the coastal rainforest areas.
However, the Cascade Mountains divide the state into a dry section and wet section. It isn't exactly a desert, it shares a lot with the Great Basin further south in terms of being sheltered from rain from the west. There are places with forests and scattered trees, but much of the area east of the Cascades is dry grasslands.
Thanks to the Columbia River that runs through this dry grassland as well as a few other rivers plus the occasional thunderstorm, the area isn't entirely brown. As seen in the main photo for this tip, which shows a riverfront park in downtown Wenatchee, the hills surrounding the town are quite a bit drier than the area by the river. The landscape depends on where you are, and certainly eastern Washington is known as a prime place for growing apples and other crops. So, it is not completely dry all of the time.
However, if you go exploring on east of the Cascades, be prepared for a much different look to the scenery. Also be prepared for a much different type of climate. There are more thunderstorms here when the rain does happen, and winters are colder than the wet west side of the state as well.Related to:
- Road Trip
Puget Sound; Washington's Unique Inland Maze
Other states have bays, inlets and assorted other inland waterways. Washington, however, has Puget Sound, which is an extensive maze of salt water that combines all of the above in a branch of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea. All of the previous named types of waterways, plus many others, occur here.
Image 2 and 3 are maps of Puget Sound from the many local interpretive centers that dot the region. 2 actually shows everything in pretty good detail, but to see everything you have to zoom out so far that you can't see all the little details. The second map doesn't show the details, but it shows the water in blue and land in white so that it gives a more clear waterway impression. It also shows the major cities, so it is possible to grasp the scale a little bit.
In order to give some perspective to the size of Puget Sound, the southern tip of the salt water is Budd Inlet, at Olympia. On Interstate 5 it is another 60 miles to get to Seattle, which is located between the big lake on the right side (Lake Washington) and the little dimple in the side of the main waterway (Elliott Bay). So, from top to bottom you are looking at an area approximately 120 miles. From Seattle to Bremerton, the ferry trip is about 20 miles across the water, but that only gets you as far as the city of Bremerton, on the Kitsap Peninsula. From there you must wind your way west to get around Hood Canal (the western L shaped body of water) before you actually get to the Olympic Peninsula and the west side of the Puget Sound region.
The region is also extremely varied. There are fairly big cities (Seattle obviously, but also Tacoma and Everett, and all the places in between combine to form one vast urbanized area), and some areas that are still reasonably rural. Some areas are beautiful and have great views of the surrounding mountains, while other areas are dark concrete wastelands.
While there are ferries across the water in a number of locations, no bridge has been built completely across Puget Sound in any location except at the Tacoma Narrows, which is towards the south end of the region and connects Point Defiance with the Key Peninsula (a branch of the Kitsap Peninsula). Therefore, traveling in straight lines isn't necessarily an option here. As some ferry routes are very busy during some times of the week it can be a very long wait to get on a boat with your car, so it can be better to take the very long detour all the way down to Tacoma and cross the bridge there rather than wait 2 hours or so get on a much shorter ferry trip.
There are several local tourist / transportation companies that operate on Puget Sound as well. Photo 5 shows a Victoria Clipper boat. This company operates from Seattle to Victoria, BC. A seasonal service also operates from Seattle to Friday Harbor. This is only one of the examples of some of the smaller commercial craft that operate trips aimed at tourists as well as providing transportation on the water.
Things to do here are as varied as the region in which they are located, and just about anything to suit your interests may be found here.
Some locations in the region to take a look at for further information, with my highest recommendation at the top:
Deception Pass State Park (narrow water passageway that is extremely scenic)
Port Townsend (reasonably well preserved historic community)
Olympia (Capitol of Washington)
Seattle (the big city famous for its concrete flying saucer)
Tacoma (an industrial city with a few regionally important museums)
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (tideflats with 15 foot tide swing, and wildlife changes based on tides. Bald Eagles are almost always around.)
Some warnings about visiting the Puget Sound area:
+ Traffic anywhere between Olympia and Everett can be a major pain. If possible, take the train instead.
+ Tides at the southern end of Puget Sound can be large - 18 feet or more at Olympia. This covers and uncovers a vast area of land, and you don't want to get trapped far out in the water with no way to get back when the water starts to come in. Know your tides before you go far out on the beaches and wade in the water.
+ The weather is cold. If you get out on one of the ferries or another boat, be prepared for a cold wind, even in the middle of summer. Anywhere that has this wind exposure is going to be quite cold.
+ Due to over a century of industrial development, the water of Puget Sound is fairly toxic. The way the tides and waterways work mean there is very little water turnover in Puget Sound. Once toxic chemicals are dumped there they tend to stay in the area and circulate back and forth rather than getting washed out to sea. Be careful what fish you eat from these waters, and obey the Department of Health warning signs that tell you which fish should be eaten in very mild quantities (some less than once a month) or none at all.
Washington Coast and All That
This tip is primarily designed to act as a starting point for those that ask questions in the VirtualTourist forums about traveling the Washington coast. As part of answering these questions, however, some general information may also be gained. The sample questions are merely samples of what has been seen there, and is not a specific question asked by a specific person on a particular day. As noted below, Washington has a huge section of salt water shore that doesn't face the Ocean and thus other than mentioning it I am not including Cape Flattery east to Puget Sound and north to Point Roberts - those places aren't on the coast.
1. I am starting in Seattle and am going to drive down the coast. Any suggestions?
You must first realize that Seattle is not on the coast. In fact, by water it is some 200 miles (300 km) from the open Ocean. Therefore, the first question you need to answer when considering this is how you plan to get from Seattle to the coast. For the rest of this response, for best results it is best if you have a map of Washington available.
From north to south, the western part of Washington faces water as follows:
From Point Roberts southward to approximately Stanwood (including Bellingham, Anacortes and Mount Vernon) mainland Washington faces the Strait of Georgia and many smaller waterways that separate Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands and Whidbey Island from the mainland.
This waterway becomes Puget Sound, which is a very long and large bay of sorts that runs quite far south. Seattle is located down that way, and not on the coast. Some parts of this area are like the coast, but in other ways it isn't like the coast at all.
The "North Coast" area runs from approximately Port Townsend to Cape Flattery. This faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island. It is the north side of the Olympic Peninsula (which is separated from the mainland by Puget Sound).
From Cape Flattery south, the coast is true coast, with two large bays.
However, to get to this coast directly from Seattle you can't drive directly west. From Seattle you can go directly west on one of several ferry routes. However, once you get to the other side of Puget Sound you hit the Olympic Mountains, which have no nice passes through which to build roads. Therefore you must go either north around the "North Coast" side of the Olympic Mountains or go south through Olympia and Aberdeen. The "North Coast" route is more scenic, but the Olympia and Aberdeen route is much faster - and quite a bit less scenic.
2. I'm planning to take highway 101 down the coast. Any suggestions on what to see?
Here again, you are going to need a map to help see where things are problematic.
The most important thing to know is that highway 101 doesn't go down the coast of western Washington, except for about 25 miles (40 km) north of Queets. The rest of highway 101 stays fairly far inland. Mostly, what you see from highway 101 is commercial National Forest land where the trees are monoculture forest cut down every 10-15 years or so.
Parts of Highway 101 do go through Olympic National Park land, but to really see the park you need to get off the highway as well, as there isn't too much of the park to be seen from the highway while driving through it. The trees get a bit larger and that's pretty much it.
To really see the coast of Washington, you need to spend a bit of time on roads that make a loop along the coast itself, or go to remote communities where the one road is the only way to get there with no loop possible. As examples, highway 105 is a loop that runs along the coast from Aberdeen to Raymond. In some places the ocean is visible from the road, but in many places to get to the ocean you need to go down one of the dead-end local roads that allows access. Much of the view is blocked from the road directly due to road side and beach side developments. In a few places there are state parks (state parks require a fee, see my Discover Pass Tip!).
For places such as Moclips, Ocean Park, Ocean Shores, Neah Bay and many communities truly on the coast, you have to take a road that branches off of to highway 101 that is the only way in or out of those communities. Some of these are pretty long branches from the direct road.
This means that if you want to really see the coast, you are going to have to spend some time well off highway 101, and it is going to take a lot longer than most people expect.
3. What places should I visit?
This is a question that requires knowing a lot about the tastes of the person that is doing the traveling. The coast of Washington lacks large cities but does have pretty much everything else. This includes First Nations communities on several reservations, ranging from casinos to cultural attractions and museums. At the other end of the scale you will find logging communities, scattered industrial communities, the typical beach communities, small towns that are little known, communities supported entirely by local natural resources including fishing, logging, clamming, and cranberry bogs.
The largest coastal community in the area is the Aberdeen - Hoquiam metroplex, with a population of about 30,000 combined between the two major cities and the surrounding area. However, it is actually reasonably far inland and not really a coastal community in terms of being on the beach or having a view of the ocean.
If you find a place that is too touristy or not touristy enough, it is easy to move on to the next village, community, or state park and see if that is more to your liking. There are nearly 100 small communities along the coast that each have their own personality.
Space does not allow a complete list of all the good places. Obviously, Olympic National Park is not to be missed. Places such as Sol Duc Hot Springs, Queets Rainforest, Hoh Rainforest, and other places that are well known and not so well known are located in and next to Olympic National Park. Neah Bay has a museum dedicated to the local First Nations community that has a very good reputation. Long Beach is famous for its kite flying and annual kite festival. Hoquiam has an annual shorebird festival that coincides with spring migration.
4. Where is the surfing the best?
I'm no expert on surfing. However, I will first warn you that the water here is cold, the winds are strong, and the surf is very rough. There are bus-sized pieces of driftwood in the water that sometimes kill people.
That said, Westport and Ocean Shores seem to be very popular with surfers. Due to the high speed winds it isn't unusual to find kiteboarders and other fans of activities involving both wind and water.Related to:
- Road Trip
Willapa Hills Trail: Chehalis to South Bend
Due to the sheer number of communities through which this trail passes, it is difficult for me to cover much of it here. However, I can at least give some basic information and reference what I have written about it in other locations.
Much of the trail is a state park, and therefore requires the use of a Discover Pass to use the parking areas.
While some of the maps officially show the Willapa Hills trail starting at Centralia, the reality is that the current east end of the trail is located in the far southwest side of Chehalis.
The western end of the trail is in South Bend, some 56 miles away.
The railroad line here was put out of service in 1994 and the start of trail conversion started in 1995. However, due to lack of funds the process has been quite slow. Some sections are virtually non-rebuilt and have bridges that would be dangerous to use in their current form, while other areas have been completely paved for all bike use. One or two places completely lost bridges in the Great Flood of 2007.
In many areas some considerable remains exist of the old railroad line, even nearly 20 years after the removal of the rails. In at least one location an old signal mast still stands guard over the line - though the signal itself and relay box are long gone.
In a few areas there are limited parking locations where the trail crosses a road. However, in many of these locations there may only be space for one or two vehicles.
Some communities have fairly well developed trailheads (Pe Ell, for example, has restrooms with full flush toilets), partly developed trailheads (the one in Chehalis only has pit toilets, and is at the end of a gravel road that makes it a little hard to find) while others don't even have signs indicating where the trail is.
As time goes on, the trail will continue to be developed but it will take a very long time to reach a fully completed state given current state parks budgets.
For some specific trailhead information please see the following tips, which are located in their respective communities, in order from east to west:
+ Chehalis Trailhead this is the real eastern end of the trail, which is paved from here going west for some distance.
+ Rainbow Falls State Park is not right on the trail, but it is located very close to it and is connected to it with a trail that is essentially unmarked. See my Rainbow Falls Willapa Hills Trail tip and my Willapa Hills Trail Connection tip.
+ The Pe Ell Trailhead features flush toilets, paved parking, horse trailer turn around, but the trail is not paved at this location. Furthermore, approximately 3/4 of a mile west of there the trail comes to a bridge that has not been rebuilt to trail standards yet.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Mount Rainier National Park
Established in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park is the fifth national park to be designated in the United States. It is also the first national park created from what had been national forest. One of the most popular attractions in Washington State, the park attracts about 1,300,000 visitors per year.
Mount Rainier National Park protects 368 square miles (953 square kilometers) of old-growth forests, subalpine meadows, glaciers, lakes, and streams. There are 91,000 acres (36,826 hectares) of endangered old-growth forest within the park. And 97 percent of the park has been designated a Wilderness Area under the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Of course, the main feature of the park is Mount Rainier (visible in the background), a 14,411-foot (4,392-meter) active volcano. The mountain is covered with 35 square miles (91 square kilometers) of permanent snow and ice fields, as well as 26 glaciers. Mount Rainier rises from the surrounding forests with no other mountain of comparable size nearby. It is so high that it generates its own weather, so it is often concealed by clouds. These clouds drop enormous quantities of rain and snow on the mountain, and often keep it hidden from sight.
Mount Rainier National Park has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On July 11, 2011 the Washington State Legislature declared that many state parks in Washington would no longer be free of charge. Instead, a day use pass called the Discover Pass was implemented, which is valid for virtually all state parks, state wildlife refuges, and various other state lands. It is a $10 per day pass that may be used in any of these places for one calendar day, or a $30 annual pass ($35 if you purchase from any of the 600+ hunting and fishing license vendors). This pass is a parking pass: if you arrive by bike, public transit or walking there is no need for a Discover Pass, and the pass is hung in your vehicle to show that you paid to park.
NEW for 2012: As of March of 2012 it is now possible to use the Discover Pass in either of two vehicles. Before the legislature passed this clause it was only possible to use the pass with one license plate. For those wanting to use it in a second vehicle it is possible to just write the new license plate number on the old pass but new passes will have space for two license plates. Various other future changes are under development, so please see the Washington State Discover Pass information on the web site listed below (especially the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page).
The Discover Pass is available at all of the retailers that sell hunting and fishing licenses, plus state parks stores. An additional $5 is charged for the annual parks fee if the pass is purchased at any of these many retailers that sell hunting and fishing licenses - it is a bit like the "convenience fee" that is charged for event tickets, etc. and is compensation to the store owner for the time and equipment required to process the sale of the pass. This fee is not charged if you are able to purchase the pass at one of the state parks offices - but unfortunately many of them are open very limited hours due to staffing levels. The $5 fee is also charged if you purchase the pass through the web site, as this is handled by an outside e-commerce contractor which requires the convenience fee.
The Discover Pass web site, listed below, is the location where one can purchase a pass via the web (with the convenience fee added) and also explains in detail where the pass is valid, future plans for the pass, how to use it, and various other details.
Please see my Washington State Parks tip for a bit more about the state parks in Washington - which is only one of the type of state facilities where it is necessary to use a Discover Pass.
A typical day use pay station is shown in the first photo. As the state parks were caught rather off-guard by the day use fee suddenly commanded by the state legislature, at first many of them lacked adequate resources to institute such a fee. The state parks with camping facilities were able to simply use their existing envelopes for self-service camping. If you run into this problem, where all of the official day use envelopes have been used, it is possible to simply use a self-registration camping envelope. There is an area on this envelope for "other" and just mark it as a day use fee.
Really, as long as you have paid your fee, I doubt very much the state parks people care what sort of envelope you put the fee into. You could probably use your own envelope if you needed to, and just put a note to that effect on your windshield - just so long as the envelope records your license plate number they know what vehicle goes with what envelope.
In the first photograph for this tip, you will notice off to the right side is the drop box for depositing your fee.
As time goes on, more and more state parks are installing pay station vending machines. As these are expensive, you will still find a lot of pay stations that look like the one in the first photograph. They require electricity and a phone line for processing credit/debit card transactions and therefore their widespread use is somewhat limited. Do not depend on the availability of a pay station to be able to pay the fee by credit / debit card, unless you are certain there is one in that state park / state recreation area / wildlife area. Many of the locations are simply too remote for this to be a possibility.
The Discover Pass also serves as a parking pass for state lands owned by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. It does not substitute for a hunting license at these locations, but does take the place of the parking permit that used to be issued for these locations.
Free Days: On certain days of the year, it has been decided to have the State Parks be open for use without having to pay the day use fee, or having to display the annual pass. These are great for those who can not afford to pay any other way, but it also means the state parks or other public lands have the potential to be very crowded on those days. Many of these free days only apply to the state parks, and not the other lands covered by the annual Discover Pass. (See photo 2 for an example posting from a state park of the days in 2012 that are free entry days.) The free days are listed on the Discover Pass web site.
Free Parking Areas: For those needing a quick rest stop, or to use the toilet facilities in the park an nothing else, most of the state parks feature a "Free 15 Minute" parking spot or two located near one or another toilet facilities. These are marked in a fairly obvious fashion (see photo 3).Related to:
- Road Trip
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
Washington State Parks
Most of the Washington State Parks have made their way into the VirtualTourist system as locations in and of themselves.
There are many spectacular locations within the Washington State Parks system, as well as historical sites, and some simple recreational locations. There are some 120 developed parks and some 7,000 camp sites within the state parks system. There are special vacation rentals of certain properties within state parks, ocean beaches, Puget Sound beaches, land and water trails, and various historical sites.
If you visit a Washington State Park, you should probably try to find a copy of the map shown in the photo at right. It has all of the Washington State Parks listed, as well as features (including types of accomodations available in each), and a great deal of other information about the various parks. These maps are available free of charge in literature racks in many of the state parks, and this will help you find your way to a number of state park related attractions.
The Washington State Parks web site is a little hard to figure out how to use. You need to select a park and then hit the "go" button, and then when the nearly-blank page comes up, select the items from the bottom left menu that you want to find out. I highly suggest hitting the one that says "Complete Park Information" that is at the very bottom.
For a number of years, Washington State Parks did not have day use fees. Today, that has changed. On July 1, 2011 the state legislature decided to implement a $10 day use fee for the state parks, or a $30 annual pass with an extra $5 convenience fee for purchasing the pass from a local distributor. This pass is called the "Discover Pass" and is valid at a number of state game refuges as well as the state parks, and is therefore a good deal for those who will be visiting various places in the state parks and wildlife system. Please see My Discover Pass tip with a bit more about this pass.
Free Days: On certain days of the year, it has been decided to have the parks be open for use without having to pay the day use fee, or having to display the annual pass. These are great for those who can not afford to pay any other way, but it also means the state parks or other public lands have the potential to be very crowded on those days. These free days only apply to state parks, and not the other state lands that are covered by the annual Discover Pass. These free days may be announced on the Washington State Parks web site, or you can sometimes find signs in the information kiosks in the state parks (see photo 3) that indicate what days will be free that year.
Free Parking Areas: For those needing a quick rest stop, or to use the toilet facilities in the park an nothing else, most of the state parks feature a "Free 15 Minute" parking spot or two located near one or another toilet facilities. These are marked in a fairly obvious fashion (see photo 4).
Other fees, as of 2011, include:
Camping (sample fees per night):
$17 to $22 for standard sites, with higher prices being in certain extremely popular parks, and premium location camp sites
$23 to $31 for sites with utility hook-up
$12 to $14 for primitive sites, including walk-in, motorized access, and water trail camping
$10 per night for an extra vehicle
$5 for watercraft launching, but included in a camping fee
Annual watercraft launching fee: $50
Daily Moorage: $0.50 per foot of boat, $10 minimum, and $10 between 1 pm and 8 am for bouy moorage
Unattended overnight vehicle parking: $10 per night in designated overnight spots for watercraft launch sites
Trailer dump station use: $5 per use, but use is included with a camp site fee if you camp in one of the state park camp sites.
Annual fees may be paid on-line, purchased from park staff if the park has a retail desk that is open, headquarters offices, and regional offices. Day fees are usually paid at the park using self-service pay stations.
The Washington State Parks system will have a special centennial celebration in 2013.
Here are a few of the state parks in Washington that I have visited:
Deception Pass - This is the most popular state park in the state, as it is close to Seattle, and has spectacular views, including a close up view of the bridges over the narrow passageway between the rocks that give the place its name. Beaches, campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, and many other attractions exist here.
Cape Disappointment is an old fortress and has its hiking and camping as well, but it is also the historic end point of the Corps of Discovery. It has a state operated museum that is dedicated to the Corps of Discovery.
Beacon Rock is one of the largest landmarks in the Pacific Northwest, and has a trail to the top of it.
Peshastin Pinnacles preserves some other large rock formations.
Ledbetter Point sits on the end of the Long Beach peninsula, and offers beach scrub forest land. Bird life excluded from more developed areas may be found here.
Fort Casey is across the water from Port Townsend, and has some spectacular views of the Olympic Peninsula. However, other than a picnic ground, a lighthouse, a campground, and the remains of the old fortress that guarded the entry to Puget Sound, there isn't that much here.
Fort Flagler is another old fortress, but has hiking trails and lots of beachfront. It is also a somewhat remote place, as it is at the end of Marrowstone Island and somewhat out of the way of the main traffic routes.
Mystery Bay is another park on Marrowstone Island. It is tiny, and mostly a popular place for people to boat camp. It also has a lot of bivavles in the sand, for those that like to hunt for those (in season only!).
Seaquest is a forest with hiking and camping, but also home of the visitor's center for Mount Saint Helens.
Kitsap Memorial is a tiny state park on the route from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. Camping, picnicing and beach access are the primary activities here.
Lake Sylvia preserves some of the forest that once blanketed the Olympic Peninsula, plus offers camp sites.Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel
Cathlamet was one of the largest Indian villages that Lewis & Clark visited along the Columbia River during their journey of discovery with some 300-400 people living here. The first white settler was James Birnie who retired from a career with Hudson’s Bay Company – his last post was the Chief Factor at Fort George (Astoria) – and came here in 1846. He and his family of 12 came here setting up a trading post. Many retirees have followed his example today – especially out on nearby Puget Island. Cathlamet is the only incorporated town in Wahkiakum County – the third smallest county in Washington boasting some 3,978 people – and accounts for some 532 people. White settlers replaced the local Native Americans who were devasted – some 90% of the Native population died in the 1830-40’s. Salmon fisheries were the first industry in the area with the logging industry shortly behind. Both industries have been downscaled dramatically in more recent years – the salmon canneries long since gone with the building of dams upriver which have dramatically reduced the huge salmon runs that were so important to earlier Native American life. Today, farming, retirees and some tourism is what keeps people occupied for the most part. It is much quieter than the pictures you can see at the local museum from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.Related to:
- Water Sports
- Historical Travel
Olympic National Park and Olympic Peninsula Part 2
[This is a continuation of a tip written about the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. It is still in development. Please try back again later. Due to the 10,000 character limit of the VirtualTourist tips, the first part of this tip is located in a tip called Olympic National Park and Olympic Peninsula Part 1.]
The focus of this tip is the section of highway between Olympia and Ocean Shores. I have separated this section from the rest of the Olympic Peninsula tip because:
1. I had to in order to reduce the original tip to 10,000 characters.
2. This section of highway is called part of the Olympic Peninsula Scenic Loop but really isn't that scenic and really is in a different category from most of the rest of the Olympic Peninsula loop.
If you want to make a true complete loop of the Olympic Peninsula, it is possible to follow the tourist signs in Olympia and follow highways 101 and 8 around the entire loop. However, due to the horrible nature of Interstate 5, I would actually suggest taking the ferry to Bremerton, take highway 106 southwest out of Bremerton, and start the highway 101 loop at the intersection of highway 106 and 101. This avoids the suburban tangle along Interstate 5. It is a slow route, but far more scenic than Interstate 5 between Seattle and Olympia.
Highway 8 between Ocean Shores and Olympia is not exceptionally scenic. There are some smaller attractions along this route most of the scenery is made up of fields of stumps where the forests once stood, and monoculture toothpick sized trees on commercial national forest land. While this is considered part of the "Olympic Peninsula Scenic Loop" it really isn't exceptionally scenic except when viewed at a distance, and you are really better off concentrating on the areas of highway 101 north of Shelton and highway 101 and 109 north of the area near Sampson (north of Ocean Shores), especially north of Pacific Beach, with things getting better further north. There are some scenic places north of highway 8, but except for Lake Sylvia State Park and one or two similar places they are a long way north of the highway, as the land immediately north of the highway is commercial national forest land, and the national parks entrances are well beyond the area near the highway.Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
Olympic National Park and Olympic Peninsula Part 1
[This tip has been adapted from a response to a question in the tourist forums, and is still in progress into making it more generic. Please check back later.]
[Also please note due to the 10,000 character limits this tip overflows into Olympic Peninsula Part 2.]
The first thing to take into consideration, far before anything else, is the weather. Please check local conditions and average temperatures as your travel time draws close. The Olympic Mountains are a vast area uncrossed by road because they are difficult to travel through, and it may be that late in the season there will still be a lot of snow at the higher elevations. Hurricane Ridge and some of the roads that get to those places may still be snowed in by the time you visit, if it is in late spring or early fall, so you may want to make alternative plans just in case what you want to do isn't accessible. Understand that the elevations in some of these places are high enough for snow all year, so access depends on the weather that year. Check the national parks web site and see what they say about estimated opening dates for the road to Hurricane Ridge.
The second thing to keep in mind is places to stay overnight get booked up very early in the tourist season. Even state park campgrounds can sell out almost a year in advance for certain popular weekends. If you are making plans during the peak travel season, don't show up and expect to just grab any hotel or camp site that suits your fancy. This is one place you will have to plan ahead - if you are making plans during the peak season. (On the other hand, you can find some great deals in surplus rooms in the off-season too!!!)
Many communities have small hotels that are family operated and not well documented or advertised. Forks is hugely popular tourist place with teenagers now due to the "Twighlight" series, which means they now have a lot more hotels than most places nearby. However, for a less tourist trap environment, and somewhat more along the lines of places you might want to stay, try La Push and the Quillayute Indian Reservation just south of La Push. That is closer to the beach. There are also several National Parks lodges in the area. Many years ago I stayed at the Crescent Lake Lodge near Rosemary, and it seemed like a wonderful place, even though it was close to the highway.
Port Townsend has a number of hotels in it, including some big chains and a number of tiny one-operator historic properties, as well as the very unique facilities at Fort Worden State Park. If you want a really unique experience, I highly suggest staying away from the big chains and instead lean towards the small hotels right in the core of downtown Port Townsend, or the unique properties at Fort Worden State Park. See my Port Townsend Places to Stay tips for examples of some unique places, with a small selection of both historic properties in downtown and the eccentric places at the state park, but far from a complete list of all. Port Townsend is a neat little community that was mostly preserved by accident. The Fort Worden State Park that is just north of Port Townsend is a retired military installation, and it is possible to get guest lodges in some of the older buildings there (one of them is a hostel, others are state parks guest houses). However, typically you must stay two nights in the guest houses in Washington state parks, and some of them are not economical in June unless you have enough people to occupy the entire house.
Port Angeles is more of a sawmill town that really isn't as interesting a place to visit or spend time, and other than the National Park offices there I don't think it would be worthwhile spending a huge amount of time there. However, they do have hotels.
If you absolutely have to, you can also spend the night in the Ocean Shores, Aberdeen or Hoquiam area as they do have hotels and resorts, but they are far away from the National Park and in an area that has been clear cut logged for many decades, and has few areas of scenic value. Ocean Shores is an absolute tourist trap type community for the most part, and if you can find somewhere to stay further north, and closer to Hoh or Queets it would be better.
Don't expect to be able to make good time on Highway 101 along the coast, or on the section south of Sequim to Olympia. It is very curvy with lots of hills and a lot of tourist traffic on it. It goes through towns and state parks very regularly, where the speeds are slow. It isn't like the freeway sections of that highway in California. Some sections of it haven't changed since the 1930s. The section between Shelton and Quilcene in particular is out of a much different epoch in time. It is an eccentric road with many small towns, but never designed to handle the heavy tourist traffic it now sees.
You will find that highway 101 does not follow the coast. Instead, if you want to see the best scenery, you will have to take lesser highways in loops and dead-end roads that follow the coast. These are even slower roads than highway 101. In fact, the entire route from south of Sequim to the area around Hoh isn't even within sight of salt water or the Ocean. To get to those places, you need to take small dead-end highways, such as route 112 along the "North Coast" of the peninsula which ends at the absolute tip of the Peninsula.
The most popular route between Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula is the Edmonds - Kingston ferry. I don't recommend people use this route unless it is timed to be against the flow of traffic. On weekday mornings, for example, you are probably OK going outbound, but not on weekend mornings during the summer headed towards the Peninsula. This ferry can be the fastest route to the Olympic Peninsula, but it can also be the slowest route as the waiting lines for the ferry can be two hours or more long. You may be better off going from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island or Bremerton. The Bremerton Ferry is a longer route both driving and by ferry, but it is somewhat more scenic. The Bainbridge Island ferry is only 1/2 hour long, but the restaurants are somewhat better on the boat.
If you take the Bainbridge Island ferry, you might find Poulsbo worth a short visit. It has an eccentric small downtown that was built by immigrants from Scandinavia.
Bremerton has a few museums in it at the end of its ferry route, including a retired navy vessel that can be toured - though I think they may be closed on Mondays in June. The downtown is a mixture of a few preserved historic buildings and some modern ones - some attractive and some not.
Hurricane Ridge is a certain must on the "Must See" list, as long as you are visiting the park when the road up there is open and safe to travel. It is also a popular "first stop" for those visiting the park, as most people come from Seattle and most of the best routes out of Seattle eventually lead to the "North Coast" area of the Olympic Peninsula. When you take the trip up to Hurricane Ridge, you will pay for and receive a pass that is good for 7 days at any of the entrances to the National Park. They will also give you maps and other information that will help you plan the Olympic National Park section of your stay. This is true at any of the several similar offices and road entrances to the national park. Please see the national park web site for information on the several office and entrance locations, helpful maps, and other useful information.
For some reason the Hoh Rain Forest is the best known of the several rain forests mentioned on the VT travel guide for the Olympic Peninsula. It is a nice place, but it is only one of several well preserved rain forests in the national park. If you have time, you may want to investigate the Queets Rain Forest and Quinault Rain Forest. Also, there are several Native American cultural centers in Neah Bay and Ozette, but doing that will add a day to the trip because those are true Olympic Peninsula places that the through roads bypass - you have to take a long dead end road off the highway 101 loop. They explain a bit about who and what was on the Olympic Peninsula before the discovery and conversion into a logging industry complex, and later a tourist destination.
You will run across dozens of state parks along the Olympic Peninsula loop. Each of them are popular with certain groups of people for their own specific reasons.
Interstate 5 between Seattle and Olympia offers very little scenery or points of interest near the freeway. There are a few, but it is mostly pretty awful stuff, and subject to major traffic messes. Therefore, I suggest using the ferry routes to get out of Seattle as soon as possible, and using Interstate 5 as little as possible.
Sequim has, over the last 10 years or so, turned into a suburban tangle, but there is still some remnants of the old "undiscovered" community that had an "out of the 1930s" feel to it. The lavender farms around the community are rapidly being converted to suburban housing, but many of the farms have developed into suburban tourist attractions to fight back against the oncoming tide of housing developments. Some of the lavender farms in the area may be of interest as an aside to visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, especially during the flowering season.
Also in the Sequim area is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and Dungeness Spit. It is hard to imagine a place on earth that has a name more synonymous with seafood (the dungeness crab) but the place is reasonably scenic as well.
[Due to character limits this tip overflows into a Olympic Peninsula Part 2 tip.]Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
Washington State Hotels
We stayed at this hotel from July 5 - 9th, 2010 as a family of four with 2 adults and 2 children...more
Rain Forest Resort Lodge is one of my favorite stays while at Olympic. On the south shore of Lake...more
I have never stayed at this hotel, but if I can find a decent price for it some night in the...more
Top Washington State Hotels
- Seattle Hotels
- 3145 Reviews - 7644 Photos
- Ocean Shores Hotels
- 30 Reviews - 84 Photos
- Spokane Hotels
- 147 Reviews - 229 Photos
- Leavenworth Hotels
- 136 Reviews - 363 Photos
- Long Beach Hotels
- 47 Reviews - 178 Photos
- Port Angeles Hotels
- 32 Reviews - 76 Photos
- West Seattle Hotels
- 13 Reviews - 92 Photos
- Olympic National Park Hotels
- 300 Reviews - 786 Photos
- Tacoma Hotels
- 179 Reviews - 610 Photos
- Bellevue Hotels
- 30 Reviews - 60 Photos
- Save up to 50% off Hotels Everyday
- Expedia.com Photos, Reviews and the Guaranteed Lowest Prices
- Book online.
- Hotels.com See maps & reviews for over 140,000 Hotels worldwide!
Explore the World
- Coron Hotels
- Southern Province Hotels
- State of Jammu and Kashmir Hotels
- Winnipeg Hotels
- Kuching Hotels
- Savannah Things to Do
- Sorrento Things to Do
- Bacolod City Things to Do
- Ho Chi Minh City Things to Do
- Ottawa Things to Do
- Mystic Things to Do
- Coron Things to Do
- Paris Things to Do
- Bukit Fraser Things to Do
- Mellieha Things to Do
- Hollywood Things to Do
- Strasbourg Things to Do
- Morro Bay Things to Do
- Pennsylvania Things to Do