Touring The Eastern Side of the Olympic Peninsula

Miles today: 164. Total miles: 667

The Olympic Peninsula is a large arm of land that sticks out into the sea, across the Puget Sound, west of Seattle.

The vast majority of the pensinsula is taken up by Olympic National Park, one of the largest parks in the USA. A great deal of it is only accessible to the most hardy of wilderness hikers and rough campers as it is not deeply accessed by roads. The main road is a large circular coastal road (101) with some minor roads running off it. At the heart of the park is the largest mountain of the range, Mt Olympus, just short of 8000 feet.

We left Olympia just after breakfast and took 101 up the eastern side of the peninsula. We are going to spend 10 days here staying in 3 main locations, north, west and south, roughly 3 days in each. Tonight we are staying in Washington Harbor, Sequim (pronounced Skwim) just outside of the park on the north coast.

It was a lovely drive up the peninsula, much of the road running directly along the edge of the inlet called the Hood Canal, part of Puget Sound. An old fashioned, tranquil scene. Wooden houses set against the coast, small boats attached to rickety piers running out from the houses, oyster farms…. the water so calm and still and on the other side of the canal, just wooded, seemingly uninhabited coast.

Our first stop was Staircase, a very remote area accessed for the last 6 miles by a narrow gravel road. It is just beyond an enormous lake, Lake Cushman, a 4000 acre lake created by damming the Skokomish River. It looked an absolutely beautiful lake, clear water and surrounded by forested hills. There were a few campsites and houses and we saw people swimming and floating which looked very inviting on another very hot day. The gravel road was not too bad at all other than the dust that flew up which meant we had to go even slower than we would normally have.

We parked up at the ranger station carpark which was where the Staircase Rapids loop trail started. The ranger at the entrance recommended it as the best hike up there – 2.2 miles through the forest and alongside the river and the rapids. He was certainly right and it was also very quiet. We only saw a few other people the whole way, although part of that was we were early, the car park was really full when we got back. Anyway, the woods were spectacular, many of the trees dripping with moss, not Spanish moss like in Florida, but a sort of velvet moss that coated them. The trees were a mix of huge Douglas firs and equally huge cedars. Massive trunks on many of them. The river was quite full due to the recent snow melt and gushing down over rocky rapids. Every so often there were little pools, blue and clear, and a couple of times I saw someone swimming in them. Looked fabulous. It was a great walk, absolutely beautiful.

After our walk, we drove back down again and turned north up 101. We stopped for lunch beside the Hood Canal and then continued on towards Mt. Walker. I had read that there was a gravel forest road going to two viewpoints at the top. The only mountaintop you can drive to on the peninsula. Indeed there was a 4 mile forest road leading up there so up we went… It was quiet steep and winding but not too bad. We’ve driven far worse roads…. At the top there were two viewpoints, north and south. The south one looked out over the canal and sound back to the mainland. We could see Mt. Rainier in the distance and also the outline of Seattle but it was lost in haze for the most part. Gorgeous view. The north one showed Mt. Baker, the last and most northerly volcano mountain in the Washington chain, Puget Sound and a view of some of the Olympic range on the peninsula, in particular, Mt. Constance. Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker had a lot of snow on the top, but there was just a little on Mt. Constance. We were really glad we’d gone up there.

We descended again and continued our trip north, arriving in Sequim about 315. We couldn’t check in at our motel till 4 so we headed down to Dungeness!!!!! Yes, just on the coast near Sequim is Dungeness, Washington. It contains the Dungeness Spit, the longest sand spit in the USA – about 5 miles and counting. It grows about 15 feet a year. There is a lighthouse on it and it adjoins a nature reserve which is home to many species of birds and sea creatures. Interesting to see.

We checked into our motel and settled in for the night. Microwave dinners tonight – we know how to live!!!!! A really good day and now looking forward to exploring the national park over the next 9 days.