Olympic weekend vacation?
March 6, 2011 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Best itinerary for a weekend vacation at Olympic National Park in May?

A friend and I want to leave Vancouver on Friday, spend time at Olympic, then fly home to the East Coast on Monday. What is the best route to the park? What can we do while we're there? Is this enough time to really see anything? A million other questions I'm not thinking of?

Some caveats:
* Obviously: time. Three-ish days isn't much.
* We have no car, but can rent one if need be.
* Neither of us are campers (I have never been camping, she hasn't since childhood). We would love to camp (for fun and economic reasons), but would camping be safe since we are so inexperienced?
* Hoh Rainforest is a must see.

My main motivation for the trip is to see the Hoh rainforest, but I'm open to any activities along the Olympic peninsula if that seems more feasible given my time constraints.
posted by isnotchicago to Travel & Transportation around Port Angeles, WA (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I do not see how to avoid renting a car. You could stay at Crescent Lake Lodge or a probably less expensive motel in Port Angeles.

A day trip or two out to the Hoh (maybe an hour away?) and the Pacific Ocean there (very isolated) would be easy, and if it is clear, a drive up to Hurricane Ridge above Pt. Angeles would be lovely. Also above Port Angeles, there is a hike to some hot springs on the Elwha River that is several miles long and the hot springs are (were years ago) divine.
posted by Danf at 8:15 AM on March 6, 2011

Yeah, I was just coming by to say that you have to drive past Crescent Lake -- for this girl from the East Coast it was utterly stunning. As was La Push. We had a week to go from the Gorge Amphitheater (in the desert!) through Packwood (base of Mt Rainier) to Seattle to La Push (rainforest-y) and back to Seattle to fly home -- ran out of time for the Hoh but are desperate to find time/money to see Lake Crescent and La Push again.
posted by MeiraV at 8:31 AM on March 6, 2011

The best route to the park would be to either ferry over to Vancouver Island then across the strait to Port Angeles, or to cross the border and make your way down to Keystone and then ferry over to Port Townsend. Those are the only ways, in fact, that I know of. Unfortunately, either route would probably take the greater part of a day.
posted by Danf at 8:37 AM on March 6, 2011

Before you rent a car in Canada, make sure the rental agency allows driving it into the U.S.

You might look into the cost of flying back out of Seattle instead of Vancouver—that would save you a lot of time.
posted by grouse at 9:24 AM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I've done this a dozen times. I LOVE the Olympic Coast.

You have three days? Here's what I would do.


5am - leave Yaletown / Vancouver / etc (I live in Ytown, so your times will vary)
6am - cross the border, continue down I-5 after tanking up in Blaine (cheap gas)
7am - from i-5, take a right on State Route 20, drive to Coupeville, take ferry to Port Townsend (hopefully you get on the 8.45am)
from Port Townsend, take the 20, then the 101 to Sequim and Port Angeles. You will be in PA by 11-ish. This assumes a few short stops at Crescent Lake lodge. Sure you can reserve at the lodge there, but I recommend Kalaloch Lodge instead (right on the ocean) or Quinault lodge (in the Quinault moss forest, about half an hour South of Kalaloch. Quinault forest and Hoh forest are the two forests in the area that are worth seeing). All three lodges are run by the same company by the way.

Stop 1
From downtown Port Angeles, go up to Hurricane Ridge. In May you will still have lots of snow, but on a sunny day, it's *spectacular*. Spend a few hours wandering up there - with snowshoes or just walking around near the parking lot.

Stop 2
If you don't stop at Hurricane Ridge, and keep driving instead, then you will be at Kalaloch lodge by 1pm. If you stopped at Hurricane Ridge - well you'll be there later :) But it's checkin time. And then, a long walk on the beach. If the tide is receding, perhaps you will find some large glass fishing balls. The sunsets at the beach at Kalaloch are *beautiful*.


Hoh Rainforest - you came for this, it was worth the wait! The entrance into the Hoh forest is well marked from the highway. The entrance is about 30 minutes by 101 from Kalaloch. The long road into the forest (will take about 20 - 30 minutes to drive) is paved all the way to the ranger station at the end. There are several trails that will take you in the mossy trees, it takes a few hours of (slow, lots of camera action) walking. Two short nature trails loop through the forest near the Visitor Center -- the Hall of Mosses Trail (.8 miles), and the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles). These are probably the ones you want to see.

On the way out, stop at Ruby Beach to see the sea stacks. Take an extra memory card for the photos you will take there.


Visit Forks - America's former logging capital, and now the epicentre of all things Twilight (there are a few Twilight stores in Port Angeles too, if your nieces are asking for souvenirs). Take the road to La Push to see the forbidding cliffs near First and Second Beach, and James island at the end of the road.

Slowly make your way back on Highway 101 to Crescent Lake, Port Angeles then Sequim. If you want to head to SeaTac for your trip back East, then forgo the Port Townsend ferry, and take the Kingston-Edmonds ferry which will bring you closer to Everett/Seattle. It's a bigger ship, costs about a dollar or two more, and gets there a little faster.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:28 AM on March 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

To echo the previous comment, Ruby Beach is perhaps one of the most spectacular beaches on the west coast that I've ever seen. Plan a picnic lunch there.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:36 AM on March 6, 2011

One more thing - I strongly recommend NOT taking the Tsawassen-Victoria ferry (what is it now, $45 for one car and $13.75 per passenger?) and then taking another ferry to Port Angeles (another $46). These two ferries are not even side by side, there's a long drive in between. Indeed that will take the better part of the day and crazy expensive when compared to $11 for the Coupeville - Port Townsend ferry.

$120 vs $11. Better part of the day or one early morning. You decide.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:37 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would add to seawallrunner's excellent info. . .rather than taking the ferry to Edmonds, if you are flying from Sea-Tac, I would consider driving to Bremerton and then going over the Tacoma Narrows then north to Sea-Tac. The traffic through Seattle is brutal, any time after 1pm. You will drive more miles but you will be in motion, rather than start-and-stop on the freeway, which happens from the Seattle city limits all the way past Tacoma.
posted by Danf at 10:22 AM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

As previous posters have noted, you will need a car; there's really no way around it. I would also caution against setting your itinerary in stone until you know what the weather's going to be like; if you're going to see Hurricane Ridge it should really be on a clear day, and clear days are not exactly common in the PNW.

If you decide against camping but still want to do something a little more outdoorsy than a standard resort, you might look into staying at the detached "rustic cabins" at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Is it poor form to mark every single answer as Best?

Thank you everyone for the awesome information! Which ferry to take was an especially good tip. I was worried renting a car would be too expensive (and hoped some complicated public transit/bus trip would work), but I see now that Enterprise charges only $20 a day for unlimited miles. Win!
posted by isnotchicago at 12:50 PM on March 6, 2011

I love Olympic too, but I would just mention there are places on Vancouver Island that are perhaps the same distance, maybe closer, from Vancouver and every bit, if not more, spectacular. Tofino. Broken Islands. Pacific Rim National Park.

Sorry for not answering your question. Seawall runner has a good itinerary and both of those hotels are awesome, Kalaloch is harder to reserve in my experience, and nicer, but both are awesome. Lots of decent chain hotels/motels in Port Angeles.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:21 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: @Slarty Bartfast: I am up for a change in plans if it is significantly easier to manage in three days, but I am sticking with Olympic if I can. I've wanted to go see Hoh since I was a kid, and this is a great chance to (since I will already be in Vancouver).
posted by isnotchicago at 5:50 PM on March 6, 2011

Three days is PLENTY, especially if you concentrate on your goal -- the Hoh. Even if you spend most of Saturday getting to the Port Angeles area, that still leaves all day Sunday, and the trip to SeaTac to fly out isn't that bad a drive.

Klaloch is wonderful, we spent our anniversary there, this very weekend a couple of years ago. Ruby Beach is wonderful any time of year, though I'm sure May will be nicer than March was.

After your trip into the Hoh, drive south and around through Bremerton, over the (spectacular) Tacoma Narrows (toll bridge) and up I-5 to SeaTac. If you are traveling after mid-day you will be going against most of the commute traffic.
posted by lhauser at 10:28 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: If you go by ferry, I'd recommend getting a reservation for the Coupeville - Port Townsend run. Its one of few that WSDOT allows reservations for, and I believe waits can be long - but I don't take it often enough to know how that varies seasonally.

Also note that certain sailings can be canceled in low tides. Fortunately, tides are predictable so cancellations are published in advance. Good news is there are no cancellations this coming weekend.
posted by rube goldberg at 9:26 PM on March 7, 2011

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