This is our shortlist of some of our top picks of activities and sights to see when visiting the Port Angeles area and the Olympic Peninsula for the first time.
With 922,651 acres of wilderness fit for hiking, beachcombing, biking, sightseeing and even snow sports, the Olympic National Park is the only designated World Heritage Site in the Northwest and the site of one of only 18 National Natural Landmarks in Washington state (Point of Arches at Shi Shi Beach). Over 3 million people visit the park every year, but with so much space to explore, you’ll never feel it.
The Olympic Discovery Trail, a mostly paved path for biking, walking and running, extends from Port Townsend to Forks. Cruise by coastlines, rivers, streams, sapphire lakes and backwoods beaches. From downtown Port Angeles pedal out to Ediz Hook for sea, city and mountain vistas. You can opt to stay on the 70+ miles of paved trail, or take the “adventure route” up the hill from downtown Port Angeles for an off-road ride to the Elwha River and Lake Crescent on 26-miles of sinewy single and double-track trails.
A natural sandy spit extends from the western edge of Port Angeles’ downtown, which is solely responsible for creating the calm bay. Stroll or bike to the end to see the lighthouse and Coast Guard station, plus keep your eyes peeled for seals, otters, and birds. There are several city parks along the hook where you can spend an afternoon looking for sea glass or shore diving. Culturally, this area is significant because in 2003 Native American artifacts from the 2,700-year-old Klallam village — called Tse-whit-zen — were exhumed at the base of Ediz Hook. The artifacts found are now on permanent display at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center. To date, this is the largest Native American village to be found in Washington state since the Makah’s Ozette village was uncovered in the 1970s.
After the completion of one of the largest dam removal projects in the country that began in 2011, the Elwha River is now flowing from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca after 100 years. Head to the Elwha River overlook on the dam (located along the Olympic Hot Springs Road) for a birds-eye view, or take a walk along the river trail where Lake Aldwell once stood — you’ll see giant stumps exposed from long ago logging for the first time in over a century.
An ancient glacially carved lake situated in the Olympic National Park — and not far from downtown Port Angeles — where boaters, swimmers, and paddlers can revel in the very blue, blue, blue water. Hikers and bikers can explore the trails both above and around the lake including the old Spruce Railroad Trail.
Sol Duc Falls & Hot Springs
Take a dip into a hot mineral pool at Sol Duc Hot Springs. The spring fed pool temperatures range from 99 to 104 degrees with three pools to relax in. After you get in a good mineral soak, you can move on to the freshwater pool. From the hot springs resort and campground road venture off to the Sol Duc Falls. This is an easy hike through tall timber and mossy ravines to see a 50-foot waterfall. The best views are from the bridge.
Watch the whales go by. The Whale Trail starts in California and runs along the coast of Oregon, Washington and then continues through the Strait of Juan de Fuca into British Columbia. Depending on the time of year and your location, you can spot orcas, minke, gray and humpback whales from the shore. For a better view, head out on a whale watching tour.
From the wild coastline of the Pacific Ocean to serene bays and inlets, the Olympic Peninsula has over 400 miles of coastline to discover on foot, by car, or by boat. A day at the beach is definitely a must while you’re visiting Port Angeles. One of the city’s charming traits is that you’re literally surrounded by a variety of beautiful beaches.
Rain Forests with Giant Trees
The Hoh Rain Forest is one of four rain forests in the Port Angeles area. The Hoh gets most of the attention, which is well deserved. It’s been listed as both a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site World Heritage Site by UNESCO because its ecosystem has been perfectly preserved for thousands of years. To get to the Hoh, head about two hours from Port Angeles along highway 101 to see gleaming green moss draped over the branches of really, really big trees. The best time to visit is actually during the rainiest and wettest times of year (winter months) where the forest can get up to 14 feet of rain! The other rainforests include the Quinault, Queets and Bogachiel river valleys.
If you don’t know what Twilight is then you should probably just skip reading this entire paragraph. The Olympic Peninsula struck fame in Hollywood (and the rest of the world) with the Twilight film series based on the popular novels by Stephenie Meyer. The #1 International bestselling book series were made into several feature films. The characters in the story live in Forks, Washington, but the actual movies were filmed on location in Washington and Oregon. Twihards can take the Fork’s Twilight Tour and make a plan to visit during the Forever Twilight celebration happening every September. Many scenes from the film and book took place in Port Angeles. You can seek out the spot where Edward and Bella dined on their first date. Michael’s Fine Dining occupies the former Bella Italia restaurant location, where Stephanie Meyers based the description of the restaurant. Bella Italia has since moved across the street, but you can order the same mushroom ravioli dish that Bella orders on her date with Edward. Due to the popularity of this dish from the movie, you can even buy the frozen version of this meal at local grocery stores in Port Angeles.
Photo from Hurricane Ridge by Isaac Gautschi