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Great American Road Trips #6: The Olympic Peninsula Loop

Written by  Thursday, 09 October 2014 00:00

Map of the Olympic Peninsula LoopImage from Boston Public Library

Pristine lakes, waterfalls, striking shorelines, expansive mountain top vistas and even rainforests; the roughly 330 mile long loop of Highway 101 that circles the Olympic Peninsula has it all.

The region, which remained virtually unmapped until 50 years ago, is not only one of the most beautiful in the United States but one of the least populated too. So, if you're looking to get away from it all while getting back in touch with nature, the Olympic Peninsula Loop is a road trip you'll never forget.


Where to start

Whatever your interest may be, you can start your trip at almost any point along the loop such are the abundance of natural wonders within the region. However, due to Seattle being the largest nearby city, it represents a natural starting point for our Great American Road Trip adventure.


To get to the loop, exit Seattle and take the ferry to Bainbridge Island. From Bainbridge Island, head along Washington State Route 305 towards Poulsbo. From Poulsbo, head along the WA-3 N to the Hood Canal Bridge. In crossing the Hood Canal Bridge you will also be entering onto Highway 104. If you keep driving along Highway 104 for around 20 minutes, you will reach a junction to enter Route 101 and the Olympic Peninsula Loop.


The Olympic Peninsula Loop

Once you reach the junction for Highway 101, if you wish to take a detour to Port Townsend at this point, take a quick right onto Highway 20. Port Townsend is a 20 minute drive from here, and is well worth a visit for its mix of fine eateries, high culture and Victorian period architecture.

Once you're back onto Highway 101, head towards Sequim. This stretch of the road provides perhaps the best views in the region, as you approach the Olympic Peninsula's rain shadow. The rain shadow is where nearby mountains block rain producing weather systems, which in turn produce beautiful clear skies and the perfect conditions to view the stunning peaks that punctuate the area.


Beyond Sequim to Port Angeles

Beyond Sequim, continue north along Highway 101 and get prepared to experience a number of spectacular natural wonders. First up is the Dungeness Spit, which at roughly five-and-a-half miles in length, is one of the world's longest natural sand pits. In 1915, the area was declared a national wildlife refuge because of the 250 species of bird that reside there – making it a haven for any and all bird-watchers.


Next up is Port Angeles, a gorgeous coastal logging town situated on the outskirts of the Olympic National Park. From this potential pit stop a number of attractive excursions become a possibility. One option is the short drive up to the Hurricane Ridge Road. From here you will be treated to the most spectacular views of the aforementioned National Park's snowy peaks and glaciers – all from a vantage point of more than 5,000 feet.


Lake Crescent and Forks Timber Museum

Upon leaving Port Angeles, head back to Highway 101 and continue driving west. Soon you will be confronted with a fork in the road, turn left, sticking to Highway 101 and head towards Lake Crescent. Highway 101 cuts through terrain that hugs the Lake Crescent's southern shoreline, where every turn on the winding road offers a fresh perspective of the lake that many describe as the most beautiful in the United States.


After Highway 101 rounds the corner of its loop and starts heading south, you will find the Forks Timber Museum, a roughly forty minute drive from the idyllic locale of Lake Crescent. The museum features exhibitions that pay homage to the region's timber producing heritage. Furthermore, the nearby town of Forks is the setting for the Twilight series, and as such, many tours and activities related to the books and films can be found there.


Hoh and Quinault Rain Forests

From snowy peaks and glaciers to rainforests – the Hoh rainforest in the heart of the national park proves that the Olympic Peninsula really does have it all. Hoh Rainforest is home to Sitka Spruces, Big-leaf Maples, Western Hemlocks and many other types of tree that thrive on the 150 inches of annual rainfall in the area.


Some of the trees are between 300-500 years, which helps to create the rainforest's mystical feel that draws easy comparisons with a Tolkien-esque fantasy world. There are also a myriad of self-guided nature trails that offer an array of excellent day hike opportunities. The Hall of Moses and the Spruce Trail, for example, will each lead you through a vast yet accessible path of the forest's wooden giants.


Quinault Rain Forest is another hour and a half drive south along Highway 101. Although it may be the less popular of the two rainforests on the Olympic Peninsula Loop, Quinault is the quieter, more relaxing excursion. Again, there are hiking trails aplenty to enjoy. Or, you could stay in your car and drive the 30-mile loop around Lake Quinault that offers amazing views of the surrounding forests and mountains.


Hoquiam and Pacific Beach Coast Drives

Another hour's drive south along Highway 101 is the town of Hoquiam. From Hoquiam, you can take a detour that encompasses a scenic drive along the Washington Pacific Shores by exiting Highway 101 and turning west onto Washington State Route 109. Along this near 51 mile long stretch of road that culminates in Moclips, you will find a variety of beaches and wildlife habitats, including examples of both at Grays Harbor, Ocean shore and Copalis Beach.


Completing the loop

To complete the road trip you will need to return to the town of Hoquiam. From here, jump back onto Highway 101, before rounding the southern end of the loop and heading north to Seattle. A Highlight on the last stretch of the Olympic Peninsula Loop is the town of Shelton, which is home to the Jarrell Cove State Park, the Walter Dacon Winery and the nearby Potlatch State Park.


Providing peace of mind

If you have an accident behind the wheel of your rental car – and you are not covered by your personal auto insurance or credit card – you may be liable for the full cost of damage. Depending on the extent of the damage, this could be thousands of dollars.

If your personal auto insurance or credit card won't provide you with cover, you will need to purchase a CDW/LDW. A CDW/LDW works by providing cover for the entire cost of damage to a rental car (minus a deductible) in the event of an accident. As such, your rental company will try and sell you CDW/LDW cover over the counter as you pick up your vehicle.


However, buying a CDW/LDW from your rental company is usually a lot more expensive than purchasing similar cover from a standalone provider before you set out on vacation. For more information on buying CDW cover for prices that are up to 70% cheaper than those offered by the rental car company, click here to see how much you could save by purchasing cover from Insuremyrentalcar.com.


If you have been inspired to take a road trip along The Olympic Peninsula Loop, please take the time to share this blog on your favorite social media.