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Home Road Trip Road trip to the North Olympic Peninsula: Port Angeles and beyond

Road trip to the North Olympic Peninsula: Port Angeles and beyond

by Staff

The North Olympic Peninsula presents a dizzying array of mild-climate excursions, immersive arts and a vibrant shopping scene — just in time for the holidays and beyond.

You probably won’t need chains or a shovel, though. Due to the surrounding waters, snow is rare. The peninsula’s climate is classified as moderate marine, so winters are mild and less rainy than in Seattle, with 27 inches falling annually in Port Angeles. 

Port Angeles for outdoors enthusiasts: Olympic National Park

The Olympic National Park is the region’s major draw. Spanning almost 1 million acres, ONP features a wild Pacific coastline, snowcapped mountains that attract clouds and rain and four types of forest, including temperate rainforest with looming stands of moss-covered old-growth trees and near-continuous rain and moisture.

In Port Angeles, pick up day- or weeklong Olympic National Park passes at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, open year-round. Mobbed in summer, the center is more approachable in the offseason. A hands-on Discovery Room lets kids learn more about the park and its wild residents. At the same time, adults can enjoy the plentiful resources and human rangers to answer any questions about the best hiking trails at the Wilderness Information Center.  

The closest ONP destination to Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge, with breathtaking views of surrounding mountains, saltwater and Vancouver Island. Right now, access is closed to perform road repairs, but check for updates. In the meantime, the visitor center can point you toward alternative year-round destinations and trails open to ramblers from around the world and a diversity of animals, including Roosevelt elks, Olympic marmots and black bears.

Port Angeles for shoppers and walkers

Downtown Port Angeles packs enough enjoyment for an entire afternoon, where historic buildings and a scenic waterfront have been revived. The weekend brings a year-round farmers market (watch for the don’t-miss apple pie jelly), underground tours and independent shops and restaurants.

Find gaming, hobby and graphic novel stores, along with clothing, yarn and fabric-arts shops, antiques and well-stocked bookstores. Restaurants range from casual to quirky (Little Devil’s Lunchbox, with Iron Maiden-style lettering and smoked-meat burritos) to hoppy at a half-dozen breweries.

In 1914, Port Angeles’s downtown street levels were raised above the tidal flats, which you can peek in on with the 2 1/2-hour tour Port Angeles Underground Heritage Tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Other notable buildings include a 1914 brick Georgian-style Clallam County Courthouse.

A four-mile paved Port Angeles Waterfront Trail features views of Ediz Hook and Vancouver Island, just 18 miles away. Along the water, the City Pier’s lookout tower promenade deck gives you a sightline of storms and international boats rolling in, with 360-degree views of the Harbor and looming Olympic mountains nearby. The Port Angeles Wharf features interpretive displays and an arcade for families.

Watch kayakers and scuba divers emerge at Hollywood Beach. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary sits just offshore, with vast submarine canyons full of kelp, coral and sea life — along with spooky shipwrecks.

Also at the Pier, the Feiro Marine Life Center features touch tanks, as helpful volunteers provide context and facts about regional marine life.

Port Angeles for arts fans

Port Angeles’s art scene features more than 80 sculptures around downtown, many near the 13 murals that span historic city building exteriors. Downtown’s brand-new Field Arts and Events Hall began operating in the summer of 2023 and now hosts ballet, music and other arts performances, particularly on weekends.

Just south of downtown, the by-donation Port Angeles Fine Arts Center is an enjoyable oddity­ — initially, the Esther Webster Gallery was a private home, but now houses a collection of local art and a picture window with lovely, hilltop views of Port Angeles harbor and the strait.

But the exterior alone is worth the trip to Port Angeles. Trails meander through five acres of second-growth forest at Webster’s Woods Sculpture Park, where you’ll spot poetry and 78-plus sculptures, fabric works and other pieces amid the forest floor, suspended midair and otherwise hidden into the landscape. Six new installations were added in 2023, made of materials including copper wire, bottle caps and an upcycled tree trunk.

Port Angeles: For trailheads and more road trippers

East of Port Angeles, explore several back roads and rustic trails after picking up provisions at Country Aire Natural Foods. The 135-mile Olympic Discovery Trail starts in Port Townsend and passes through rivers, prairies and ports en route to La Push. Visit the ODT by foot, bicycle or horse on the two-thirds of the trail completed so far.  

Stretching from Port Townsend to La Push on the coast, miles of railroad track were converted to trails, including trestles and timber truss bridges beneath conifer canopy. From Port Angeles, follow the ODT’s West Central leg for 32 miles across a suspended bridge across the Elwha River, then move through coastal lowlands, river valleys and restored railroad tunnels before ending at the plateau of Fairholme Hill. The ODT, after this point, mostly hews close to two-lane roadways.

If you prefer to visit using four wheels, Port Angeles is also one end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway, a 61-mile-long National Scenic Byway around Washington’s Northwest corner, with shoreline views of Vancouver Island and the Strait.

The route technically starts at Neah Bay, then tracks for 61 miles, mostly along the shoreline, working timber and wild forest and two Whale Trail locations at Freshwater Bay County Park and Seiku Overlook, where you may spot harbor seals, sea lions and other sea mammals.

But you can begin in Port Angeles instead, tracing 112 up to Neah Bay. Stop to tidepool at Salt Creek Recreation Area’s Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary — full of sea cucumbers, urchins and sea stars. Then shop at Joyce General Store and Depot Museum — a working post office and museum, and hike in conservation areas and county parks.

Visit Washington’s third-largest and second-deepest lake and a nine-mile hike featuring a cedar boardwalk section at ONP’s Lake Ozette. At 112’s end, spot twin offshore sea stacks named Sail and Sea Rocks and find Neah Bay’s Makah Museum. At the end of Cape Flattery Trail, spot the Cape Flattery Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, the U.S.’s northwesternmost destination.

Note: The region’s park system can be confusing and is a patchwork of federal, state, county, and tribal parks, each potentially requiring different parking passes. Read up on what you’ll need before you go.

Whether you’re looking to make an environmentally conscious choice with a hybrid or to save cash with our new car lease deals, Western Washington Toyota Dealers can help you find a new car that keeps up with your lifestyle.

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