There aren’t many places where you can see rain forest, whales, eagles and snowcapped mountain peaks in one short visit. And throw in kayaking and backpacking if you have any time left.
You can all that and more, with an assist from several Web sites, on Washington state’s spectacular Olympic Peninsula, at the far northwest corner of the Lower 48 states.
Getting there is simple. Drive north from Portland, Ore., on Interstate 5 and turn left at Olympia, Wash. Or, start in Seattle and take one of the Washington State Ferries — http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/ — across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island or Bremerton, or go a little north to Edmonds and catch a ferry to Kingston.
Need convincing? Take a couple of minutes to browse through “Photos & Multimedia” at Olympic National Park — http://www.nps.gov/olym — the huge preserve that extends from lowland rain forests to mountain peaks capped with snow and glaciers.
According to the park’s “Plan Your Visit,” it takes just 45 minutes to drive from Port Angeles on the Strait of San Juan de Fuca side of the peninsula through old growth forests up to the tree line at Hurricane Ridge. Look under “Plans …” for the “Directions” chapter with detailed maps, “Things to Know” (tides and weather can be extreme) and “Things to Do” with a page called “Quick Visit Suggestions” and activities including backpacking, day hikes and fishing.
The park is 95 percent wilderness, but it has roads entering at several points. Look under “Plan Your Visit” for “Getting Around,” which shows how the park is ringed by U.S. 101 and gives distances between the access points.
Also scattered around the park are segments of Olympic National Forest — http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/olympic/ — with terrain that includes more rain forest, rugged mountains, rivers, ocean beaches and wilderness areas. The Forest Service even has its own photo gallery. Then you need to click on “Recreational Activities” to see what the Forest Service has to say about its numerous campgrounds and cabins, the Lake Quinault Lodge, hiking trails, the Olympic Loop birding trail, and auto tours.
Not in the mood for camping out? The Olympic Peninsula Bed & Breakfast Association — http://www.opbba.com/ — might have something more to your liking for spending the night.
U.S. 101 and a piece of Washington 12 form a Pacific Coast Scenic Byway Loop, and the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau — http://visitolympicpeninsula.com/home.htm — says there are nearly 20 waterfalls worth visiting along the way. Click on “Waterfalls” for details, and look for the byway tour link toward the bottom of the page for information on the 284-mile drive around the region. They also provide a guide to whale watching for the grays, humpbacks and orcas that appear along the coast, with links to charter boat companies. While you’re there, take a look at their guides to music, festivals and surfing.
Explore Sequim, Quilcene, Clallam Bay and other towns around the peninsula with the Web links at Olympic Peninsula — http://www.olympicpeninsula.org/ — where you can also search for motels, inns, resorts, campgrounds and retreats.
Along the north side of the peninsula, the highway is a National Scenic Byway — http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/13740/ — better known as the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway, from the Elwha River, just west of Port Angeles, out to the Makah Indian Reservation. Click on “Explore …” for details, and then scan the too-small photo album. And for visitors centers, parks, beach access and scenic vistas, look under “Explore …” and then “Driving Along the Strait.”
Try to spend some time at the home of the Makah People — http://www.makah.com/ — enjoying their scenery and learning about their culture and history.
Think you’ll have time for more? Washington state’s official tourism web site — http://www.experiencewa.com/ — will help you find places and events to fit just about any schedule.