Weekender: Hiking the Olympic Peninsula

Here’s a secret. The Olympic Peninsula, that outcropping just south of the border, is actually really far away. It’s wild and beautiful and deserving of a trip, but unless you’re as fond of your car as you are desperate for a getaway, save it for a 3-day weekend. With two days, it requires a little planning.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, Lake Crescent

Pro tip: when traveling to the Olympic Peninsula from Vancouver, book a ferry. There are three ferry options – via Victoria, via Whidbey Island and via Edmonds, all of which will save you 1-3 hours of travel time (spent in gridlock on the I-5), and none of which I took on a recent trip.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, First Beach

After the ferry, the second thing to plan is where you’ll stay. Just as the peninsula is unexpectedly far, it’s also unexpectedly big. What are you most interested in? Hiking Hurricane Ridge – stay in Port Angeles, exploring the beaches – try La Push, wandering the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest – Forks will do you just fine.

We went in March and the peaks were out of the question without snowshoes, so we prioritized the beaches and the rainforest, and stayed in Forks.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, First Beach

Forks is a quaint town, with a couple of hotels and a few more restaurants, and a long list of Twilight-related attractions and tours. We skipped Twilight, and went to the beach.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, Second Beach

Our first hike was Second Beach, and after a sharp descent through forest we hit a rocky, craggy, log-strewn shore that smelled surprisingly like fish. Unfortunately, we’d been in pursuit of a specific trail on a specific beach, which it turned out Second Beach was not.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, First Beach

At Third Beach, we found the trail we were looking for. The Third Beach trail starts with a long, flat path through the rainforest before another steep descent to another beach. This one was wider and wilder, and split by creeks and headlands. Despite several postings about crossing the headland at low tide, we judged the waves and darted around massive fallen logs. On the other side of the headland, we discovered what we’d been looking for – a rope to help get us up a rocky, slippery slope.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, First Beach

Following the trail along ropes, up ladders, and through the forest took us over the next headland and to a secluded cove. By the time we turned around to head out, the tide must have gone down because a dozen backpackers wandered through, in pursuit of one of the campgrounds in the area. All in, and including the "warm up" hike at Second each, we did about 15 km.

For post-hike dining options, stock up at the local supermarket or check out one of the restaurants. Maybe skip the Mexican one.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, Lake Crescent

The next day we bypassed the Hall of Mosses in order to check out Crescent Lake, a beautiful lake known for its colour and clarity. We wandered the shores and then went our separate ways, and I found myself pulling over several times to get more shots of the lake (a perk of traveling solo).

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend

After leaving the peninsula, head to Port Townsend to take the ferry to Coupeville. With any time to spare, grab a coffee and snack at the shop just down the street and follow the signs to Fort Worden State Park. The sand dunes and water views are a pleasant way to while away any ferry delays.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry

The ferry was quick and beautiful, and far preferable to the I-5. Once you're back in the car, take another quick stop on the side of the road to check out Deception Pass.

Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, Deception Pass

Despite photo and food pit stops, taking the ferry means a 5-6 hour transit time compared to 8+. In short, the Olympic Peninsula is worth the visit – but take the ferry.

Where to go: The Olympic Peninsula

How to get there: Drive via Anacortes and take the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry, but make a reservation in advance.

Where to stay: There are cute beach-side hotels in La Push, or plenty of AirBnB options like the one we stayed at in Forks.

What to do: Check out the First Beach trail, wander the shores of Lake Crescent, hike the Hall of Mosses, trek Hurricane Ridge and unwind in wild (Olympic) or tame (Sol Duc) hot springs.

Who to bring: Lucy didn't come with me on this trip, but the Olympic Peninsula can be dog-friendly. As with most US National Parks, dogs aren't allowed on some trails in Olympic National Park, but we saw lots of pups along the beaches and the more informal trails.