10 Scenic Places to Visit on the Olympic Peninsula

By Jim Chamberlain

The Olympic Peninsula of Washington State contains some of the most wild and beautiful places anywhere in the United States.  The weather can change in minutes from beautiful sunshine to pouring rain. In a matter of hours, you can travel through a Victorian town to alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers with views of snow-covered peaks to shimmering waterfalls, a deep blue glacier-carved lake, a temperate rainforest with moss-covered trees and finish your day on a wild seashore guarded by massive sea stacks and horizontal groves of driftwood logs.  This is a diversity of places that is found nowhere else except the Olympic Peninsula.

Quinault Rain Forest

Port Townsend:  A short ferry ride across Puget Sound from Seattle to Whidbey Island allows you to drive to this quaint Victorian town. It sits at the end of a Peninsula where you can see Mt. Baker in the Cascade Mountains on a clear day.  The Pt. Wilson lighthouse and Fort Worden State Park are two iconic sites to visit.  At Ft. Worden, you can stay in former military housing that was used in the movie “An Officer and a Gentlemen”.  Wonderful shops and interesting food parlors await you in the downtown area as you stroll past the old stylish houses.

Point Hudson in Port Townsend

Hurricane Ridge:  You drive 17 miles into the heart of the Olympic mountains from downtown Port Angeles to reach this high alpine meadow.  The field of lush green grass leads your eye to the snow-capped Bailey range that stretches across the horizon.  This is Hurricane Ridge.  There are several good hiking trails near the Visitor Center.  It is not unusual to see black tail deer grazing in the meadow.  Furry marmots may bark at you as you walk the trails admiring the mountain vistas.  Sunrise and sunset can both be very good times to visit this scenic spot in the Olympic National Park.

Lake Crescent: A deep blue lake was carved below Storm King Mountain by glaciers in ages past.  It may be over a thousand feet deep.  The largest lake in Olympic National Park can be viewed while driving Highway 101 west from Port Angeles.  It is even prettier when viewed from the Lake Crescent lodge especially if the winds are calm, which makes the lake like a mirror reflecting the surrounding mountains. The trail to Marymere falls is located near the lake.

Madison Falls:  Madison Falls is a lovely, wispy waterfall a short walk from the parking lot on the Elwha River, just west of Port Angeles.  This wild and scenic river was the location of a debate over dam removal just a few years ago.  The dams were removed and now the river is its wild and wonderful natural self.  Madison Falls tumbles about 50 feet down a green, mossy cliff face surrounded by lush forest. Fallen logs dot the pool at the bottom of the falls.

Madison Falls

Sol Duc Falls:  A Triple waterfall falling 50 feet into a black basalt gorge nestled in an old growth forest is the reward for driving the 14 miles up the Sol Duc valley to the trailhead.  The one-mile trail is family friendly and pleasant, wandering beneath a dense forest canopy which displays various shades of green. A small stream with a bridge is worth pausing at to enjoy the water tumbling over the moss-covered rocks. The roar of the falls is heard as you head downhill to the bridge spanning the gorge to view the falls.  Stop in at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort before you leave.

Continuing West on the Highway 101, you reach the town of Forks.  This is your gateway to several beaches on the wild coast of the Olympic Peninsula near La Push.

Second Beach: The giant sea stacks topped with trees dot this wild and scenic shore.  A hike through dense forest over three quarters of mile leads you to this secluded and picturesque wild beach. Watch your footing as you scramble over the large driftwood logs that block your path to the beach.   If you are there during the summer on the right day at sunset, you may see the sun set directly over a hole in the cliff face.  It will cast a light beam onto the ocean waves.

Sunburst on Second Beach

Rialto Beach: You can park right at the beach at Rialto.  This beach hides its beauty down the shoreline a mile at the “Hole in the Wall”.  This rock formation on the headland is the gateway to rock spires and some of the best tide pools along this coast at low tide.  Looking south you can see more sea stacks and James Island that mark the town of La Push.  Check the tides table as unwary hikers can get caught by the incoming waters that will block the path back to the parking area.

Rialto View

Hoh Rainforest: It feels primeval as you walk among the moss-covered trees along the Hall of Mosses trail. Its unique ecosystem has remained unchanged for thousands of years and it is now the most carefully preserved rain forest in the northern hemisphere. Watch for a flash of brown as a Roosevelt Elk lifts its head to watch you.  Towering Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock jut upward from the forest along the well-worn path.  This is the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest that gets nearly 14 feet of rain a year.  The Spruce Nature trail takes you to the river.  Look for mushrooms and lichens growing on old fallen logs. The Hoh has been awarded the distinction of being a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

Hoh Rainforest

Ruby Beach: Sea stacks and a field of driftwood logs greet you after a short hike downhill from the parking lot just off Highway 101 south of Forks and north of Kalaloch.  This is the easiest wild beach with sea stacks to get to in the Olympic National Park.  Walk north and gaze at the unusual rock spires dotting the shoreline.  Watch the waves crash against the rocks as the tide rolls in, spreading its blanket of water across the sand.

Ruby Beach

Quinault Rainforest:   This rainforest is located in the valley formed by the Quinault River and Lake Quinault. The valley is called the “Valley of the Rain Forest Giants” because of the number of record size tree species located there. It contains an iconic lodge among the dense green foliage. Merriman Falls, a tall but small waterfall surrounded by the lush Quinault rainforest awaits just off the roadway a few miles past the Quinault Lake Lodge on the South Shore Road.  The hidden and picturesque Willaby Falls is a short walk on the Nature Trail near the Lodge.  Look for the moss-covered rocks and trees that frame this lovely forest scene. Bunch Creek sits at the entrance to Olympic National Park further on the South Shore Rd. and is worth a stop.

Merriman Falls

These are ten of the most scenic places to visit on the Olympic Peninsula.  Many of them are located within the Olympic National Park. The Olympic Peninsula is a place you can spend a lifetime exploring.

Arizona Highways Photoscapes can take you to this enchanting part of the Pacific Northwest in June of 2022 for five days to see many of these amazing places.  A visit to Seattle and a ferry ride across Puget sound are bonuses on this great adventure.  Enjoy the journey!

Jim Chamberlain is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes