When I think of Grays Harbor County, I think of laid back beauty, of comfort, of long days on the beach and long hikes in the mountains. I ponder relaxing with a glass of wine while enjoying a delicious crab sandwich or perusing the most amazing Star Wars shop known to the galaxy. So many excellent opportunities pop to mind when thinking of Grays Harbor County; ones which don’t require fancy attire, but more likely a good windbreaker and some flip flops. In Grays Harbor County, you can simply come as you are.
There are many paths to and from Grays Harbor County. Bordering the beautiful Jefferson, Mason, Thurston and Pacific Counties with the mighty Pacific Ocean as its backyard, Grays Harbor is perfectly situated for endless adventure. To make the most of my travel time, I find I-5 is typically the quickest route into the area. (Check the WSDOT traffic site or app before you go – I-5 can back up, particularly around Tacoma, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Olympia) I’m usually coming from the north, so heading down to Olympia on I-5 and then US-101 and SR-8 (turns into US-12) to Aberdeen is my standard approach. The same holds true coming up from the south… If I’m feeling more leisurely, I might hop the Bremerton ferry out of Seattle and take SR-3 to US 101 and on towards Aberdeen – OR – come up and around the Peninsula via Clallam County and down US-101 along the coast. The bottom line is Grays Harbor is very accessible and not far from many Washington counties.
For this particular adventure, I grabbed my longtime friend, Charsky and we started south on I-5. It was a grey, winter morning with rain on the horizon, but we were not deterred. We’re lifelong Washingtonians and a rainy day has never stopped us before. That said, we were prepared for all weather – especially since we were headed towards the mountains and the ocean. Hats, rain jackets, gloves, scarves, sunglasses – we brought it all! Charsky and Hooch, on the road again and ready for whatever coastal weather shenanigans would ensue. Onward to the ocean!
Our first point of investigation was the small town of Montesano, located just off US-12. Serving as the county seat of Grays Harbor, Montesano is tiny, but important in the grand scheme of the area. (Grays Harbor has been a Washington State county since 1854, but before 1915 it was known as Chehalis County.) The downtown area is charming with the very pretty Grays Harbor County Courthouse located at its center. (c. 1911) Featuring beautiful architecture, a grand clock and lovely murals in the rotunda, the courthouse is open to the public. (The clock on the outside of the rotunda reminds me of Back to the Future. Just need to roll up in a DeLorean – or on a skateboard.)
Located just a few miles from downtown is the scenic Lake Sylvia State Park. Perfect for a day trip filled with swimming and picnics, but also great for larger affairs or weekend camping adventures. There is a decent amount of parking along with picnic shelters, BBQ pits and showers. If you’re up for a hike, there is a great 2-mile loop around the lake as well as many trails breaking off from the loop trail. And like all Washington State parks, you will need a Discover Pass for parking. (There is also often an option to pay for the day, but it’s much cheaper and less hassle to get the yearly pass.) For more camping, fishing, hiking and picnicking opportunities, check out Friends Landing, located on the Chehalis River, just outside of Montesano.
Montesano and its smaller neighbor, Elma are surrounded by beautiful farmland and winding country back roads. A great way to appreciate the area and all its bounty is to go straight to the source.
- Check out the charm of the Grays Harbor County Fair in August and visit the farm animals and produce all in one convenient location. The fairground has events throughout the year, one of particular interest being the Winter Wine Festival in late January.
- Visit the Oak Meadows Buffalo Ranch for a close-up look at the mighty American Bison. (Closed Sundays)
- Shaffner Farms has many seasonal activities to highlight their wares. A pumpkin patch and hay rides in the fall and fresh produce and berry picking in the warmer months.
- Head down the back roads to visit the Running Anvil Carriage Museum. Check out how far transportation has come from horse-drawn buggies – not to mention how much easier transporting farm goods has become over the years. (Part of the Grays Harbor Museums passport plan. Purchase the passport for $2 at any Grays Harbor museum and receive cool discounts and gain museum cred around the county.)
There’s another type of farming very popular in the area during the winter holidays. If you happen to be in need of a Christmas tree, Montesano and the surrounding areas have quite a selection. A few of the options:
- Hedlund Farms (Montesano)
- Hockett’s Tree Farm (Montesano)
- Beerbower Xmas Tree Farm (Elma)
- KC’s Christmas Tree Farm (Aberdeen)
- If you’d like to seek out a tree on your own, a $5 permit will allow you to cut and haul a tree in nearby Olympic National Forest. If you happen to have a 4th grader in your household, they get a permit for free!
Just a few miles west of Montesano sits Aberdeen, the largest city in the county. Billed as the ‘Lumber Capital of the World,’ it is also the birthplace of Kurt Cobain and the seminal Grunge band, Nirvana. (Formed with Aberdeen transplant, Krist Novoselic in 1987) Look to the right as you’re entering town to catch signage celebrating both the lumber industry as well as Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s musical contribution. While I’ll admit Grunge isn’t and wasn’t my go-to musical style, it is hard to deny the profound influence Kurt Cobain and Nirvana had on not only the Seattle music scene of the 90s, but on popular culture overall. I also think it’s fair to say we can thank Aberdeen for the overabundance of flannel shirts and Doc Martens present in the 90s fashion scene. (Anyone remember the Vogue Magazine “Grunge” layout of 1992? Yowsa.)
On the topic of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, in addition to the “Come as You Are” sign, there are additional ways to pay homage to his memory while visiting the Aberdeen area. You can drive by his former home (which I will leave for you to find on your own) or visit the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park (On the 1100 block of East 2nd Street) and the adjacent Young Street Bridge. (On the muddy banks of the Wishkah, where it is rumored Kurt Cobain lived from time to time.)
Note on the memorial park and bridge: It is a very small area, located at the end of a neighborhood street with no official parking. Please be respectful of the neighbors.
After driving through the corridor of newer commerce as you enter Aberdeen on US-12, you’ll get to the older downtown section. While not a huge area, there are several gems tucked in amongst its streets. One of these gems is not only my favorite spot in Aberdeen, but one of my favorite spots anywhere. EVER.
Located on East Wishkah Street, the quirky, funky, awesomely chaotic Sucher & Sons Star Wars Shop is the stuff of nerd fantasies. That said, you don’t even have to be a Star Wars nerd to appreciate the place. My pal Char, for instance, is not a big Star Wars fan and was somewhat bewildered by my burning desire to make a stop. (You don’t like Star Wars, Char??? How are you one of my best friends?? :-} Yet even she was amazed by the scope and character of the place. If you are a lifelong Star Wars junkie like I am, however, you could very well pass out in awe as you enter the store…
Tucked into every nook and cranny, mounted on every wall, hanging from the ceilings and lining the floors of the higgledy-piggledy aisles, Star Wars memorabilia from every era of the franchise is gloriously on display. Everything is for sale and this is definitely a store, but it could easily serve as a full-fledged Star Wars museum. Two of my favorite things in life – Star Wars and museums! (Swoon) I’m pretty sure I was walking around with a giant, doofy smile the entire time I was in the store. And if the sheer volume and variety of the extraordinary collection didn’t make me smile, hanging out and chatting with Don Sucher, the very enthusiastic owner certainly would have. The guy is made of stories and more than happy to regale you as you peruse the store. Additionally, he has an amazing collection of 45’s and concert posters lining the back wall – All shows he has seen!
I honestly could’ve spent all day here, but my credit card trigger finger was itching and we had many more miles of Grays Harbor County to investigate… But I WILL be back. Probably several times. Or more. (Someone please hide my credit cards…)
While initially waiting for the Star Wars shop to open, we stopped by Tinderbox Coffee Roasters for a delicious beverage. The staff was great, the space inviting and a singer-songwriter was setting up for an early Sunday set – very nice! We also entertained going next door to Steam Donkey Brewing Company and tasting room, but thought hot chocolate, coffee and beer might not be a good mix that early in the day. I shall save it for my next visit. It’s the first brewery in Aberdeen in 70 years and a nice addition to the downtown area – I’m intrigued! (Family friendly, closed Mon-Wed, outside food welcome)
Note: Sucher & Sons, the Tinderbox and Steam Donkey are all part of the Grays Harbor Museum Passport discount plan.
Additional places to visit while in the Aberdeen area:
- Check out well-respected chef and owner, Andy Bickar’s Rediviva Restaurant in downtown Aberdeen. The restaurant features NW cuisine using locally-sourced and foraged produce, seafood, and meats.
- For Washington State history buffs and fans of tall ships, be sure to visit the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. Check out the sailing schedule before you go, but the state’s official ship, the Lady Washington is often in the harbor. The Lady Washington is a faithful, full-size replica of the original Lady Washington from the late 1700s. The original ship was the first American vessel to hit the shores of the west coast in 1788. She has been featured in many television shows and movies including Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Star Trek: Generations and Once Upon A Time.
The Aberdeen area is a fork in the road when deciding to head south on SR-105 towards Grayland and Westport or north on US-101 towards Ocean Shores, the Quinault Rainforest and the slew of northern beaches along SR-109. For this particular trip, we first went south to see what we could see…
SR-105, also known as the Cranberry Coast Scenic Byway branches off from US-101 in Aberdeen and goes down to the south coast. At Twin Harbors State Park, you can either head north a short ways towards Westport or go south and snake around the coast until you end up in the town of Raymond and back to US-101. Regardless of what route you take, there are stunning beaches and ocean views the entire drive as well as 1000 acres of cranberry bogs to investigate. Unfortunately, the winter isn’t the greatest time to visit the cranberry bogs, so we took a right near Twin Harbors State Park and headed towards Westport.
Traveling towards the coast on SR-105 and before coming to the fork to either Grayland or Westport, there are a few stops definitely worth visiting.
- Wishkah River Distillery – Locally owned distillery featuring whiskey, gin and a very intriguing honey-distilled vodka. The tasting room is open Tuesday thru Saturday and well worth a visit.
- Brady’s Oysters – Located right off SR-105 – Serving oysters and all manner of seafood directly from local waters.
- Cranberry Road Winery – Situated at the fork between Grayland and Westport, they feature many varieties of wine, including their well-known cranberry wine. If you’re in need of lunch or dinner, they also feature wood-fired pizza along with NW-inspired fare.
Our favorite stop on the way towards the coast was the award-winning Westport Winery. (About halfway between Aberdeen and Westport proper) The winery grounds are nicely laid out and in the summer feature beautiful gardens and outdoor events. The in-house restaurant, the Sea Glass Grill features very tasty brunch, lunch and dinner options. Everything we tried on the menu was delicious and a very welcome accompaniment to the extensive wine tasting we did beforehand. Additionally, they have coffee and desserts to-go (including local ice cream) as well as a great gift shop. Both Char and I joined the wine club after our wine tasting session. Oh nooooooo – now we need to go back on a regular basis! What a tragedy. (They’ll actually ship your quarterly selections to you, but what a great excuse to take a beautiful drive!)
While we didn’t get to Grayland on this trip, there are many places I plan on further investigating in the warmer months.
- Grayland Beach State Park – Bring your RV or tent and camp near the beautiful beaches of Grayland – or rent one of the park yurts! (Discover Pass required)
- Cranberry Harvest Festival – Bog tours, cranberry cook-off, firelight parade and more! (Oct 12-13)
- Furford Cranberry Museum – Quaint museum featuring the history of Grayland and its great contribution to the US cranberry supply.
- Cranberry Coast Driving Tour – Local website with great driving directions to the local cranberry farms. (Many of which contribute to the Ocean Spray plant in Aberdeen)
Continuing north on SR-105, towards the town of Westport (and end of that section of the highway), the seaside vibe really starts to kick in. The coastal breezes bring with them the smell of the sea and you can see the sky widen as it opens up to the Pacific. Before arriving at the town center, be sure to check out the Westport Light State Park. Take time to explore the lovely Westport Light House (c. 1898 – on the National Register of Historic Places) and enjoy the rambling walk down to the beach. If you don’t feel like driving into Westport, take the 2.5 mile, largely paved trail north to Westhaven State Park and on to Half Moon Bay. (Near the town center and Westport shoreline.)
Note: It may initially seem odd to have a light house positioned so far off-shore. This is the result of large amounts of build-up due to the Grays Harbor jetty entrance, just off the beach at Westport. Originally, the lighthouse was positioned only 400 feet from shore, but presently sits 3000 feet away.
The town of Westport, also known as the South Beach area, is a scenic peninsula flanked by the South Bay and Pacific Ocean. Known for its beautiful views, cool breakers and whale watching opportunities, the equally impressive Westport commercial fishing fleet receives the 5th largest delivery of seafood in the US. (Which means nothing but seafood deliciousness for Westport restaurants!)
It’s always a good time to visit Westport. A sunny day on the waterfront is lovely, but a stormy winter day can be breathtaking. Some of the cool things to do while visiting the area:
- The observation tower at the north end of the Westport Marina, near Westhaven State Park is a great place to get a 360-degree view of the coast. It’s also a great place to watch the surfers braving the cold Pacific waters. Should you feel like braving the waters yourself, check out Bigfoot Surf School, the Sleepwater Surf Shop or Westport Surf Shop for information and rentals.
- If you happen to be in town between March and May, you stand a good shot at seeing the grey whales come through the area. Check out one of the charter tours available in the area for a more close-up view. (From a respectful distance, of course)
- To learn about marine life and the maritime history of Westport from the comfort of shore, check out the Westport Maritime Museum, located in downtown Westport.
- The local waters are known for salmon, tuna, halibut and albacore. If you’d like to try your hand at catching your own, hit up one of the many fishing charters found on the main drag, across from the marina. Westport Charters and Deep Sea Charters are a couple of the many options.
Westport may be a small community, but there are plenty of tasty dining options to be found. Some of the spots are closed in the off-season, but you won’t have trouble finding something tasty year-round. A few places of note:
- Bennett’s Fish Shack is a very popular spot in Westport, located just across from the marina. They feature locally-caught seafood and I can’t say enough about their crab sandwich. DELICIOUS!! They also have a location in nearby Ocean Shores.
- Little Richard’s House of Donuts – Seasonal, old-school donut joint directly across from the marina. (Will reopen on 4/1)
- Granny Hazel’s Candy & Gifts is a funky, quirky and very fun gift shop located across from the marina. Need a Westport shot glass? Some crazy socks? DELICIOUS SALT WATER TAFFY? Granny Hazel’s has all the things.
- Blackbeard’s Brewing – If seafood isn’t your thing, hit up Blackbeard’s for hand-tossed pizza and a tasty brew.
- Merino’s Seafood Market & Cannery – Peek in on the inner-workings of this tiny seafood cannery and pick up some of their delicious wares while you’re at it. I grabbed one of their canned tuna variety packs and every single one was excellent. They also have a fish counter with delicacies such as smoked salmon and walking shrimp or crab cocktails. YUM!!
- There are several ice cream options in Westport. What goes better on a hot day by the beach? (A margarita, perhaps? But I digress…) A few places to quell your cravings are Scoops (Reopens for the summer on 4/7) and Surfer Girl.
The South Beach area hosts many events and festivals throughout the year with late spring and summer being the most popular times. The Westport-Grayland Chamber of Commerce has a running calendar and the most up-to-date info. A couple of the more popular events are the World Class Crab Races, Crab Feed and Derby (4/20/19) and the Annual Seafood Festival and Craft Show at the end of August. If you happen to be looking for local lodging during any of the festivals, check out Chateau Westport Resort for comfortable options.
After a very enjoyable visit to Westport, it was time to drive back towards Aberdeen on SR-105, over towards Hoquiam and on to the North Beach area. I will admit to usually breezing through Aberdeen and its sister city, Hoquiam with more coastal destinations in mind. However, there are many wonderful spots to visit in both areas and I’m happy to have finally spent a bit more time investigating. (And embarrassed it took me so long)
Even if you also envision coastal destinations on the horizon, there are many entertaining places to enjoy along the way. The humble Hoquiam has some excellent options to add to your list:
- Check out the historic, “atmospheric” 7thStreet Theatre (c. 1928) for a step back in time. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and has been beautifully restored beginning in the ‘90s. Check out the painted sky ceiling, featuring clouds and twinkling stars and enjoy classic films from many eras. (It was the first theatre in Washington State to show “talkies!”)
- If migrating birds are your thing – and you’d like to check out upwards of one million of them in the spring or fall – Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is a must visit destination.
- For the crafter in you, the Grays Harbor Farmers Market & Craft Fair is open year-round for your crafting wants and needs. Not to mention produce, baked goods and more!
- There are several great dining options in the Hoquiam area. Head to Hoquiam Brewing Co. for a great beer with a pizza or sandwich or the 8th Street Ale House for more great beer and a full menu featuring local seafood and pub favorites.
Just past Hoquiam, we turned off US-101 onto SR-109, also known as the Hidden Coast Scenic Byway. A good start to your northern beach tour is to take SR-109 and SR-115 over to Ocean Shores and then work your way back up north towards Taholah. However, on this particular journey, we initially went north on SR-109. If you have a few days and want to enjoy all the North Coast has to offer, start at Ocean Shores and work your way up north, stopping to take in the amazing beaches and little towns along the way.
Ocean Shores is a lovely peninsula town situated on the North Bay, at the north entrance to Grays Harbor and directly across the water from Westport. There used to be a ferry going between Westport and Ocean Shores which alleviated the need to drive all the way around Grays Harbor. There has been recent talk and movement towards reinstating this incredibly convenient and tourism-friendly route – I sincerely hope it happens. With horseback riding on the beach, camping, clamming, crabbing and much more to do in Ocean Shores, it would be amazing to quickly link up with neighboring Westport for a mega adventure!
A few trip ideas to get you started on your Ocean Shores adventure:
- Known as the Razor Clam Capital of the World, the Ocean Shores area offers many opportunities to seek out and enjoy the delicious razor clam. Hit up the WDFW website for info about beaches and dates to dig. (Currently late March and specific dates in April) Note: You will need a shellfish/seaweed license for anyone over 15 years old.
- Feel like driving your car on the beach? You can do it at Ocean Shores! (It’s actually considered a state highway with a speed limit of 25mph.) If something with two wheels is more your speed, rent a moped from Affordable Mopeds and hit the beach! Note: It is illegal to drive or ride horses through the marked clam bed areas.
- I’ve yet to ride a horse on the beach and I’m going to do it next time I visit Ocean Shores! Check out Chenois Creek Horse Rentals for all your horse riding needs. (But don’t ride on the clam beds!)
- Check out the Coastal Interpretive Center for displays of local habitats and to learn about the history of the coastal region and its native peoples
- Hit up the North Coast Surf Shop if you want to get your surf on. Don’t forget to rent a wetsuit, too – it’s cold out there! Damon Point is one of the most popular surf spots in the Ocean Shores area.
- Don’t miss the Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival for all things deliciously razor clam! (Mid-March)
- Chainsaws on the beach? Hit up Ocean Shores the last weekend of June and witness the Sand and Sawdust Festival – Carvers from North and South America carving up masterpieces on the beach! They’ve also got sandcastle building classes and a beer garden should chainsaws not be your jam. (June 28-30, 2019)
You’re going to need some good food and a roof over your head while visiting the Ocean Shores area. A few notable spots to help you on your culinary and lodging quests:
- Stop into the Galway Bay Irish Pub for a Guinness and a taste of the Emerald Isle. They also host a Celtic Music Festival in October featuring a global list of artists. (The venues also include the Ocean Shores Convention Center as well as the 8th Street Ale House in Hoquiam)
- The cozy Elk Head Taproom offers tasty local beers on tap in a comfortable setting.
- Bennett’s Fish Shack – Sister to the Westport location. I am dreaming about their Crab Sandwich. I need one RIGHT NOW!!!
- Murphy’s Candy & Ice Cream – Homemade ice cream and candy and the beach and toys. Yes, please!
- Feeling lucky? Try your game at Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, just off the junction of SR-109 and SR-115 and operated by the Quinault Indian Nation. Restaurants, lodging, spa services and a beautiful ocean view are just a few of the wins you’ll enjoy on your visit.
- For beautiful lodging and stunning ocean views, check out the Canterbury Inn, located in the center of Ocean Shores, near the Ocean Shores Golf Course.
- Oyhut Bay is a newer lodging and retail area. Comfortable, modern lodging and equipped with an outdoor recreation park as well as the Oyhut Bay Bistro and LOFT Martini & Wine Bar.
When initially traveling the winding, tree-lined SR-109 towards the north, it’s easy to forget a giant ocean lies in wait just up ahead. So close to the Olympic National Forest, you could just as easily be driving into the heart of the mountains. (Which are indeed in the opposite direction) SR-109 is a hidden gem of a Washington back road filled with old growth forest as well as beautiful, sandy beaches. It certainly makes sense why it’s referred to as the Hidden Coast Scenic Byway.
There are a multitude of perfect little beaches and towns tucked away along SR-109. Just up from Ocean Shores, you’ll find Ocean City State Park. Along with being able to drive on the beach, there are plenty of spots for clamming (in season and with permit), bird-watching, kite-flying, running like Rocky Balboa and general beach-going shenanigans. There is also a fairly large camping area with showers and bathrooms. (Discover Pass required)
Not too much further north on SR-109, you’ll come to Copalis Beach, home to some serious razor clamming pursuits. It’s a beautiful beach to visit, but if you’re interested in the clamming season or enjoying the beach in summer, definitely plan your stay well in advance. A great lodging option while in the area is the Iron Springs Resort. Built in the 40s, it’s been fully renovated beginning in 2010. Cabins, access to clamming and fishing, hiking, a general store and private beach – Everything you need! And if you happen to have a plane, you can land on the beach – the only legal beach airstrip in the United States, in fact! Copalis State Airport for the win! #LifeGoals
One of the most intriguing destinations in the Copalis Beach area is the eerie Copalis Ghost Forest. I actually haven’t visited yet, but it’s high on the list for my next adventure. The “ghost forest” is the result of a 6ft coastal land drop and flooding of salt water caused by the Cascadia Earthquake of 1700, which resulted in a deadly tsunami on the coast of Japan. The salt water created a marsh and the trees died very quickly, leaving behind a ghostly forest of silver trees and stumps. It’s less than a mile upriver from the bridge crossing the Copalis River on SR-109 and can be reached by canoe or kayak from an unofficial launch site in the middle of town. If you’re looking for local assistance with the somewhat obscure adventure, Buck’s Bikes in nearby Seabrook offers a guided tour.
Most of the “Hidden Coast” communities have been welcoming visitors to their shores for quite some time. A little newer to the lineup, however, is the seaside town of Seabrook. Being a planned community, one might think it would be lacking in charm. This is quite the contrary, however, as Seabrook’s classic Nantucket-style homes and seaside bluff location make for a charming and relaxing atmosphere. From the walkable town center to the quaint trail of gnomes leading down to the beach, Seabrook is a great addition to the stops along SR-109.
There are many things to do while in Seabrook. Some great options for your visit:
- There are a lot of wonderful beach areas and coastal trails to explore in Seabrook. In addition to donning hiking boots, check out Buck’s Bikes for two-wheeled options – They also have surf boards and paddleboards.
- Nearby Roosevelt Beach is incredibly expansive and a great place to take a walk or try out that paddleboard – and it allows vehicles. (25 mph speed limit – stay off the clam beds!)
- If you’d like to stay in the area, hit up the Seabrook’s Washington Coast Rental site for beautiful cabins and homes in the area.
- Seabrook has many events and activities going on throughout the year. Check out the free summer concerts on Friday evenings and stop in at the Savor Seabrook Seafood and Wine Festival (May 4) or the Bigfoot Brew Fest (Early Oct) to sample a local food and drink specialties.
- There are several great dining options in the Seabrook area. Visit Mill 109 Restaurant & Pub for a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner or Frontagers Pizza for a taste of brick-oven pizza and NW brews. Check out the Stowaway Wine Bar & Cheese Shop for a bit of wine-tasting or to stock up on goods for the cabin or beach and visit the Red Velvet Bakery by the Sea for coffee and baked goods. And don’t forget the obligatory ice cream and candy stop at The Sweet Life Ice Cream & Candy
Just a little ways north is the tiny seaside town of Pacific Beach. (Seabrook is technically part of Pacific Beach) There are plenty of camping spots at Pacific Beach State Park, not to mention one of the most amazing stretches of beach in the area. We were visiting that very beach when the tide was out and it seemed like we walked a half-mile out before we actually got to the sea. On a converse note, we weren’t particularly paying attention to when the tide was supposed to come back in or how quickly. That said, we ended up a good quarter-mile from shore – with our backs stupidly to the sea and lollygagging around – when we realized the tide was coming back in. We thought it interesting that a shallow swath of water was pushing well out in front of us… Gee, I wonder why??? For the record, we both knew better. Pro tip: Don’t stand with your back to the sea… Good grief.
In addition to the lodging opportunities of the Seabrook area, the Ocean Crest Resort (and restaurant!) and the Sand Dollar Inn and Condos are also solid options. If you’re feeling hungry after dodging the tides on the beach or writing your name in sand, head over to the Seagate Restaurant & Lounge for casual dining with a relaxed beach vibe. If chocolate is your thing, the Chocolate on the Beach Festival (Feb) celebrates the entire Hidden Coast community with all things chocolate.
Heading further north, you’ll come upon the community of Moclips and just a little further at the end of SR-109, you’ll hit Taholah, home of the Quinault Nation. Visit the Museum of the North Beach in Moclips to learn about the western settlements and swanky vacation lands of the early 1900s Pacific coast and definitely make time to visit the Quinault Cultural Museum in Taholah. The Quinault Nation is comprised of the Quinault and Queets tribes and descendants of the Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook and Cowlitz tribes. This distinguished group of Native Americans have been the stewards of the Pacific Coast since time immemorial.
For this particular journey, it was time to head back home. However, we decided to first make a detour to the Quinault Rain Forest to get a dose of lush, otherworldly forest before the drive back. (The Quinault Rain Forest averages 12ft of rain a year and is one of only three temperate coniferous rain forests in the western hemisphere.) To get back to US-101 from SR-109, there are a few options. A popular route is to take the Moclips Highway back over to US-101. Since I’d never driven through the Humptulips area, we opted for Copalis Beach Road (off SR-109 near Copalis Beach) to Kirkpatrick Road instead. Both roads are beautiful two-lane drives which take you through forest and pastured land, winding along the Humptulips River and ending at Humptulips Grocery off US-101. The bonus to this route was getting the opportunity to say “Humptulips” at least 72 times. (Humptulips is an old Salish word of the native Chehalis tribe meaning “hard to pole” or “chilly place,” depending on the source. Come on – this is a family show.)
After taking a left onto US-101 at Humptulips Grocery, we followed the road another half-hour to the turn-off for Lake Quinault Lodge. (Humptulips, Humptulips, HUMPTULIPS) Located two miles up the South Shore Road and inside Olympic National Park, the lodge is a an absolutely marvelous and hearkens back to an era of elegant exploration of the wilds. (Because even out in the middle of the forest, you still dressed for dinner!)
Built in 1926 and on the National Register of Historic Places, it played a very important role in the “Mount Olympus National Monument” (Created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1909 to help preserve the Roosevelt Elk habitat) becoming a national park. The rumor is Franklin D. Roosevelt, on a tour of the area in fall of 1937, was sitting in the lodge when he made the decision to create Olympic National Park. He officially signed the bill in 1938 and 634,000 acres became Park land. Most of the coastal wilderness was added later, in 1953, making the present park nearly one million acres. Olympic National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as an International Biosphere Reserve. The Park is amazing, immense and filled with wonder. I can’t imagine anyone fully being able to explore its offerings within a lifetime…
We were visiting the lodge during the holidays and it was beautifully decked out for the season. It would be completely easy to cozy up inside the lodge any time of the year, drinking hot toddies or dining in the Roosevelt Dining Room or playing card games and listening to the lodge piano. Sign me up! However, it would be an absolute shame not to take in all the offerings of the lodge grounds – any time of year. (Albeit a little more wet during the winter) Plentiful hiking trails, boat tours on the beautiful Lake Quinault, paddle-boarding, kayaking and canoeing and general lounging on the grounds are just a few of the options. The lodge itself reminds me of a summer retreat, ala Dirty Dancing, but the grounds and lake area really put the icing on the ‘nobody puts Baby in a corner’ cake. Visit the Lake Quinault Museum located across from the lodge to take in more of the history of the lodge and check out the adjacent Quinault Mercantile to enjoy a quick meal or stock up for your area adventure.
The hiking opportunities are amazing in the park, but there’s also an amazing road trip to be had around the lake – no heavy backpack required. Drive or bike the 31-mile loop drive around the lake known as The Quinault Loop to experience some of the most amazing scenery in the country. It’s comprised of the South Shore and North Shore roads and winds through an amazing cross-section of the park. Visit Merriman Falls, part of the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail, stop at the Quinault River and Quinault River Bridge, hike out to the Kestner Homestead (on the National Register of Historic Places) and generally revel in the breathtaking beauty of the Park.
To say there are A LOT of hiking and camping opportunities in the area would be putting it mildly. There are three National Forest campgrounds at Lake Quinault – Two are reservation-only, via the Recreation.gov site. (Walk-in sites may be available on a daily basis via the front desk at lodge) If you plan on backpacking into backcountry camping areas, you will need a wilderness permit from a National Park office. You will also need bear canisters to deter the plentiful local wildlife from raiding your supplies.
A few of the main campsite options in the area:
- Willaby Campground – Located on the South Shore and appropriate for tents and smaller RVs. USDA Forest Service – Reservation only.
- Falls Creek Campground – Located on the South Shore and appropriate for tents and smaller RVs. USDA Forest Service – Reservation only.
- Gatton Creek Campground – Walk-in tent sites located on the South Shore – no reservations. Part of Olympic National Forest.
- Graves Creek Campground – National Park Service site located on the Upper South Shore, deep in the rain forest. First come, first-served – No RVs or trailers. The trailhead to Enchanted Valley is close by.
- North Fork Campground – National Park Service site located on the Upper North Shore. First come, first-served – not recommended for RVs or trailers. Close to the trailhead to the Skyline Trail. Another great trail located in the North Shore area is the 13-mile, round-trip Elip Creek Trail.
- Consider checking out the Lake Quinault Mushroom Festival in October to learn all about the amazing stock of delicious mushrooms you might come across while hiking in the area. Yum!
Pro Tip: Make campsite reservations well in advance if offered. Some campsites are only open seasonally – check before you go.
Lake Quinault Lodge and the local campsites are all excellent ideas for an Olympic National Park or Forest getaway. However, as the area is incredibly large, there are of course several other stellar options available. Here are just a few:
- Rain Forest Resort Village– Home of the world’s largest Spruce tree, the Rain Forest Resort Village has many things to offer. Enjoy a delicious meal at The Salmon House Restaurant and relaxing days hanging out on Lake Quinault. On a giant tree note, the spruce tree at the resort is one of the standouts in the spectacular Valley of the Rain Forest Giants. (Contains the largest Sitka spruce in the world, along with giant Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Western Red and Alaska Cedars) They also have a General Store and gift shop for your lakeside needs.
- Lochaerie Resort(c. 1926) – Beautiful rustic cabins on the North Shore of Lake Quinault – Just inside the park off US-101.
- Quinault River Inn – Located just off US-101 on the Quinault River, by the Amanda Park Mercantile, the Quinault River Inn features comfortable lodging and provides a great base from which to explore the Olympic Rain Forest. They also have RV sites available.
With the daylight long having faded and the rain long having kicked up, it was time to head home to Seattle. We would, however, soon take another “follow-up” trip to the area, just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Okay, and also to revisit the Westport Winery. We’re wine club members, after all. We felt it important to check in on the state of our quarterly delivery. And maybe just pick it up a little early…
Just like the state of Washington, Grays Harbor County offers an amazing array of activity, scenery, history and opportunity within its lovely borders. I’d be hard-pressed to name another place where I could see one of the world’s most extensive Star Wars shops, walk on some of the world’s longest beaches, check out some of the world’s largest trees and enjoy some of the world’s best razor clams all in the frame of a day. Grays Harbor is a gold mine and I’m looking forward to returning again and again to uncover more of its beauty.
Until next time – Cheers – and eat the state!
I Ate the State: Grays Harbor County – The Spotify Playlist (We were feeling a bit of the Yacht Rock vibe at the beginning of our adventure…)
- A Horse with No Name – America (from America)
- Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy a Thrill)
- Any Major Dude Will Tell You – Steely Dan (from Pretzel Logic)
- Drift Away – Doby Gray (from Drift Away)
- Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
- Biggest Part of Me – Ambrosia (from One Eighty)
- Steal Away – Robbie Dupree (from Robbie Dupree)
- Love Will Find a Way – Pablo Cruise (from Worlds Away)
- Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes (from Partners in Crime)
- Come Sail Away – Styx (from The Grand Illusion)
- Come as You Are – Nirvana (from Nevermind)
- All Apologies – Nirvana (from In Utero)
- Heart-Shaped Box – Nirvana (from In Utero)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – The Bad Plus (from These Are the Vistas)
- Star Wars (Main Theme) – John Williams & The London Symphony Orchestra (from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Relatively Easy – Jason Isbell (from Southeastern)
- These Days – Glen Campbell w/Howard Willing & Julian Raymond (from Meet Glen Campbell)
- Killing the Blues – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (from Raising Sand)
- Wichita Lineman (Like at RAK) – Villagers (from Where Have You Been All My Life?)
- HUMPTULIPS – The Shivering Denizens (from The Shivering Denizens)
- Driving Without Purpose – Ylvis (from Stories from Norway: Northug)
More I Ate the State Adventures:
- Clallam County
- Kitsap County
- Jefferson County
- Mason County
- Kittitas County
- Yakima County
- Chelan County
- Special Edition – Scotland – Part I (w/special guests – London & Reykjavik!)
- Special Edition – Scotland – Part II (w/special guests – London & Reykjavik!)
- Special Edition – Puerto Vallarta
- Special Edition – Ode to A Bygone Seattle