I Ate the State: Grays Harbor County

Greetings!

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.

Breakers at Westport
Crashing waves in Westport

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.)

Grays Harbor County Courthouse
The lovely Grays Harbor County Courthouse in Montesano

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:

Me and Great Grandma Miner
Gratuitous holiday shot of me and Great Grandma Miner. We didn’t get our tree in Montesano.

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.

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.

Westport Lighthouse
The stalwart Westport Lighthouse

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.
Downtown Westport
Fishing charters and donuts!
  • 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.

Westport
Beautiful waves crashing on the Westport breakers

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:

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.

Coastal Beaches
Beautiful Pacific Beach near Seabrook

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.)

Humptulips Grocery
Humptulips, Humptulips, HUMPTULIPS!

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!

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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)
Star Wars
Okay. I did buy a couple of things at the Star Wars shop…

 

More I Ate the State Adventures:

I Ate the State – Clallam County

Greetings!

Clallam County has it good. So very, very good… Epic rivers, lakes and mountains, the UNESCO-designated Olympic National Park, sweeping oceanfront majesty, abundant wildlife and plentiful farmland – All steeped in Native American heritage dating back thousands of years. Clallam County has it all!  Please join me in celebrating the greatness of this Washington State wonder in this installment of I Ate the State.

Size and population-wise, Clallam County sits midstream in a comparative list of Washington State counties. This never occurs to me, however, when visiting the area. There are so many Clallam County roads I’ve driven, trails I’ve hiked and beaches I’ve combed that are nearly, if not completely, gloriously deserted – And I’ve only scratched the surface of areas to explore. Whenever I need to clear my mind and grab a bit of peaceful solitude, Clallam County heads my list of destinations; especially if I want to escape the ever-encroaching march of connectivity and technology. Aside from the major towns in Clallam County, I rarely have cell reception, etc. and it is absolutely, positively magnificent. (Unless it’s you trying to call me, of course… 😉

PhoneBooth
Phones don’t get as much use up in Clallam County…

There are many ways in and out of the Clallam County area. Car, bike, boat, plane – take your pick!

  • Coming from the Seattle area, I usually opt for a car/ferry combo and it’s always a beautiful trek. To get there from Seattle, take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, head over the Hood Canal Bridge on SR-104 and then connect to US Route 101 in the Discovery Bay
  • If you happen to be coming from Olympia or further south, a good option is I-5 to US Route 101.
  • From the Tacoma/Gig Harbor area, take SR-16 to Bremerton, then SR-3 north from Bremerton to SR-104 and finally, hook up with US Route 101.
  • If you’re coming from the north and don’t mind hopping a couple of ferries, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry (Everett to Whidbey Island) then – Port Townsend/Keystone Ferry to Port Townsend and then onto US Route 101.
  • Pro Tip: A fun thing to do is to make a loop trip of your Clallam County adventures. For example, if I start out in Seattle and head over on the Kingston ferry, I like to return via US Route 101 and come up through Olympia and back to I-5. Each route is relatively close in travel time and it makes for a beautiful and interesting round-trip adventure. So many ways in and out of Clallam County!

Check out my Kitsap County and Jefferson County articles for adventures in the counties surrounding Clallam County.

For purposes of this journey, I took the ferry out of Edmonds and headed towards the junction of SR-104 and US 101. Not too far past the junction, you’ll enter the land of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe. Native to the area for thousands of years, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe continues to call the area home and watch over the land.

I always like to stop in this area. The view of Sequim Bay is beautiful, the local Longhouse Market and Deli has a great selection of supplies, including a rather good beer/wine/spirits selection and if you’re running low on gas, it’s a great place to fuel up. Additionally, if you’re feeling lucky, stop into the 7 Cedars Casino for a go at the gaming tables and slot-machines, enjoy a meal at the Double Eagle or Stymie’s Bar & Grill or take in a leisurely golf game in the Cedars at Dungeness golf course.

Heading further north on US 101, you many notice the air gets drier and the sun gets… sunnier. Sitting in the rain-shadow of the Olympic Mountains and known as a micro-climate, the Sequim area is rich in agriculture and enjoys loads of sunshine. Quite unique when compared to the perpetually damp city of Forks and other nearby, rainy-day Clallam County towns…

With all the sunshine, it’s easy to take advantage of Sequim’s many outdoor opportunities. Hiking, biking, camping, climbing, fishing and boating are all in easy reach of Sequim. The stunning Olympic National Park with its epic peaks and valleys is the perfect host to near limitless, adventure-filled prospects and Sequim is an excellent jumping-off point to such splendor. In addition, Sequim’s close proximity to coastline and waterways provide for sensational off-land explorations

Sequim is an excellent gatekeeper to Clallam County outdoor endeavors. Here’s but a small list to get you started:

  • Check out Sequim Bay State Park if you’re in need of camping and RV spots with access to a boat launch and moorage. There are also hiking opportunities, clamming, crabbing and oyster harvesting spots and access to the 120-mile, multi-use Olympic Discovery Trail. (Goes from Port Townsend to La Push!) Also located in the area is the Camp Ramblewood retreat center. With room to sleep 60 and a commercial-size kitchen, it’s a great place to consider for family reunions, school functions and more.
  • For a bit of hiking and climbing adventure, check out the highest point in Clallam County, Gray Wolf Ridge. On the way, you’ll also pass over Baldy and both summits will provide stunning views and wide stretches of wildflowers to enjoy. The access road to these areas is just east of Sequim Bay State Park.
  • Hit up the beautiful Dungeness Spit in nearby Dungeness if you’re in need of some serious sand. (The famed Dungeness crab is named for this area.) It’s the longest natural sand spit in the US and goes out more than 5 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The area is part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and is noted for its large variety of birds, mammals and marine life. There are many hiking, boating, clamming and crabbing opportunities throughout the area, but be sure to respect the protected areas within the refuge.
  • Located at the end of the spit is the historic New Dungeness Lighthouse. Built in 1857 and on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s now maintained by the New Dungeness Light Station Association. If you’re willing to pitch in, you can stay at the lighthouse as part of the Lighthouse Keeper Program. (1-week programs)
  • If you’re looking for a good place to moor your boat, the John Wayne Marina is located conveniently in the Dungeness and Sequim area in Sequim Bay. Built on land gifted by John Wayne’s family in 1985, the marina is an excellent spot to spur your coastal journey. (John Wayne used to love sailing around the Sequim area in his yacht, The Wild Goose!) If you’re looking for nearby campsites, cabins or RV spots, check out the nearby John Wayne’s Waterfront Resort. If you’d like to take a break from campsite or galley cuisine, the Dockside Grill at the marina can set you up. (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

If outdoor pursuits aren’t on your list, a fine way to enjoy the sunshine and not don hiking boots is to take in the area’s greatest agricultural tribute. In recent decades, Sequim has become quite well known for its contribution to the lavender industry. Gorgeous, fragrant lavender fields dot the farmlands surrounding Sequim and make for a delicious visit any time of year. (And even more so when the lavender is in bloom!)

One of the best times of year to visit is around the Sequim Lavender Festival, which takes place in July. The town comes alive with all things lavender and there are many options to fulfill all your lavender needs. Music, food vendors, dancing, crafts and ‘lots of the purple stuff – the Lavender Festival is a great event to take in. Of the many local farms participating in the local lavender scene, a few highlights:

  • The Purple Haze Lavender downtown store, their local lavender farm and farmhouse vacation rental make for a fine weekend in and of themselves. (Try the lavender ice cream!)
  • Representing not only the state of Washington, but paying homage to George Washington, himself, the Washington Lavender Farm, located on oceanfront overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is an absolute gem. If the gorgeous lavender fields and wildflowers aren’t enough to pull you in, stay for a spell in their Mount Vernon replica, the George Washington Inn & Estate and check out their full-size replica of the Old North Bridge.
  • Victor’s Lavender Farm is a large farm and retail store located outside the Port Angeles area. Their onsite farm store is set inside an old red milking barn and is open Memorial Day through September. They also have a vacation home called the “Candlelight Cabin” for rent overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • In addition to the beautiful lavender fields at Jardin du Soleil, don’t miss the beautiful gardens, fruit trees, onsite farm store and gorgeous grounds – located just outside of Sequim. If you’re in the area during July or August, be sure to check out their Jungible Music Festival on Friday nights.
  • If you’d like to get into the thick of it and experience Sequim’s beautiful countryside by your own steam, check out the Tour de Lavender bike tour through lavender country. (Aug 3rd, 2019) Sign up for either the family-friendly, more leisurely Fun Ride (35-mile loop) or go the distance with the more intense Metric Centric Ride. (62.5 mile loop)
  • In addition to the impressive number of lavender farms in the area, don’t overlook the u-pick berry opportunities of the summer. For example, not only does Graymarsh Farm grow beautiful lavender, they also have an excellent berry scene!
Lavender
Beautiful lavender at the Jardin du Soleil lavender farm. Lavender as far as the eye can see!

For those of you not looking to celebrate the purpley goodness of lavender, there are many other excellent adventures to be enjoyed in Sequim. A few for your list:

  • Sequim Open Aire Market – Local farmer and artisan market open on Saturdays, May to September. For the holiday shoppers, be sure to check out their special events in November and December.
  • Clallam County Farm Tour (end Sept/early Oct) – Dairy farms, lavender farms, produce farms – Farms of all kinds! The day-long tour takes place annually at the end of September / early October and is a great opportunity to check out the inner-workings of the some of the area’s most established farms. Great for families!
  • Sequim Museum & Arts – As I might have mentioned in previous articles, I love museums. LOVE them. The Sequim Museum is definitely worth a look and definitely on my list of museums to love. Not only do they have a great exhibit featuring a Jamestown S’Klallam Longhouse, they also have an exhibit featuring the Manis Mastodon. That’s right – A MASTODON. (Uncovered by Emanuel Manis in 1977 while digging a pond in his Sequim front yard. The bones are nearly 14,000 years old!)

If all of the hiking, boating, lavender sniffing and mastodon investigating has worn you out, take a break and enjoy some of the local dining options:

  • Tedesco’s – Cool Italian restaurant in downtown Sequim featuring fresh pasta and sauces with a full bar.
  • Salty Girls Sequim Seafood Co. – Right next door to Tedesco’s, Salty Girls feature fresh, local seafood including a raw oyster bar and homemade chowders. They also have a kayak guide service and fresh fish counter. All the things!
  • Peninsula Taproom – Also next door to Tedesco’s the Peninsula Taproom features NW craft beer and cider, both on tap and in bottle. They also host potluck / slow-cooker events on Sundays for your Seahawks viewing pleasure. Bring your best casserole!
  • Alder Wood Bistro – Local, farm-to-table, wood-fired cuisine featuring NW inspired recipes. They also host regular pairing dinners where NW vintners and brewers are featured.
  • Dynasty Chinese Restaurant – I’m fond of this place. They serve tasty, Cantonese-style Chinese food in a low-key, comfortable downtown spot. I’m particularly fond of their House Special Chow Mein Noodles and honey-walnut prawns.
  • Nourish – Lovely organic, farm-to-table restaurant with a dedicated gluten-free menu.

If you’re looking to stay in the Sequim area, there are plentiful lodging options. As one of the state’s more quaint areas, the overnight accommodations do not disappoint with their welcoming, cozy demeanor.

  • Lost Mountain Lodge – Bed and breakfast lodge situated on 10-acres of gorgeous land just outside of Sequim
  • Dungeness Barn House – Bed and breakfast overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the New Dungeness Lighthouse
  • Domaine Madeleine – Beautiful suites and cottages on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the New Dungeness Lighthouse

Just up the road from Sequim, traveling on US 101, you’ll come to the largest city in the Olympic Peninsula and the seat of Clallam County, Port Angeles. Western settlers began arriving in the area around 1857, but the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has been in the area for a bit longer. The west end of what is now Port Angeles Harbor was once home to a large village called Tse-whit-zen. It was unearthed in 2003 during work on a Department of Transportation project and is the earliest confirmed settlement in the area, dating back to 750 BCE. The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center is a great place to go to learn more of the area’s history and tribal heritage as well as view artifacts from the village and surrounding areas.

There are many things to do while in Port Angeles. I always enjoy strolling along the waterfront area (part of the Olympic Discovery Trail) and taking in the harbor scene.  Grab a cup of coffee at one of the nearby cafés and enjoy the scene. Check out – or hop aboard – one of the International ferries going to/coming from Victoria BC. It’s a 90-min trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and a great way to cross the border. Additionally, Victoria BC is one of the most charming spots on the planet. (Bring your passport!)

Other great options when hanging out in the downtown Port Angeles area:

  • Port Angeles Underground Heritage Tours – Located in downtown Port Angeles, tour the 100-year old tunnels and basements of Port Angeles’ underground history. Who doesn’t love a spooky underground tour?? (They have a special “haunted” tour during October!)
  • Maritime Festival – Celebrate the maritime history of the North Olympic History on the Port Angeles waterfront in June. Tour the beautiful tall ships and enjoy music, food and more!
  • NOAA Olympic Coast Discovery Center – Located on the waterfront. Stop in to learn all about the marine aspects of the Port Angeles and surrounding coastal areas. It’s an excellent local resource and it’s FREE!!
  • Olympic National Park Visitor Center – Check out the main visitor center and back-country permit office for the Olympic National Park. They have loads of information, friendly rangers and exhibits to get you started on your mountain adventure.
  • Jazz in the Olympics – Celebrate Jazz with NW artists in various venues around the Port Angeles area. (April)
  • Arts & Draughts Festival – Featuring 20+ local breweries, wineries and cideries, the Arts and Draughts Festival takes place in downtown Port Angeles in September. Mmm… Beer… And art!
  • Farmers’ Market – Operating year-round in the downtown area, the Port Angeles Farmers’ Market is a wonderful opportunity to snatch up fresh fruit and veggies as well as local artisan wares. (Saturdays – 10am to 2pm)
  • Swains General Store – A quirky, old-school hardware store that sells much more than hardware. Stop in for a look and you just may find something you never knew you couldn’t live without!
  • For a truly epic Port Angeles experience, don’t miss the sweet deliciousness of the annual Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival. Celebrating one of the region’s most famous residents, the Dungeness Crab, the festival offers three days of savory seafood shenanigans to enjoy. Happening in early October on the Port Angeles waterfront, it features glorious seafood, music, arts, crafts and more. And it’s FREE! (But you gotta pay for the crab, of course.)

It’s true. I like to eat. I like to eat and I love to eat good food. There are definitely some Port Angeles restaurants that accommodate this love in wonderful fashion. Throw in the fresh abundance of all things seafood and I’m hard-pressed to leave the area every time. I can honestly say I would eat Dungeness crab EVERY day if my wallet would allow… Some of my favorite local spots:

And what goes better with a delicious meal than a delicious beverage? There are several excellent options in Port Angeles and these are all high on my list:

  • Camaraderie Cellars – A well-established winery just outside of Port Angeles. I’m particularly fond of their Quadra. It’s an aged Tempranillo with a bit of Port added – rich and delicious! Quite lovely to enjoy by a fire while watching (from the cabin window) as the winter ocean storms roll in…
  • Housed in a lovely old barn, Olympic Cellars has been a mainstay of Olympic Peninsula wine-making for many years. Enjoyable wines and a cool weekend summer concert series to accompany said wine – check them out!
  • Barhop Brewing & Artisan Pizza – Looking for great pizza and a tasty brew down by the waterfront? This is the place to stop!
  • Harbinger Winery – I love this place. Great wine, super friendly staff and a cozy tasting room – located directly off US 101. I’m very much a fan of their El Jefé Reserve Rhone Blend and Rhone Rosé And if you feel the need to rent a kayak or mountain bike or sign up for a local outdoor adventure tour, you need only pop in next door to the very friendly Adventures Through Kayaking shop.
  • Harvest Wine Tour (November) – A great way to experience and learn about the wine and cider-makers of the Olympic Peninsula is via the Harvest Wine Tour. Camaraderie Cellars, Harbinger Winery, Olympic Cellars and Wind Rose Cellars (Sequim) are all part of the tour. The Red Wine & Chocolates tour in February is also fun to check out and is hosted by the same establishments. Mmm… Wine and chocolate! (And if red wine isn’t your thing, not to worry – I enjoyed some very lovely white wines and white chocolates when I did the tour earlier this year.)

If you’d like to extend your stay in Port Angeles or use it as home base for exploring the Olympics, Hurricane Ridge or any of the other beautiful nearby spots, I suggest these local options:

  • A Hidden Haven – Lovely forest cottages located just outside of Port Angeles.
  • Sea Cliff Gardens – Very charming and well-appointed B&B lodging with gorgeous gardens and views. Located in the Sequim / Port Angeles area.
  • Colette’s – Port Angeles B&B with stunning ocean views, delicious breakfast and beautiful grounds.

If you’re not already bowled over by the beauty of the Sequim and Port Angeles areas, head further west on US 101 or take a beautiful detour into Olympic National Park (via Mount Angeles Road/Hurricane Ridge Road) and head towards the spectacular Hurricane Ridge area. In the summer, a trip to Hurricane Ridge will make you think you’ve been transported to a scene from The Sound of Music. Wildflowers, sweeping views, plentiful deer and a lovely day lodge at the top of drive greet you like an old friend. Maybe there wasn’t a lovely day lodge in The Sound of Music, but if there were, Hurricane Ridge has nailed it. Grab a snack in the Visitor’s Center and learn more about the area’s plentiful hiking opportunities and miles of beautiful vistas and breathtaking scenery. If you’re looking to do some camping in the area, check out the Heart o’the Hills Campground about 12 miles before Hurricane Ridge. (Open year-round)

In the winter, Hurricane Ridge is open for skiing and snowboarding, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing and general enjoyment of the winter wonderland. The road is only open Friday-Sunday in the winter and definitely check ahead as the road can get dicey on snowy days. (All vehicles must carry chains – including 4-wheel drive) I will admit to not yet having skied this area, but it is high on my “Ski all the ski hills in Washington State” list – and I will get there soon. Big hills, small hills – I shall ski them ALL!

Heading further west on US 101 gives you access to the gorgeous and newly dam-free Elwha Valley. In the last few years, both the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam were removed allowing the Elwha River to again make its way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The byproduct of this effort is a new, sandy beach that is growing daily.  After having been dammed for nearly 100 years, the valley is returning to its natural rhythms and the river is reclaiming its territory. The salmon are making a comeback, the flora and fauna are prospering and the water is flowing unfettered out to sea. It is truly a beautiful area to explore and an opportunity to witness first-hand nature’s resilience.

For a beautiful hiking or backpacking adventure in the area, check out the Elwha River Trail. Also in the area, located off of the Boulder Creek Trailhead, the Olympic Hot Springs are a very unique and invigorating destination. (All-natural springs and pools not maintained by the NPS) When hiking and adventuring in the Elwha River Valley, be sure to check the NPS website beforehand for road conditions and information on obtaining necessary permits. And as always, make sure you’re prepared for your adventure by bringing along the 10 Essentials.

Continuing west on US 101 will bring you to a truly extraordinary part of the state. (And that’s saying something given the Washington State bounty!)  I’m usually heading further on towards the coastline, but every time I make the effort to explore this area I am simply blown away. The scenery, wildlife and ecological diversity is overflowing and it would be easy to spend a week (or more!) marveling at the wonders of this section of Clallam County.

As you’re driving along US 101, you won’t be able to miss Lake Crescent on your right. The nearly 12-mile long lake is filled with beautifully clear, deep water and is home to many a water-filled adventure. Boating, fishing, scuba-diving or just a bit of recreational swimming – you name it – Lake Crescent represents.  A longtime destination for Washingtonians, Lake Crescent has been inspiring happy vacation memories for generations. Take the time to investigate what lies along the winding, lake-hugging highway as it heads toward the coast – you won’t be disappointed. (Note: The highway in this area can get icy year-round and the winds are often quite strong. Drive carefully!)

The list is long for this area, but here are a handful of can’t-go-wrong opportunities to explore:

  • Directly off the highway as you’re headed west, look for a small sign to the La Poel day-use/picnic area. Take the access road to a surprisingly extensive and winding loop snaking along the lake’s shoreline. There are many tucked-away picnic spots and it’s a great way to relax and enjoy a snack. (Note: The road is very narrow and not suitable for RVs and larger vehicles.)
  • Located on the north shore of the lake, the Spruce Railroad Trail is an easy-going 4-mile trek near and beside the lake. For those looking for a longer jaunt, the trail is part of the aforementioned Olympic Discovery Trail and is accessible via an extensive hike or bike ride from Port Angeles. For a quick hike, head about a mile into the trail until you get to the bridge. Look to the right of the bridge and check out the eerily calm waters of the “Punchbowl” – very much worth the trip!
  • There are good camping opportunities in the area, but the Log Cabin Resort is an excellent lakeside option if you’d like a cozy bed and a step back in time. (Although, the area has been recently renovated and features newly built cabins) The cabins are open end of May thru end of September.
LogCabin2
Lovely Log Cabin Resort on Lake Crescent
  • If you’d like to upgrade from a log cabin, check out nearby Lake Crescent Lodge for classic, National Park lodging. (Including charming cottages and cabins) Built in 1915, it has a storied past, including a very important visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He visited Washington’s coastal regions in the 1930s and very shortly thereafter signed the paperwork creating our beloved Olympic National Park. (Note: The Lake Crescent Store and Lodge are closed January thru April, but you can reserve the cabins on weekends during winter.)
  • Near the Lake’s midpoint, take the exit off of US 101 towards the historic Storm King Ranger Station / Marymere Falls parking area. Located just over a half-mile from the ranger station is the stunning Marymere Falls The hike to the 90-foot falls is fairly accessible and the falls are well worth investigating.
  • Not too far past Lake Crescent, look for the signs to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Featuring naturally fed mineral hot spring pools as well as a freshwater pool, Sol Duc Hot Springs is a wonderful spot to spend a relaxing few days. (Or more!) The lodge hosts well-appointed cabins and riverside suites and they also have camping and RV opportunities in the vicinity. Located close by are the beautiful Sol Duc Falls – not to be missed!

Next on my adventure path is an area very near and dear to my heart; La Push and its surrounding beaches and coastal lands. I’ve been coming to this area for years and while I will fully admit to having read the Twilight books, this part of the state has been a favorite travel destination for many years prior. (Which is why I initially read the books – A vampire/werewolf story set in Forks and La Push?? Come on!)

In recent years, the wave of Twi-hards has begun to subside and a peaceful calm is returning to the area. That said, the related tourism was a great boon to the area’s economy and if it exposed the beauty of this part of the state to a greater audience, all the better. The undeveloped coastlines and easy solitude have always drawn me in and I hope many more come to know the magical allure of the area.

As you’re traveling west on US 101 and getting close to Forks, look for the turn-off to SR-110 which will take you to the La Push area. The 25-minute drive to La Push is fairly uneventful with swatches of logged land along the way and I always lose my cell reception about half-way into the drive. (And don’t regain it until I head back out towards US 101. No cell reception in the La Push area for me… Heh heh…) Keep an eye out along the drive for locals selling firewood. This is where you’ll find the best deals for campfire happenings and it’s a nice chance to chat with the local residents. (Although some of the stands are on the honor system and you just drop the fee in a lock box.)

The first place you’ll come to along SR-110 is the Three Rivers Resort. (The Treaty Line) It’s a diner, store, gas station, resort with RV hook-ups and cabins and a fishing guide service. (And a good option for firewood and ice!) This place is a gem and I always make a stop. They have tots AND fry sauce, great burgers, a friendly staff and restrooms.  It’s also a great checkpoint before making the decision to head a few more minutes on to La Push proper or to head over towards Mora Campground and Rialto Beach.

Mora Campground and Rialto Beach are truly remarkable areas and I keep returning over and over again to take in their glory. The campground is extensive and usually busy, but the plentiful old-growth trees and coastal shrubbery make it seem fairly exclusive and it’s easy to enjoy your privacy. Rialto Beach is also a quick drive up the road or a very doable walk. Located just across the entrance to the campground is the trailhead for James Pond. (Pond, James Pond.) (That joke will never get old.) This is a fairly short hike leading to the absolutely stunning James “Pond” area and is very much worth the effort. For another nearby wetlands hike, check out the beautiful Quillayute River Slough area.

On Rialto Beach, it’s more than feasible to just hang out on the immediate beach all day and enjoy the ocean and spectacular driftwood deposits – not to mention the seals, sea birds and ever-changing weather. If you head about a mile and a half northwest on the beach, you’ll come to the Hole in the Wall sea arch. Beautiful any time of day, you can walk through it at low tide. (Always pay mind to the tidal charts! You can pick one up at the Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push or at the Three Rivers Resort.) Once on the main beach, stroll to your left for a better view of nearby James Island and venture out on the rock spit dividing Rialto beach from 1st Beach in “downtown” La Push.

If you keep heading west on SR-110, past the Three Rivers Resort, it will lead you down into the tiny coastal town of La Push, home to the Quileute Nation. Calling the area home for thousands of years, the Quileute have a history rich in coastal stewardship and a deep respect for the land. There’s just something about this area that gets in your soul and it’s understandable how it could inspire devotion for thousands of years. The rugged coastline, dotted with gorgeous sandy beaches and a solitude not easily found in modern times make La Push one of my favorite places on the planet.

Some of spots I love to visit in this remote, beautiful area:

  • For easy beach access, check out 1st and 2nd beaches in the main part of La Push. (There is a short hike to get to 2nd beach, but it’s very worth it. Amazing tide pools!) These beaches are usually the more crowded in the area, but they’re beautiful and quite expansive. 1st Beach is a favorite of local surfers and it’s always fun to watch them battle the NW surf. If you’d like to try some surfing yourself, check out North by Northwest Surf Co in Port Angeles or at the Hobuck Beach Resort (in Neah Bay) for all your needs.
  • My favorite local beach is just a little south of La Push proper on SR-110. 3rd Beach is a relatively easy hike down to the coastline and is one of my very favorite spots to camp, pick berries, do nothing for hours while staring aimlessly out to sea, etc. Due to the hike required for beach access, it’s not as crowded as 1st or 2nd Beaches, but in can get a little busier on weekends. If you’re looking for near total seclusion, keep hiking down the beach and locate one of the rope ladders heading back up the bluffs. The adjoining trail will take you through beautiful coastal forest and eventually back down onto more beach. The quiet, the calm and the beautiful sand are overwhelming in their welcome and I could stay there indefinitely… (Note: It is absolutely necessary to know the tidal tables for this portion of the hike.)
  • If camping isn’t your thing, check out the Quileute Oceanside Resort for hotel and cabin lodging. The area can be a bit noisy, but the beach front location is beautiful and you get to wake up looking out over 1st Beach in the morning. Not too shabby!
  • Directly next door to the Oceanside Resort is the Lonesome Creek Store & RV Park. (And propane station. And post office.) This is the only store in La Push proper and they have a decent supply of all things you might need or have forgotten for your stay. As the hours/days of the local River’s Edge Restaurant can at times be fleeting or inconsistent, their deli and supplies are a good option for your next meal. (But do check out River’s Edge if it happens to be open as it is indeed the only restaurant in La Push proper.)
  • If you’re visiting the area in mid-July, check out the Quileute Days celebration and learn all about Quileute history and culture. If you happen to be in town on the 4th of July, you’ll need to embrace the boom or head further inland for quieter times. The main section of 1st Beach is filled with campers all trying to out-do each another with bigger and louder fireworks. It’s crazy. It’s loud. You’ll pay for the whole seat, but only sit on the edge!!

Ohhhh Forks, you quirky little town that I love so much… And even though you refuse to cave to my desire for a “Forks of July” celebration, I will still continue to regularly visit the area. However, as their annual Forks Old-Fashioned 4th of July celebration is pretty great and goes for a whole week every year, I guess I’ll let it slide… For now.

As a sole destination, Forks itself isn’t a hotbed of activity, but it’s a great jumping-off point for visiting Olympic National Park, exploring the surrounding coastline areas, embarking upon epic fishing adventures or just enjoying the peace of the state’s lesser traveled back roads and byways.

A few of the places I like to visit whenever in Forks:

  • Forks Outfitters – If you’re in need of all things grocery, the local Thriftway store can meet your needs. And if you also happen to be in the market for hardware/fishing/hunting supplies – or a generally interesting array of random goods – they’ve also got you covered. Need some Twilight souvenirs to bring home? They’ve got ‘em.
  • Highlighting the area’s largest industry, the Forks Timber Museum is an interesting look into the past and present of the Fork’s famous timber scene. It’s located on US 101 and conveniently next door to the Forks Chamber of Commerce. Pop in and chat with the locals about their favorite spots and learn about the history and interesting characters of the area. (And marvel at the floor to ceiling Twilight displays)

If you don’t happen to be staying in the area, Forks is a great spot to stop for a meal on your way to either the coast or over to La Push. Most of Forks commerce and business is located directly on US 101, so access is particularly convenient. Some of my favorite spots:

  • Sully’s Burgers – Classic drive-in with great hamburgers, fries and shakes.
  • The In Place – Home-style diner fare, including tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
  • BBG – Blakeslee Bar & Grill – Good pub food and a full bar.
  • Golden Gate – Classic take on Chinese food favorites. I’ve eaten here several times and it’s always pretty tasty. And I shall eat there again…
  • Hard Rain Café and Campsite – Located outside of Forks proper at the Olympic National Park entrance to the otherworldly Hoh Rainforest. Not only do they have a cool café, they have lodging and serve as a great base location for Hoh Rainforest adventures. (Including close proximity to what is said to be the Quietest Spot on Earth. I haven’t been, but it is high on my list.)
  • Creekside Restaurant (At Kalaloch Lodge) – I actually included the Creekside in my I Ate the State – Jefferson County article, but as Kalaloch Lodge is technically listed with a Forks address, I’ll include it as part of Clallam County as well. Double-duty! Not only is the Creekside a great place to stop, but a longer visit to Kalaloch should definitely be considered. (Check out my Jefferson County article for all the details!)
Thriftway
Where I get all my food – AND hardware in Forks.

There are several options for lodging in the Forks area. Prices are generally reasonable year-round, but I always find particularly good deals during the off-season. Couple that with the plentiful winter storm-watching opportunities and you’re golden!

  • The Olympic Suites – Tucked back in the trees off of US 101, the Olympic Suites offer very reasonably priced lodging with modest suites that include full kitchens and spacious rooms.
  • The Dew Drop Inn – Nice hotel/motel located directly off of US 101 on the way towards the coast. Nicely appointed rooms, quiet and conveniently located.
  • For charming Bed & Breakfast options in the Forks area, check out both the Miller Tree Inn and the Misty Valley Inn.

Heading back towards the Port Angeles area, a fabulous detour and whole new leg of Clallam County adventure can be found via SR-113 to SR-112 and on towards Neah Bay. Turn off of US 101 onto SR-113 and follow the signs.

As the road twists and turns, leading you further into no-reception territory, it’s easy to become blissfully lost in the seclusion of this area. There aren’t a lot of travelers on this road and it’s common to go miles and miles without passing another car. This is especially true in the winter months. I’ve taken a couple of solo journeys during winter and on one occasion actually turned back towards US 101. Snowing hard, no one else on the two-lane, windy road, no cell reception, making solo tracks in the snow while gaining elevation… I have a lot of faith in my AWD Sportage, (AKA: Sporty Spice) but I do try and err on the side of caution. Sometimes… (Note: While unfortunately I don’t have a street bike, this road would be pretty amazing on one.)

About 10 miles in, stay left and SR-113 becomes SR-112/the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway. (If you head right on SR-112 it takes you towards Joyce and back to Port Angeles – we’ll cover that route later in the article.) A few miles further on SR-113, you’ll come to the Clallam Bay and Seiku areas. If you’re in need of a quick break, stop and take in the beautiful view of Clallam Bay at the Clallam Bay Spit County Park. (Also one of the only public restroom breaks along the way…)

The Clallam Bay / Seiku area is relatively small, but it’s a cozy little place to visit. Some places of note in the area:

  • Hess Mart & Espresso – Great stop for a quick snack, espresso beverage, picnic additions, etc. (in Clallam Bay)
  • Sunsets West Co-op – Cool shop in Clallam Bay with organic foods, snacks, café treats, coffee, sundries, etc.
  • Clallam Bay / Seiku Fun Days – Fun festival taking place in mid-July with food vendors, music, fireworks and a parade.
  • By the Bay Café – Very cute little café in Seiku overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Great diner-style food – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
  • Mason’s/Olson’s Resort – If you’d like to stay in the Seiku/Clallam Bay area, hit up Mason’s/Olson’s Resort. They offer houses, cabins, camping and hotel lodging and are the longest operating fishing resort in Washington State.

Traveling on SR-112 will take you in the direction of lovely Neah Bay. An amazing detour along the way is to head towards Ozette and the beautiful Lake Ozette and Cape Alva. (Take the Hoko-Ozette Road off SR-112) Granted, the road can be slower going and it’s most worthwhile if you’re able to camp overnight, but even a day trip is justified the trek.

Located in Olympic National Park, Lake Ozette is a gorgeous and remote destination. The lake is crystal clear and there are numerous hiking and backpacking opportunities in the area. (Including boat-in campsites on the tiny islands of the lake!) Cape Alva, the westernmost point in the contiguous US, is an absolutely amazing place to visit. It is the site of a Native American village buried by mudslide some 300-500 years ago, recently rediscovered and unearthed in the 1970s. Several longhouses, scores of artifacts and examples of native culture were perfectly preserved in the layers of mud and silt. Many of these artifacts are now on display at the nearby Makah Museum.

A beautiful hike starting out of the Lake Ozette area is the 9.4 mile Cave Alva Loop. Along the way, stop to respectfully take in the 2000-year old petroglyphs carved into the “Wedding Rocks” by ancestors of the Makah Tribe. There is no signage, but they can be found while heading south, once you’ve reached the beach. For more camping details in the area, check out the NPS site. It should also be noted that the western terminus of the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail is located at Cape Alva. #GOALS

Back on SR-112, keep heading west to its terminus at the lovely Neah Bay. As you travel along SR-112, keep an eye out for herds of elk grazing in the coastal meadows and soaring hawks and eagles stalking their prey along the shores. The views of the coastline are beautiful and rocky and on several occasions I’ve seen giant eagles casually perched on rocks taking it all in. (As an eagle does) I’ve also noticed that while I typically don’t have phone coverage in this area, I do often pick up roaming coverage from nearby Canada. To enjoy BC roaming coverage while checking out the eagles firsthand, check out the shoreline cottages at Chito Beach Resort for a lovely local stay.

Neah Bay, with its excellent coastal access is the home of the Native American Makah Tribe. Having called this area home for thousands of years, their culture and heritage runs deep in the coastal legacies. A fine way to learn more about the Makah history is with a visit to the well-curated and designed Makah Museum, located directly off of SR-112. If you happen to be visiting during August, make an effort to catch the Makah Days celebration to experience first-hand the traditions of the Makah Tribe.

If you’re looking for a bite or a cup of coffee, Neah Bay is small, but does indeed have some nice options:

  • Linda’s Wood Fired Pizza – In addition to wood-fired pizza, Linda’s offers fresh fish, soups, homemade pies and more!
  • The Warm House – Fresh fish and clam chowder, tasty burgers, waterfront location – serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Washburn’s General Store – A True Value hardware store AND a fully stocked grocery store. (And in keeping true to their name, they carry all sorts of other general items) It’s Neah Bay’s one-stop shopping store – and a great place to stock up for local picnicking and camping adventures. They also sell the Makah Recreation Pass needed for exploring several local sites.

To check out the most northwestern point of the contiguous US, head west out of Neah Bay on the Cape Flattery Road. Park in the parking lot and head down the well-maintained, but at times, very wet and slippery, Cape Flattery Trail towards the ocean. (Note: You will need a Makah Recreation Pass to park in the trailhead lot.) The trail down to the actual most northwestern point in the US is gorgeous and filled with beautiful old-growth trees and sweeping views. I continue to be stunned each time I stand on the edge of the bluff, looking out to Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse and back over to the breathtaking cliffs and coves on either side of the outcrop. The water is a striking teal green and it’s entirely easy to imagine pirates stashing treasure in the various caves and coves. I will never tire of exploring this part of the state and always find something “new” and amazing to take in.

For another amazing coastal adventure in the Neah Bay area, head up Cape Flattery Road and turn left onto Hobuck Road. (Before getting to Cape Flattery.) There you will find the Hobuck Beach Resort and beautiful Hobuck Beach. (A Makah Recreation Pass is required to park in the day use area.) There are cabins, camping and RV sites at the resort and surf rentals for enjoying the local surf scene. A great hike in the area is the 2-mile trek to Shi-Shi Beach and Point of the Arches. (To camp on Shi-Shi Beach requires a Makah Recreation Pass and a wilderness camping permit. And make sure you have a tidal chart with you.) The sunsets are exquisite and the remoteness of the beach is a reward in and of itself.

ToFlattery1
Beautiful and winding Cape Flattery Road

Heading back towards Port Angeles on SR-112, take the left fork to stay on 112 rather than going right and back to SR-113 and US 101. (The turn is about 6 miles beyond Clallam Bay.) The drive is winding, beautiful and another great candidate for a street bike excursion.  Enjoy a picnic along the drive with a break at Pillar Point County Park or stop in the nearby town of Joyce for a step back in time at the Joyce General Store & Depot Museum. Over 100 years old, the charming store and museum features displays from the bygone Port Crescent days as well as offering food and sundries.

Check out these additional enjoyable distractions on the drive back to Port Angeles:

  • Joyce Days Wild Blackberry Festival – A local festival celebrating the town of Joyce and wild blackberries on the 1st Saturday of August. Local music and crafts and a lot of blackberry goods.
  • Blackberry Café – Open during the summer months (June – Sept), stop in for delicious pie and burgers.
  • Salt Creek Recreation Area – Check out the rocky tide pools and enjoy the sandy beaches, hiking trails and camping opportunities. The area also features remnants of the WWII era Camp Hayden – bring your flashlight!

Continuing east on SR-112 will eventually bring you back down to US 101 and into Port Angeles. It is completely possible to take in Clallam County on a very long, summer day trip, but I’d recommend taking a good few days to savor the area. (Or many more!) With miles and miles of unspoiled land, water and coastline stretching out across the county, the beauty is immeasurable and the opportunities for adventure are limitless.

It is rare these days to find areas untouched by modern endeavors, but Clallam County seems to corner the market. Take in the charm of its cities, but make sure to explore its back roads, towering mountains and sweeping shorelines. There is nothing like Clallam County. It never fails to rejuvenate, add perspective to these hectic and cluttered times and provide me with a much needed sense of calm. I hope you’ll find Clallam County as amazingly beautiful and revitalizing as I do.

Cheers!

Ferry5
See ya next time!

 

For a few road trip tune suggestions, check out my Clallam County playlist on Spotify:

  • You’re A Wolf – Sea Wolf (from Leaves in the River)
  • Satellite Heart – Anya Marina (from The Twilight Saga: New Moon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Vengeance Is Sleeping – Neko Case (from Middle Cyclone)
  • Mixtape – Tift Merritt (from See You on the Moon)
  • Spotlight – Mutemath (from Spotlight EP)
  • The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (from Feels Like Home)
  • Shooting the Moon – OK Go (from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky – Extra Nice Edition)
  • Oh My My – Jill Barber (from Chances)
  • Tilted – Christine & the Queens (from Christine & the Queens)
  • Lay Your Head Down – Keren Ann (from Keren Ann)
  • Goddamn Lonely Love – Drive-By Truckers (from The Dirty South)
  • Harvest Moon – Jeff Peterson (from Maui on My Mind)
  • Love Throw A Line – Patty Griffin (from Impossible Dream)
  • Rainbow Connection – The Muppets (from The Muppets – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • I Can See Clearly Now – Holly Cole Trio (from The Best of Holly Cole)

 

For other delicious possibilities, check out these additional I Ate the State Adventures:

I Ate the State – Mason County

Greetings!

In this latest installment of I Ate the State, I visit the lovely and scenic, Mason County. Situated in the northwestern part of the state, Mason County is a relatively accessible area to most of Western Washington. Olympic National Park /Olympic National Forest withstanding, there are several routes in and out of the area, all involving very breathtaking countryside. (Olympic National Park/Forest accounts for a large part of the northwestern corner of the county and has limited accessibility and thoroughfares.) Because Mason County contains a sizable portion of the Olympics, the county itself seems expansive, but the population is only around 63k. The Hood Canal and Lake Cushman areas can get crowded in the summer months, but my springtime travels presented me with miles and miles of wide open, uncrowded roads. Couple that with an unexpected sunny day and it was truly a beautiful outing.

For this particular journey, I chose to hop the Bremerton ferry from the Alaskan Way Pier in downtown Seattle. It was a little foggy that morning, but things were just starting to clear as I boarded. Once underway, I enjoyed my coffee and the glassy calm of the Puget Sound as the ferry glided through the water. The calm perfection of the morning added an extra bit of magic as I stared out from the deck, daydreaming about owning one of the swanky mansions dotting the shores. For the money and time, taking the ferry is always a great way to start any adventure and the 60-minute crossing to the Bremerton terminal allows for the additional fueling of caffeine and formulating of travel plans. A fine way to spend an hour, in my opinion.

SeattleEye
Pulling out on the ferry from the Alaskan Way Pier. The start of a beautiful morning!

After disembarking from the ferry, I headed towards Belfair, gateway to the Hood Canal area. I’d initially thought of heading towards the county seat of Shelton and nearby costal inlets, but instead decided to go north and follow the coastline of Hood Canal, back around to the Kingston area. I’d heard great things about the route as well as the Lake Cushman and Staircase areas of Olympic National Park, so towards Belfair I did go.

While driving down Highway 3 outside of Bremerton, I was very excited to spot a drive-in movie theatre just off the road. It’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed a movie in the car – while wearing pajamas and eating popcorn. (That’s some old-skool glory, right there!) As it looks like they show first-run movies, I think I might need to make a pilgrimage back to the area and revisit those by-gone days of the mobile cinema experience. (Rodeo Drive-in, between Bremerton and Belfair)

Once past Belfair – a good place to fuel up, by the way – I turned off towards SR 106 and Union. Hood Canal begins at the tip of 106 and the road hugs the shore as you wind along the 2-lane highway. There are beautiful homes and cottages gracing the shoreline all along the drive and great views of the water to behold. This road was great from the driver’s seat of my trusty Sportage, but I think it’d be even better in a convertible or on a motorcycle.  I’m sure the road gets a little slow-going during the busy summer months, but as there’s such an abundance of great scenery, it can’t be all that bad.

Nearing Union, I came upon the Alderbrook Resort and Spa. Set along the shores of Hood Canal, this is definitely a destination-location sort of affair. Beautifully manicured grounds, spacious lodging, dining and recreational areas as well as a nice spa, adjoining golf course and good moorage on their docks. I could have easily spent the entire day there, wandering around the grounds, enjoying brunch and a mimosa in the restaurant and maybe renting a kayak (or a PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOAT) and tooling around the canal. (Or maybe just enjoying another mimosa on the deck… or on the PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOAT) I fully intend to return to the Alderbrook for a nice weekend getaway in the near future.  (With my friends, so we can rent the PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOAT.)

Just past the Alderbrook Resort, heading west on 106, keep your eye out on the left for the Dalby Waterwheel. It’s definitely worth pulling over to check out and you can do so just past the Alderbrook Resort. It’s a still-functioning water wheel brought over from Seattle in 1924 and creates quite a mesmerizing, idyllic scene. I could spent hours just hanging out beside the little cabin, listening to and watching the water fall over the wheel. It was a scene right out of Little House on the Prairie, ala the Northwest. Quite charming. (Although, maybe not as peaceful during the busy summer months as it is right off the road.)

Just around the bend from the Dalby Waterwheel, I happened upon the very cute, Cameo Boutique and Wine Shop. Stopping in for a quick browse, I found a few tasty treats to take home with me and some lovely soap. There is also a nice selection of gifts and resort wear to tide you over during your local stay, along with a great selection of wine. Before I left the parking lot, I walked around the side of the shop and back towards the small cove directly behind. There’s a camping area and a couple of cottages, but also an incredibly interesting, old paddlewheel boat beached on the shore.  I’d love to know more of the story behind the boat and learn what brought it to its lonely beach home.  On my next visit, I’ll have to check in with the locals and see if anyone has the scoop.

Perhaps they might know something across the way at the Robin Hood Village Resort. The restaurant and front cottages were built in 1934 by Hollywood set designer, Don Beckman, who also designed the set for the classic, Errol Flynn Robin Hood epic.  Over the years, cottages have been added and it is now a cheerful, village-style resort set back amongst the trees. I took a lovely walk by the creek which flows along the backside of the restaurant and it looked like they also host weddings and events in the area. It definitely seems like a fun and whimsical place for an outdoor summer soiree.

By this point in the morning, I was becoming pretty peckish. I thought about heading back to the Alderbrook Resort, but decided to keep heading further into Union, on what then becomes US Route 101. A few miles down the road, the Union City Market (at the Hood Canal Marina) popped up on my right and I pulled over to take a look.  I’m very glad I did as it was chock full of wonderful local foods, gifts and specialty items. They also have a great coffee bar and a freezer full of some very tasty, handmade popsicles. Granted, popsicles aren’t really the first thing I think of upon waking up, but the carrot, ginger and turmeric one I purchased seemed the perfect way to start the day. It was particularly enjoyable while sitting at a picnic table on the shore, watching a boat crew load oysters out of the canal directly to the back of the store. Fresh!

While chatting with the very amiable staff at the Union City Market, I learned of some tasty breakfast selections across the way at the Union Country Store. I’m glad I took their advice as the Crab Eggs Benedict I ordered was absolutely delicious. Set in a small grocery store, the diner-style setup offers home-style meals, great coffee and local ice cream. It’s a quirky, welcoming spot and I’m very happy I stopped in to fuel my adventures.

After finishing all of my breakfast and feeling ridiculously (and unrepentantly) full, I took off down the road for the Hoodsport area. I’d heard about the Hardware Distillery and wanted to check it out. Along the way, I also noticed the Hoodsport Winery and decided to give it a whirl. Admittedly, I almost didn’t stop as it looked a little questionable with the bars on the windows, but I’d heard good things about the wine, so I decided to go in. It was a good decision as the wine was lovely and I had a great conversation with the woman running the shop and tastings. After walking out with a couple of nice bottles, I continued my path into Hoodsport and the Hardware Distillery.

Set within a cute row of shops in the middle of Hoodsport (still on US 101), the Hardware Distillery was well worth the stop. Not only was the shop cozy and welcoming, the owner was completely knowledgeable and I had quite a great time discussing recipes and drink ideas with him. I also walked away with a very entertaining gift for my dad and a much-coveted dill aquavit. (I’d been looking for one! Now I just need a turmeric vodka and I’m on my way to hopefully recreating the delicious Hanoi Rocks from Capitol Hill’s, dreamy Foreign National.)

ForeignNat
The most delicious drink ever made, The Hanoi Rocks from Foreign National on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Granted, not from Mason County, but I’m going to use my newly acquired Dill Aquavit to give it a whirl.

I would’ve liked to have sampled more of the offerings at Hardware Distillery, but as I was driving, I needed to be responsible and move on to the next destination. (A drawback about doing solo adventures and stopping in for any type of tastings…) Additionally, as my next stop was Lake Cushman and the Staircase area of Olympic National Park, I needed my bearings and wits about me. And score one for responsibility as I did indeed end up needing my navigational skills further up the road…

From Hoodsport, I turned onto SR 119 and followed the signs towards Lake Cushman. I hadn’t visited the Park from this direction before, so I was excited to explore the scene. Suffice it to say, I was in no way disappointed with the area. Lake Cushman is a beautiful lake with deep blue water and expansive shorelines. Most of the campgrounds and lodging areas were still closed for the season on this visit, but I’ll definitely be back to explore in the summer months. That said, even just pulling over and taking in the vistas from the viewpoints along the way was worth the drive. Such stunning scenery we have in Washington State…

Cushman1
View from one of the roadside stops along Lake Cushman

A little further up, I pulled over at Big Creek Campground to take a look around. It was also still closed for the season, but you could park in the lot just off the road and head in to access the local hiking trails. Since it was a beautiful spring day and I really wanted to stretch my legs and check out the scenery, I happily donned my backpack and head off into the woods. Score another one for always taking the 10 Essentials as I did actually end up needing some extra resources that afternoon…

After walking around the campsite area a little, I noticed a trailhead and decided to investigate. It was a beautiful trail, flanked by moss-draped trees and mysterious thickets with an ambling creek off to the side. (Fun fact: It’s pronounced “crEEk”, not “crick” – Dad and Skoczen, I’m lookin’ at you…) About a quarter-mile in, I noticed a detour sign and thought I’d taken the correct fork, but apparently, I did not. It wasn’t until I’d gone another half-mile or so that I realized I’d taken a wrong turn (a couple by that point, in fact) and was completely turned around. AND I had no cell service, so the GPS on my phone was no longer an option – and no one was around in the closed-for-the-season campsite. Dun-dun-dunnnnnn – Time to take out the ol’ compass and map.

Granted, even if I didn’t have a compass and map, I could’ve likely just followed along the creek (not crick) and it would’ve eventually led to or close to a road. Luckily, however, I didn’t have to investigate that option and was able to get back on track. It did serve as a reminder on how quickly things can escalate in the woods and if you’re not prepared, how quickly things can go horribly wrong. It was also a reminder to always tell someone where you’re going when solo traveling – especially if you plan on traipsing off into closed areas with no cell reception…

As the Staircase area was closed for the season and there were road issues up into the area – and I’d wasted at least a good half hour being lost in the woods – I decided to head back down towards Hoodsport and off to my next destination: The Hama Hama Oyster Saloon.  Mmmmm…

Hama Hama, located in the Lilliwaup area, is a family-run shellfish farm, restaurant and store and has been serving the area for nearly 100 years. This experience is greatly showcased in the quality and presentation of the shellfish as well as through a devoted customer base, both in and out of Washington State. (They ship nationally to chefs and shellfish-craving consumers.)  It is truly one of the most enjoyable culinary experiences I’ve had in the Northwest and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of hanging out and taking in the scene. Even if you’re not a fan of oysters or clams, there’s something to enjoy. (Try the grilled cheese!) You won’t regret your visit to Hama Hama. (Also, please pick up a bag of oysters and a tub of the Chipotle Bourbon Butter for me. Thanks!)

After stuffing myself with oysters and delicious bread, it was time to consider meandering back towards Seattle. (After a quick stop into the Hama Hama store to pick up some smoked oysters and some of that delicious Chipotle Bourbon Butter… Sigh…) Since I’d already enjoyed the Bremerton ferry route, I decided to make a grand loop of things and return home via the Kingston Ferry. There was a bit of traffic in the ferry queue once I arrived near the terminal and I just missed the ferry crossing I wanted, but it wasn’t too bad a wait. I took a nice walk around the marina area and enjoyed some of my earlier-procured treats – not too shabby an end to my Mason County adventure…

I have to say, while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the counties I’ve visited so far, Mason County has definitely gone to the top of the list. Just this short day trip was full of varied and excellent scenery, food, conversations, etc. I can’t wait to spend a little more time in the area and explore things more deeply. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed. And maybe rent one of those PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOATS!!

Cheers – and happy travels!

Kingston
Checking out the marina while waiting for the Kingston ferry. Sigh…

 

Mason County Playlist – Check it out on Spotify

I was on a bit of a musical binge that weekend, so my playlist pretty much reflects only that… MUSICALS!

  • My Shot – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • You’ll Be Back – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • Wait For It – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • What Comes Next – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • Fame – Fame (The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
  • Out Here On My Own – Fame (The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
  • Never Alone – Fame (The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
  • Dentist! – Little Shop of Horrors (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Feed Me (Git It) – Little Shop of Horrors (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Suddenly Seymour – Little Shop of Horrors (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Dammit Janet – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Original Soundtrack)
  • Time Warp – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Original Soundtrack)
  • Cabaret – Cabaret (Original Soundtrack)
  • I Dreamed A Dream – Les Miserables (Original London Cast Recording)
  • One Day More – Les Miserables (Original London Cast Recording)
  • Pure Imagination – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Original Soundtrack Recording – 1971)
  • Consider Yourself – Oliver! (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
  • God, That’s Good! – Sweeny Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Original Broadway Cast)
  • Think of Me – The Phantom of the Opera (Original London Cast)
  • The Music of the Night – The Phantom of the Opera (Original London Cast)
  • Nessum Dorma – Turandot, ACT III (*Luciano Pavarotti, The Three Tenors in Concert – Rome 1990) *This particular recording of this piece slays me every And it’s embarrassing to be crying alone in the Sportage while in the ferry line, but whatever…

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