Olympic Peninsula - If You Go -- Some Tips And Strategies On Exploring The Wild Side
Seattle Times Travel Reporter
Here are some tips on exploring the ocean beaches of Olympic National Park.
From Seattle, the quickest way to get to Kalaloch on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula is to drive south to Olympia, west to Hoquiam, then north on Highway 101. Allow about 3 1/2 hours for the 180-mile trip.
A more scenic, but longer, route is via the northern Olympic Peninsula. Take a ferry from the Seattle area to Bainbridge Island, Bremerton or Kingston, then head north and west through Sequim and Port Angeles on Highway 101 and continue on to the west coast. It takes an extra hour or more, depending on ferry schedules and if you get stuck behind a slowgoing RV.
Take the time along this northern route to drive up to 5,200-foot Hurricane Ridge, just south of Port Angeles, in Olympic National Park. There's a visitor center, easy nature trails and views of the rugged peaks at the park's heart. Or stop at Lake Crescent, a lake cradled in the Olympic foothills west of Port Angeles, for a picnic or a two-hour tour aboard a paddlewheeler. Phone Mosquito Fleet at Lake Crescent for information, 360-452-4520.
Where to stay
-- Kalaloch Lodge, a private concession within the park, has motel-type rooms in a two-story building, log cabins and waterfront cabins on a 30-foot-tall bluff above the beach. The waterfront cabins - called bluff cabins - have expansive views of the beach. Some are designed for couples, some with several bedrooms can accommodate families or groups.
The cabins are plain, but comfortable. They have kitchens, but no utensils for cooking or eating. Guests must bring their own - an annoyance when paying about $126 a night and up for a cabin in the peak summer season. (Rooms in the lodge are cheaper, and all rates drop in the fall.)
Kalaloch has a restaurant with some good seafood; a cozy bar; small general store and gas station. That's all there is to Kalaloch, besides a one-room park-visitor center and the national park campground.
Given the limited lodging on the coast, Kalaloch is booked up months ahead especially in summer, although there sometimes are cancellations. Information: (360) 962-2271.
-- The Ocean Park Resort at La Push is the only beachfront lodging on the 100-mile stretch of coast between Neah Bay and Kalaloch. The choice at the friendly tribal-run resort on the Quileute reservation ranges from very basic camping-type cabins to motel units and townhouse-style cabins with kitchens. The accommodations are plain and worn, but there are devotees who return yearly given the excellent location on First Beach. Rates start at about $40 for a campers' cabin - there's no bedding provided and no hot water - to about $78-$125 for the two- to three-bedroom cabins with full facilities, including a kitchen and fireplaces or glass-front wood stoves. There's no restaurant, but there's a convenience store/deli nearby. Phone (800) 487-1267.
-- The community of Forks, about 15 miles inland from La Push, is a little timber town that's turned toward tourism in recent years as logging has slumped. There are a half-dozen motels (with rooms sometimes half the price of a Kalaloch cabin) along the town's main street, plus a scattering of family-run inns and B&Bs on the outskirts, peacefully sited in the forest or along a river. Forks is the place to stock up on groceries, gas, and have a meal. And have a look at the Forks Timber Museum on the south edge of town, built with the help of local volunteers and the high-school carpentry class. Phone the Forks Visitor Center for information: (800) 44FORKS.
Camping in a tent or RV can get you closest to the ocean and is the easiest on the budget.
The park's oceanfront Kalaloch Campground has 117 sites for tents and RVs. It's first come, first served and it can be very tough to get a site, particularly on summer weekends. There are no hook-ups for RVs at Kalaloch, although there is a sanitary dump. The fee for an RV or tent is $10 per night.
Mora Campground, also in Olympic National Park, is about 1 1/2 miles inland from Rialto Beach. The campground has 94 sites ($10 a night, no hookups). Mora is a good base for exploring the beaches of La Push and Rialto. However, winter storms have washed out about half of the 100-vehicle beachside parking lot at Rialto, and the lot is closed this summer to large RVs and trailers since there's no room to turn around.
Other campgrounds are scattered across the inland coastal plain, including at Bogachiel State Park about six miles south of Forks on Highway 101 and at Klahanie, a few miles east of Forks in the Olympic National Forest. There also are campgrounds along the Hoh road and within the park at the Hoh Rain Forest.
For RVers looking for sites with hook-ups, the Ocean Park Resort at La Push has 54 RV sites for $13 a night (no reservations). The Lonesome Creek RV Park, next door to Ocean Park and also on tribal land, opened this spring and has 44 RV spaces with hookups, including some with ocean views. Fees are $20 to $29 a night. There also are seven teepees for rent and a few tent sites, plus a store. Information and reservations: (360) 374-4338. In Forks, the 101 RV Park (800-962-9964) has full hookups.
Another area with campgrounds and lodges/motels is Lake Quinault, about a 40-minute drive east of Kalaloch.
For more information on accommodations, get the state's free "Washington Lodging and Travel Guide," by phoning (800) 544-1800.
Backpackers can camp on the park's beaches along much of the coast, although not on the first mile or two of Rialto Beach nor on the beaches around Kalaloch. Back-country campers must have a permit. It's free and available at ranger stations and many trailheads.
In most areas there's no quota system for backpackers, but there are limits on the number of wilderness campers permitted in a 7-mile stretch near Cape Alava. For details and backpacker reservations, phone the park's wilderness information center at (360) 452-0300; the center has a new office, which was to open Thursday, behind the main park visitor center in Port Angeles.
More hotels, more recreation
If you prefer a beach getaway where there's more recreation and a much bigger choice of accommodations, contact the Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce at (360) 289-2451 and Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, (800) 451-2542.
Olympic National Park has an map/brochure for visitors that shows roads, trails, beaches and campgrounds. It's available free at park visitor centers and ranger stations, and through the federal Outdoor Information Recreation Center in downtown Seattle at 915 2nd Ave., in the Federal Building. Phone 220-7450.
The park's main visitor center is on the southern outskirts of Port Angeles; the national park/forest ranger station about five miles north of Forks also has information.
For more information contact: Superintendent, Olympic National Park, 600 East Park Avenue, Port Angeles, WA 98362. For recorded information on roads, weather and more, phone (360) 452-0329. Or phone the park visitor center, (360) 452-0330.
Books and other resources
Some good books that include information on the park include:
"Best Short Hikes in Washington's South Cascades and Olympics" (Mountaineers, $12.95). Descriptions of short beach walks in the park, such as Second Beach and Ruby Beach, and easy trails in the Hoh and Quinault rainforest.
"100 Hikes in Washington's South Cascade and Olympics" (Mountaineers, $12.95). Covers the day-long and overnight beach hikes (and mountain trails).
The recently published, 272-page "Natural History Guide: Olympic National Park" by Tim McNulty (Houghton Mifflin, $16.95) takes a serious look at the park's ecology and geology.
"Dan Youra's Olympic Peninsula Guide" is available free at many businesses and visitor centers on the Olympic Peninsula. The 47-page magazine lists accommodations, sights, park trails and more.
The Olympic Park Institute, an educational group, offers tours and seminars in the park including birdwatching, canoeing, backpacking and photography, with stays at its Lake Crescent lodge or camping. Phone (800) 775-3720. The Seattle Aquarium also is offering a two-night natural history tour of the Olympic coast in August; phone 386-4353 or 386-4313.
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