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The Best Olympic Peninsula Auto Tour

Olympic Peninsula hand-drawn map
Auto Tour map of the Olympic Peninsula, by John King.

Explore Olympic Peninsula Scenic Drives, Beaches, Towns and More

By John King

The Olympic Peninsula is one of North America’s scenic marvels. Saltwater shores form its western, northern and eastern flanks. A dense forest covers much of the peninsula, occasionally cleared for farming as in the Chehalis Valley in the south and the Dungeness Valley in the northeast. More than a century of logging has left its mark on the landscape in the extensive areas of clear cuts, second-growth forest and vast reforestation tracts, found principally around the margins of the peninsula.

The rugged Olympic Mountains — a realm of deep valleys and glaciated crags — dominate the central part of the peninsula. Their western slopes face the prevailing westerly winds and the resulting copious rainfall (upwards of 200 inches per year) nurtures the western hemisphere’s largest temperate rainforest. On the opposite side of the peninsula, rainfall in the Dungeness Valley is so light (averaging less than 20 inches) that farmers must irrigate their crops.

President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the core of the peninsula as Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909. In 1938 Congress enlarged its area and established Olympic National Park. Today the park covers more than 1,400 square miles, including a 60-mile strip along the Pacific. In recognition of its exceptional natural features and diversity, the United Nations designated the park a World Heritage Site in 1982.

Our self-guiding auto tour (divided into six parts below) encircles the Olympic Peninsula in a clockwise direction. Most of the route, part of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway that runs through Oregon, is an excellent two-lane highway with some multi-lane sections from Olympia to Shelton and Hoquiam, and between Port Angeles and Sequim.

The route is drivable year-round, although the best weather is in the summer and early fall. Rain — heavy at times, especially in the west — constitutes the primary driving hazard. Although precipitation occurs in all months, it is heaviest from November through April. Snow is relatively infrequent at lower elevations, but remains on the ground from winter into early spring above about 3,000 feet.

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