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3 Must-Visit Olympic Peninsula Towns

Don’t Miss Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend

Return to U.S. Route 101, which leads to Port Angeles, metropolis of the North Olympic Peninsula and an important fishing port, paper milling center and port of entry.

Fine Arts Center at Port Angeles
Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. Photo courtesy of PAFAC.

Port Angeles

The harbor was named El Puerto de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Port of Our Lady of the Angels) by Spanish Captain Francisco Eliza in 1791. For a grand panorama, drive out to the tip of Ediz Hook, a 4.5-mile-long sandbar protecting the harbor. Look back across the harbor — the city rises in terraces into the foothills against a backdrop of verdant mountains and snowcapped peaks. From a downtown dock, the Black Ball Line runs a daily passenger and auto ferry service across the Strait to Victoria, British Columbia.

The pleasant downtown faces the waterfront. Attractions here include a harbor-side park with an observation tower and the Feiro Marine Life Center. The Museum at the Carnegie is located in downtown’s former Carnegie Library, built in 1919. The 1933-built Richard B. Anderson Federal Building contains six themed history exhibits in its lobby.

The Olympic Coast Discovery Center at the Port Angeles Wharf has displays and information on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, an ecosystem of wilderness shoreline and adjoining ocean waters spanning more than 3,100 square miles.

The Olympic Discovery Trail follows the former Milwaukee Railroad line along the Port Angeles waterfront. A paved trail continues from the former Rayonier mill at the eastern end of town, past downtown and ends at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station near the tip of Ediz Hook. When complete this 140-mile trail will connect Port Townsend on the east with Sequim, Port Angeles, Lake Crescent, Forks and La Push on the west.

The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center in the uptown area showcases changing art exhibits. The 5-acre grounds feature walking trails and Webster’s Woods, an outdoor art park, and views of the city, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island.

Couple at Hurricane Ridge
Couple at Hurricane Ridge. Photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission.

Olympic National Park via Port Angeles

The city is also the headquarters of Olympic National Park. The Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles offers an excellent orientation to the wonders of the park. Just south of the center, Hurricane Ridge Road enters the park’s woodlands and begins an 18-mile climb to the crest of Hurricane Ridge (elevation 5,405 feet). From this height, sweeping views extend across the upper Elwha Valley into the wilderness heart of the Olympics. Near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, several hiking trails lead through alpine meadows where elk and deer graze in summer. Snowplows keep this road open during the winter months, but check the road status before you go. During winter a Park Service concessionaire operates a small ski area. The narrow, gravel Obstruction Point Road continues 8 miles east along the ridge crest, ending at an elevation of 6,100 feet just below Obstruction Peak. This is the highest point accessible by car on the Olympic Peninsula, but the road is not maintained in winter and not recommended for RVs or trailers. Follow the quarter-mile path to the 6,450-foot summit for panoramic views encompassing the rugged Olympics and north across the Dungeness Valley to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands. Retrace the route downhill to Port Angeles.

Road to Sequim
The scenery near Sequim. Photo by Wendy Olsen Photography/Getty Images.

The Road to Sequim

U.S. 101 leads east from Port Angeles through the Dungeness Valley, an attractive patchwork of farmland sandwiched between the outer ramparts of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Located in the lee or “rain shadow” of the Olympics, this area receives less than 20 inches of rain per year, a climatic anomaly in Western Washington. These fertile prairies attracted the first farmers in the 1850s. By the turn of the 20th century the Dungeness Valley was the largest tract of irrigated farmland in Western Washington. Olympic Cellars is one of several wineries in the area between Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend. Please remember to designate a driver.

Sequim is the bustling trading center for the valley and a popular retirement community due largely to the relatively dry, sunny climate. The town’s name (pronounced “Skwim”) derives from a Klallam word meaning “a place for going to shoot,” recalling the area’s once bountiful hunting for elk and waterfowl. The Irrigation Festival in early May is the state’s oldest continuing community event. The first took place in 1896. Local attractions include the Sequim Museum, Dungeness River Audubon Center and the Olympic Game Farm. The Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on the east side of town is a great place to obtain information on things to see and do.

Lilliwaup Falls in black and white
Lilliwaup Falls in black and white. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.

Scenic Drives

There are several scenic drives through the attractive countryside north and west of town, although urbanization is changing the area’s landscape. En route you’ll pass numerous lavender farms. The aromatic herb has cosmetic, culinary, medicinal, craft and decorative uses. The first fields were planted in 1995 and today the valley has approximately 40 growers. Sequim is considered the Lavender Capital of North America and many of the local farms are open to the public. The city hosts a Lavender Festival in July.

Dungeness Spit, curving 6 miles out into the chilly waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is one of the longest features of its kind in the world. Dungeness Recreation Area anchors the spit’s mainland base, while most of the spit and its bayside fringe of tidelands and marsh constitute the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. The 63-foot New Dungeness Lighthouse crowns the tip of the spit. The light was commissioned in 1927 to replace the original facility erected in 1857. It’s possible to hike to the end of the spit, but remember, you’ll have to foot-it all the way back — a 12-mile round trip. The hike is easier at low tide.

East of Sequim, U.S. 101 drops down to the saltwater shore of Sequim Bay. Two late 18th-century explorers failed to detect the bay — its mouth is concealed by two natural overlapping sandbars. It wasn’t recorded until the Wilkes Expedition of 1841. Wilkes labeled it Washington Harbor. The John Wayne Marina is popular with boaters. The late actor often enjoyed saltwater fishing trips here. Sequim Bay State Park features nearly a mile of shoreline, picnic sites and a campground.

Two miles beyond the park, the highway passes the quiet village of Blyn, a former logging town named for a sea captain. Nearby is 7 Cedars, a casino and hotel operated by the Jamestown-s’Klallam Tribe. Tall totems guard the casino, built in the style of a longhouse.

Discovery Bay near Port Townsend
Discovery Bay near Port Townsend. Photo by Camp Photo/Getty Images.

Sequim to Discovery Bay and Port Townsend

U.S. 101 skirts the southern reach of Sequim Bay, then crosses Miller Peninsula, a blunt headland separating Sequim Bay from Discovery Bay. Three miles east of Blyn, Diamond Point Road leads to a real estate development at the northeast tip of the peninsula. Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper named this Punta de San Juan in 1790. Wilkes called in North Bluff. Henry Kellet charted it as Clallam Point, a name that survived until 1941, when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names declared the present name official. The Diamond Point Quarantine Station operated here from 1894 until 1935. Shipboard immigrants suspected of having a contagious disease were hospitalized and/or confined here.

The highway passes through Gardiner, a former logging town founded in 1911 and named for founder Herbert B. Gardner. When the post office opened in 1916 the “I” was inserted, replicating the family name’s original spelling. Capt. George Vancouver landed here in 1792, naming the expansive bay Port Discovery for his vessel, HMS Discovery. Vancouver used this as a base to explore the nearby coastline, as did two Spanish expeditions in 1790 and 1791. Gonzalo López de Haro christened the inlet Puerto de Bodega y Quadra to honor his fellow countryman who explored the Northwest coast, although the name only appeared on Spanish charts.

The highway follows the shore to Discovery Bay, located at the head of its namesake inlet. S.R. 20 leads 12 miles northeast to Port Townsend, located on a protected harbor at the eastern end of the Quimper Peninsula. Founded in the 1850s, this was one of the leading cities on Puget Sound in the late 19th century. Its central blocks form a National Historic District and the city is renowned for its Victorian architecture.

– Written by John King. Updated by Jim Hammerand in December 2020
– Top Image of of a Sequim lavender field by Blueenayim/Getty Images.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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