Follow the Hood Canal Fjord for Small Towns and Outdoor Adventures
Tucked between the Puget Sound and the Olympic National Forest, the Hood Canal was formed millennia ago when a receding ice sheet created the narrow, hook-shaped fjord.
The area is rich with icons of Western Washington terrain. Mossy forests meet crystal clear waters and the snow-capped Olympics dominate any glance to the northwest.
Pack a camera, binoculars and an appetite to explore the Hood Canal region’s towns, forests and waterways.
Check Olympic National Park‘s website for road and facility closures before you go, and call or go online to confirm the availability of specific attractions and services such as fuel, lodging, restaurants, seasonal events and gatherings.
Explore the Towns
As you wind your way down Route 106, the roadside is dotted with must-stop places.
The rustic but stylish Union City Market offers specialty groceries, a smoothie stand, and hearty meals cooked over an open fire. Hunter Farms, a sixth-generation family farm in operation since 1889, sells fresh veggies, pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees.
As you head toward Hoodsport, keep your eyes peeled for the 96-year-old Dalby Water Wheel. In Hoodsport, park the car and explore the small downtown by foot where there are good options for grabbing a snack or drink, or browsing for gifts and jewelry.
South of the canal, the city of Shelton’s Mason County Historical Society and Skyline Drive-in Theater are historic glimpses into very different eras. Dedicated as a public library in 1914, the historical society building now houses documents and photos from the city’s pioneering past. The drive-in — established in 1964 — offers the classic mid-century American experience of watching a movie from the comfort of your car.
Hit the Trails
Near Belfair, explore Mary E. Theler Wetlands Preserve’s 3.5 miles of accessible walking trails and learn about the protected salt marsh and estuary. The nearby Salmon Center aims to nurture the relationship between people, land and salmon. Pick up some fresh free-range eggs and u-pick vegetables when the center opens its farm to the public.
About 16 miles from Union, the High Steel Bridge, built in 1929, is the second-highest bridge in Washington. From a perch 420 feet above the Skokomish River’s South Fork, the views are thrilling, but not for those made queasy by heights. Heed warnings not to hike the trails under the bridge, which are not maintained and very dangerous.
The 1.5-mile Living Legacy interpretive Trail that runs along the Hamma Hamma River tells the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps through signs along the trail (the first quarter mile is wheelchair accessible). Established by Congress during the Great Depression, the CCC employed about 3 million men to build infrastructure in parks and forests. If you plan well ahead, you might book the historic Hamma Hamma Cabin, a former guard station completed by the CCC in 1937.
Falls View Canyon, off Route 101 just south of Quilcene is a popular trail and campground, with rhododendrons, lilies and honeysuckle blooming in the spring. Take one of two trails to see 100-foot falls crash into the Quilcene River. The 0.1-mile option is an easy trip to a great view, or you can descend 200 feet to explore the riverside and get a good workout on your return climb.
Play in the Water
Scuba divers travel to the Hood Canal for calm waters and glimpses of giant Pacific octopuses and wolf eels. Outfitters in the area offer certification for new divers. Potlatch State Park, Scenic Beach State Park, and Octopus Hole Conservation Area north of Hoodsport are just a few diving destinations in the area.
Beachside parks deliver stunning views of the Olympic Mountains and an opportunity to harvest your own shellfish if you bring your boots, get a license, and are willing to dig. Belfair State Park and Twanoh State Park in Union are excellent beaches for oysters. At Potlatch State Park, you might also find clams. When digging for shellfish, always check conditional closures and limits.
If you seek to get on the water, you can paddle stretches of rivers like the Hamma Hamma, the Duckabush and the Dosewallips, or plot a course along the Cascadia Marine Trail.
If you’re renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard but don’t have the proper roof-racks to transport them, you might want to consider delivery by an outfitter like Hood Canal Adventures, which is the only company allowed to drop off kayaks at Olympic National Forest’s Seal Rock Campground. This lush campground on Hood Canal has oyster beds, tent camping, RV sites and wheelchair accessible facilities.
—Written by Adrianne Kocinski, last updated in September 2022.