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Exploring the Pacific Northwest by RV

Helpful Tips on Traveling the Pacific Coast from California's Redwoods Through Washington's Olympic Peninsula
Article Date: August, 2008


 

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Port Townsend and the North Coast

US-101 takes a turn to the east once it reaches the end of the Olympic Peninsula as it skirts around the Olympic Mountains. After passing through dense forests you will reach Crescent Lake and re-enter the boundaries of Olympic National Park. A very scenic drive eventually gets you to Port Angeles, which is a gateway and jumping off point if you want to boat over to Vancouver Island and see Sidney or Victoria. We haven't stayed here but the Salt Creek Recreation Area appears to have had favorable reviews by others. Instead, our personal choice is to stay at Fort Worden in Port Townsend.

Sol Duc and Crescent Lake

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Sol Duc Falls

Just west of Crescent Lake is Sol Duc. Sol Duc is an area with hot springs and the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort features hot spring pools as well as lodging and food service. Just up the road is the entrance to Sol Duc Falls. There is a small parking lot where you can park the toad and take a short hike will take you deep into the forest to Sol Duc Falls. You may find blacktail deer as well as other forest wildlife during this walk.

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Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent is located between the Olympic Mountains and Mount Storm King. It's 12 mile long crescent shape was carved by glaciers and runs east to west as US-101 winds along it's southern shore. This area is a twisty 35 MPH road but just fine for a large motorhome. Just enjoy the view! The historic Lake Crescent Lodge was built in 1916 and was the place where Franklin Delano Roosevelt stayed and inspired him to preserve this land as a national park.

Hurricane Ridge

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Hurricane Ridge Wildflowers

Hurricane Ridge is the third (after Hoh Rain Forest and Sol Duc Hot Springs) visitor center in Olympic National Park. It accessed via Hurricane Ridge Road from Port Angeles. This road does a long steady climb up the mountain and back down again. It is not recommended for large Vehicles. In fact one tourist lost his life when his motorhome's brakes faded coming back down. It's best to park the motorhome and take the toad up. It's a 45 minute drive to the top and visitors will find a visitor center, a snack bar and rest rooms and awesome views of the surrounding mountains. If you are traveling in late July you'll be there during the when the mountain wildflowers are blooming. The fields and slopes will be colored with vivid hues of wildflowers.

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Carrie Glacier From Hurrican Ridge

At the top you'll be at 5,200 feet of altitude surrounded by peaks and exposed glaciers. Many hiking trails are in this area but you do need to be prepared. Hurricane Ridge is named for its high winds and any kind of weather can blow in at a moment's notice. Just because it's July doesn't mean it can't snow at that altitude.

Sequim

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Sequim and the Dungeness Spit

Sequim (pronounced "Skwim") is located where the Dungeness River empties into the straits of San Juan de Fuca. At this point all of the sand that washes down from the Olympic Mountains forms a finger of land called the Dungeness spit that extends into the water. This forms the Dungeness Bay, which is a wildlife refuge for seals as well as birds. You can take the hike out onto the spit to observe the various wildlife but the side of the spit that faces to the bay is off limits because it's a seal pup nesting area. It begins at the Sequim Bay State Park and culminates at the lighthouse at the end of the two mile hike.

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Olympic Mountains from Sequim

Sequim is a native American word for "quiet waters." It's also know by pilots as "The hole in the clouds." Sequim lies in the rain shade of the Olympic Mountains. While the coastal area gets tons of rain every year Sequim gets as much sunshine as Phoenix, Arizona although the temperatures are more moderate. In fact, a cactus grows right outside city hall to help illustrate that point. The farmland surrounding Sequim is known for growing lavender. An annual lavender festival occurs every June when the fields are bright violet in color. For more information on Sequim, check out www.visitsun.com for more information. It's an easy drive from Port Townsend.

Olympic Game Farm

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Yak

We've seen so much natural beauty and wildlife in our travels that zoos and game farms just don't appeal to us any more. There is one exception though and that is the Olympic Game Farm, which is located on the outskirts of Sequim. This was started by Lloyd Beebe. Lloyd was renowned animal trainer who just plain understood how to communicate with wild animals. When Walt Disney had problems getting a cougar to act properly for one of his films he called upon Lloyd, who got Walt the shots he needed. That began a long relationship between Walt and Lloyd and many of the animal films were shot at "The Beebe Ranch" as Walt used to call it. Lloyd had a way to recreate any situation that would make an animal respond in the desired manner. So, rather than train the animal, he set the circumstance and the animal responded exactly they way he wanted it to.

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Feeding the Yak

Walt insisted that the ranch be closed to the public because he didn't want everyone recognizing the locations from his movies. Eventually Walt died and the relationship with the new Disney regime faded so Lloyd opened his ranch to the public and established Olympic Game Farm. You can tour the film area and see some of the sets. The television series Gentle Ben was filmed here as well but Ben passed away in the late 1990s so he is no longer there. A drive through area is the greatest part of this adventure. You can drive amongst the wildlife and they actually encourage feeding them. They sell loafs of bread at the front gate and we find that 4 loaves barely makes it. However, you can always go back and redrive the loop as often as you want during the day.

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Grizzly Bear

In most cases the animals will be free to roam right up to your vehicle. However, the bears are kept behind a short electrified fence. You can get within 10' of them if they come up to the fence, which is common. These bears are former actors so they know how to perform tricks for you in hopes of getting a slice of bread tossed their way. It's amazing how comical these guys can be.

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Feeding the Bison

Don't do this in Yellowstone. But it's okay at the Olympic Game Farm. The one warning they give you is that if you stop in this area your car make get a "Bison Buff." Bison like to roll in the dirt and dust themselves to keep bugs off of them so their fur isn't exactly the cleanest around. If they rub alongside your car they are not responsible for any scratches left. In that case you just slowly drive on through and don't stop. You might want to leave the Ferrari home for this trip.

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Feeding the Elk

Elk are awesome. When the last time you got to pet one? When you look out the sunroof and see that huge rack of antlers hanging over your vehicle and then they stick that large muzzle in through your window it is impressive. Give them some bread and pet them on the nose and they'll be your buddies for life. Needless to say, by the time you are done with this tour you'll want to vacuum all of the bread crumbs out of your vehicle and wipe the dried bison and elk drool off of your interior door panels. But, it's worth it.

Port Townsend

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Sunset From Fort Worden

As US-101 continues it's easterly direction it eventually comes to the end and now heads south towards Olympia, completely skirting the Olympic Peninsula like a giant J shaped hook. When it gets to the end you can take Washington-20 onto the Discovery Peninsula. It will end at Port Townsend, which was once considered to be the capital of Washington until Olympia lobbied to have the customs port moved to them. Located at the very end of the peninsula it's loaded with Victorian architecture and has a nice seaside village atmosphere to it.

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Rainbow Over Point Hudson

Port Townsend overlooks the Straits of San Juan de Fuca. Major shipping traffic passes by here and makes a right turn as it heads south down the Puget Sound to ports in Seattle or the naval base on Bainbridge Island. The lighthouse on Point Hudson marks that spot. One key feature at this area is Fort Worden.

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Bunkers at Fort Worden

Fort Worden was constructed after World War I and served as a coastal artillery defense fort to protect Seattle and the Puget Sound from any invading naval force. The fort is constructed high on the bluffs overlooking the straits as well as down below on the lower flats near Point Hudson. The fort was equipped with massive disappearing guns and mortars cable of knocking out any ships passing by.

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Entrance to Kinzie Battery

With the advent of the airplane as the preferred weapon, Fort Worden was no longer needed and eventually was closed. The land reverted to the state and was made into a state park. You may remember the fort if you have seen the movie "An Officer and a Gentlemen", which was filmed at the fort and various places in town. Fort Worden State Park has two campgrounds. One is located up on the bluffs while the second is down on the flats. We prefer the lower campground because it's roomy and located right next to the Kinsey Battery, which can be freely explored.

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Campsite at Fort Worden

The lower campground has a number of sites near to the beach. They are all pull-through sites parallel to the access roads and most have full hook-ups. There are steps cut into the side of the bluffs so that you can walk to the top and hike around that area to explore those batteries and magazines. A tall grass covered berm separate the sites from the winds coming off the beach.

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The Beach at Fort Worden Campground

Once you walk out over the berm you can explore the beach. You'll get awesome sunsets from here and you can walk down to the Point Hudson lighthouse to the east or alongside the bluffs to the west (if it is low tide). Fort Worden can be easily accessed from downtown Port Townsend, which has some great restaurants and shopping possibilities. Be sure to stop and eat at the Elevated Ice Cream Company. The Elevated is right downtown on the main street (Water Street) and is rated as one of the top 10 ice cream parlors in the country.

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The Port Townsend - Coupeville Ferry

Washington 20 really doesn't end at Port Townsend. The road itself ends but not the highway number. The Washington State Ferries provide access across the various bodies of water so that road going travelers don't have to drive all the way down to Olympia and then back up the other side. One such ferry is the Port Townsend to Coupeville ferry. This ferry crosses the Puget Sound, arriving at Coupeville on Whidbey Island, where Washington-20 continues as it drives up Whidbey Island to the north.

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Allegro Bus on the Ferry

We were fortunate to have been able to take the old Steel Electric class ferries between Port Townsend and Coupeville. These ferries were built in the 1930s and were found to have no longer met safety requirements so they were taken off line recently. New ferries have now replaced them. In order to take your RV across you will need to make an advance reservation. Be sure to check out Washington State Ferries for details before you go. There is plenty to see and do in Port Townsend though. Be sure to check out www.enjoypt.com and www.ptguide.com for more information.

Moving On

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Deception Pass Bridge

When leaving Port Townsend it is possible to drive south and take US-101 alongside the Hood Canal. However, we've done that and it wasn't that spectacular. I would recommend taking the ferry to Keystone and driving up Whidbey Island. When you get to the end of Whidbey Island a bridge takes you over Deception Pass and connects you to Fidalgo Island. continue on Washington 20 and head into Anacortes, which is our next stop.

 



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