$99 Road Trip – Soothing Sites on the Olympic Peninsula

$99 Road Trip – Soothing Sites on the Olympic Peninsula

A ferry ride, a stroll to a falls, a sandy beach, a tasty lunch — it’s a day trip to Port Angeles and beyond.
Share story
By Brian J. Cantwell
Seattle Times travel writer
OLYMPIC PENINSULA — Emerging from a pedestrian tunnel like something built for trolls, I stopped to admire a winter-bare maple that spread like an exotic emerald spider crouched along Highway 101.

Moss so thickly upholstered this old soul of the rain forest, just off the edge of teal-blue Lake Crescent, that ferns sprouted whiskerlike from every surface.
I was hiking from Olympic National Park’s Storm King Ranger Station to pretty, 90-foot-high Marymere Falls, a 1.8-mile round trip. Along the way, I traversed salal and huckleberry, cat-walked across a log bridge (with handrails), and marveled at what my wife called “grandpa trees,” including a cedar that would take 10 arms-linked hikers to encircle it.This was a day trip to see soothing sights of the Northern Olympic Peninsula. Besides the falls, we got a rare look at where dam removal has unleashed a wild river; strolled a sandy beach newly created by Mother Nature; and still had time for a natural-foods lunch and a bit of shopping at the edge of the Salish Sea’s deepest saltwater harbor, in Port Angeles.
All that, plus a Puget Sound ferry ride.

On $99, including gas, sales tax and ferry fare for two, we did it all in a day.

Make tracks for Lake Crescent
This makes for a full day, so get an early start and don’t skip breakfast

The 7:55 a.m. ferry from Edmonds gets you to the Kingston dock at about 8:30. Cost: $36.60 round-trip for car, driver and passenger on Washington State Ferries.

The beautiful, wispy Marymere Falls is reached via a .9-mile trail from Storm King Ranger Station, at the edge of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
The beautiful, wispy Marymere Falls is reached via a .9-mile trail from... (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times) More

From Kingston, make tracks for Olympic National Park’s Storm King Ranger Station, off Highway 101 on the edge of Lake Crescent, 20 miles west of Port Angeles. Driving time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Your first welcome sight when you arrive, besides the mist often hanging prettily over the lake: public restrooms. Take 10 before setting out. No fee or permit needed to park here.

10:25 a.m.: The trail to Marymere Falls starts just beyond the log-cabin ranger station, which is closed in the offseason. (Stop by its front door for posted information on the trail.)

Marymere is named for Mary Alice Barnes, sister of Charles Barnes, who homesteaded on Lake Crescent. The 624-foot-deep lake, gouged by ice thousands of years ago, contains little nitrogen and consequently little algae, accounting for its clarity and color.

The hike is easy and flat until you cross bridges over Barnes Creek and Falls Creek, after which you earn your reward with several sets of stairs and switchbacks, gaining 200 feet to the falls. There’s an upper route or a lower route, which form a loop; on our recent visit, trail damage had closed the lower approach to the falls.

From the upper trail, you reach the falls by split-rail lined paths that switchback down to a bowl at the head of a narrow canyon festooned with ferns, moss, hemlocks and cedars. Lovely.

Plan on a leisurely hour for the round trip.

A dam site, better

11:25 a.m.: It’s time to get a look at the site of the largest dam-removal project in history.

Point your car back east on 101 for 14.6 miles and turn left on Highway 112. Go 0.7 mile and turn left on Lower Dam Road. Take the first left and park in the lot signed for Elwha Dam Viewpoint Parking. No fee or permit required.

11:45 a.m.: Follow what’s signed as a wheelchair-accessible trail (watch out for trail erosion) past Nootka rose and snowberries.

A first overlook, the end of the “accessible” trail, reveals little of the dam site. Turn left on a narrower trail through mature second-growth firs and cedars.

Here, a raven croaked in treetops as we rounded a bend and first heard the “krissh” of a free-flowing river below.

An easy 15-minute walk brought us to a viewpoint with a free, permanently installed viewing scope, looking down on the river flowing through a rocky gorge and ramparts that once supported the Elwha Dam.

A brochure, laminate and attached to a railing, shows photos of the dam completed here in 1913 without fish passage facilities.  It was removed just less than 100 years later in an effort to restore wild salmon runs.  In April, 2012, the last switch was thrown to return the river to its original channel, a historic change in how America manages wild rivers.

Next - a stroll on the beach newly formed by the unleashed river

Elwha meets the Strait

12:45 p.m.: From the Lower Dam Road follow Highway 112 West 1.4 miles to Place Road.  Go north 1.9 miles to Elwha Dike Road (a sign points right to "Elwha River access",  Park on a pullout near the road's end. No fee or permit required.

12:25 p.m.: Follow the dike trail, a flat 10-minute walk to the beach fronting the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  You'll pass a lagoon all a-paddle with marine birds; this is a stop on the Great Washington State Birding Trail.  Bring binoculars.

This sandy, driftwood-strewn beach just west of Elwha's mouth "wasn't here a couple years ago, and it's different every time we come - it all depends on the tides and the river level," I heard from Ty Crowe, of Port Angeles, who was flying a Little Mermaid kite with his 6-year-old daughter, Roslyn.  The undammed river is washing down sediment and doing its own bit of continent building.

Other visitors romped with dogs (leash required) and took in the view of snowcapped mountains on Vancouver Island, 12 miles distant, as a crabbing boat meandered on adjacent Freshwater Bay.

A sign explained that the restoring nearshore habitat creates nursery grounds for migrating salmon and spawning grounds for surf smelt and sand lance

Around town

12:55 p.m.: Return to Highway 112, then Highway 101 East, bound for Port Angeles’ city center. Find free on-street parking near the transit mall at East Front and North Lincoln streets, site of the Port Angeles Farmers Market, open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays year-round. (Public restrooms here.)

12:55 p.m.: It isn't a big market in winter, but we enjoyed poking around, and picked up a big $8 bag of root vegetables - homemade soup on the hoof, we called it - from Nash's Organic Produce. Nash's is a regular at some Seattle markets, but the peninsula's Dungeness Valley, near Sequim, is home to its 75-acre produce farm.

"In summer, we get cool air off the strait, and vegetables don't like it too hot," farmstand worker Ivy Phillips told me. "And in winter, Sequim isn't too hot or too cold - not too many places have produce all winter!"

Also going home with us from the markets: a $6 (tax included) bar of handcrafted Moroccan Fig Soap from Port Angeles Lana Belle & Co. And for a snack on the ferry home: two $2 (tax included) "Hot Date" chocolates - sweetened with dates and roused up with a touch of cayenne - from Sequim's Shaeleen Evans, who runs the Goodness Tea stand.

"I used to be really political, but that doesn't exact as much change as living the way you believe," Evans tole me earnestly as she wrapped my purchase.

We could have lunched here - the Blues City Memphis-style Barbecue smoker smelled mighty good - but someone had recommended the deli at nearly Country Aire Natural Foods Market

Total farmers market purchases = $18. Running total for our budget travel day = $54.60

1:40 p.m.: We walked three blocks to the market at 200 W. First St. Who knew that this mill town, whose local beer palace prides itself on a brew called Redneck Logger, had its own version of lefty-food PCC?

Tip: Even though you're hungry, share a sandwich from this deli.  They're huge (and delicious.)  At pleasant indoor seating we split a Club Sandwich on focaccia bread, $8.95, plus a 16-ounce carton of chunky, house-made tomato bisque, $4.99 (ask for an extra bowl), and then waddled up the street to look at shops.  Total plus 8.4 percent sales tax = $15.12

2:20 p.m.: The shopping core tends toward antique malls and local boutiques. What drew us in: the oddly interesting Anime Kat shop (114 W. First St.,animekat.com), claiming to be “the oldest anime and gaming store on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula” (is there competition for that title

We bought an “Animerica” comic book for a young friend who is an anime fiend. $3 plus tax = $3.26.A local new-and-used book shop was another enticement. At Port Book & News (104 E. First St.,portbooknews.com), I picked up a Mac’s Field Guide to the fauna of Olympic National Park (a nice souvenir, handy for future trips), $4.95; and a collectible used paperback of North Bend author Earl Emerson’s “The Rainy City,” the first of his Thomas Black private-eye stories set in Seattle, $2.50. Both purchases with tax = $8.08. Running total for the trip = $81.06.

On the way back to your car, inspect the street art on Laurel Street, site of resident artist Bob Stokes’ “Avenue of the People,” 15 abstract human figures in rusty steel. There’s also a handsome mural of the no-longer-with-us, art-deco-style Kalakala ferry, which used to make port here.

3 p.m.: You could skedaddle for Kingston and the 4:40 p.m. ferry (Google Maps calls it a one-hour, 13-minute drive). Or take life more leisurely, explore the new pathways along the Port Angeles waterfront for a few minutes, and aim for the 5:30 sailing (winter schedule).

On the ferry, get two cups of coffee ($4, tax included) to wash down those spicy chocolates.

All that’s left to tabulate: gas for 205 miles of driving, measured round-trip from Seattle. If you get 32 mpg (based on a Subaru Forester, one of Seattle’s best-selling cars) and pay $2.22 per gallon, the metro area’s average price at this writing, your bill at the pump = $14.23.

Grand total for the day’s outing for two = $99.29, plus tips where appropriate.

There you have it, another road trip to remember, with change back from your 100 bucks.Don’t spend it all in one place.


Getting there

 From Edmonds, Washington State Ferries sails daily for Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula once or twice an hour. The crossing is about 30 minutes. wsdot.wa.gov/ferries From Kingston, follow Highway 104 across the Hood Canal Bridge to connect to Highway 101 for Port Angeles.

Budget lodging

Want to make an overnight of it? Rooms start at $49.95, breakfast included, on winter weekends at the modest but comfortable Port Angeles Inn, 111 E. Second St.; portangelesinn.com

Share the love

Tips, discretionary by definition, aren’t included in this accounting. Keep some extra bucks in your pocket to show appreciatio

More information

Comments are closed.