Take an old-time vacation, in the car
Taking a road trip is an economical way of taking the family on vacation, especially if you like to camp and see things for free. Both the Western and Northern coasts of Washington State offer incredible scenery, great hikes and a few unexpected fun treasures. Follow along my favorite route and visit some of the great stops along Highway 112 and highway 101.
Cape Flattery and Neah Bay
Both the northwestern most point of the contiguous United States, and the oldest permanently named feature in the state, Cape Flattery is great hike on a nice day. The path is well maintained and the roughest portions have been made easier with a series of boardwalks. Having hiked the trail before the boardwalks were put it I was delighted when I returned to Cape Flattery to discover that the Makah Nation, upon whose land the trail winds, had put in the boardwalks while teaching construction skills and earning partial college scholarships for tribal members.
Before entering the reservation, get a Recreation Permit as you’ll want this on your car in the parking areas. It’s sold at the Makah Museum, Washburn’s Store and at the Makah Tribal Center. Your $10 card is meant to hang on the rear view mirror and is good for the calendar year in which it’s purchased. As long as you’ve stopped the car, have a look at the Makah Museum for some excellent information about the tribe and some well done replicas of a long house and canoes.
Highway 112 follows the coastline pretty faithfully for many miles. Shipwreck Point, a State Natural Resource Conservation Area is a great place to take a break from driving and walk along the beach. Dayhikers will find plenty of trailheads just across the highway.
Sekiu and Clallam Bay
Once you make it to Clallam Bay you’re treated to giant fish statues, one at either end. “Rosie” graces Seiku, while “Gil” is running through the town of Clallam Bay. Here the road turns inland and at the junction with 113, go ahead and continue onto 113. When you hit the intersection with 101, turn East onto 101 and head towards Lake Crescent. If you are fan of difficult hikes, or just looking for some nice walks through the woods, Lake Crescent is your spot. An early morning walk to Marymere falls might include families of deer having breakfast by the trail, whereas the Mount Storm King Trail will pretty much wipe you out for the day. With a campground and a couple of resorts, it’s a nice place to spend the night. Picnickers will appreciate the tables set up in the grassy areas near the lake while boaters, fishing enthusiasts and brave swimmers will all find plenty to do here.
Port Angeles, Ferry to Victoria
Just off of highway 101, Port Angeles sits in a rain shadow which means you have a good chance of having a clear day here. A bit less picturesque than some of the other port towns along the coast, there are still plenty of things to do, as there are in any large town. If you are planning to take the ferry across to Victoria, BC, you’ve come to the right port. It’s almost $60 for car and driver and Victoria is really a walkers paradise. Think hard about whether or not you really need a car on the other side. There is long term parking nearby if you decide to cross on foot. Make sure you have a passport, it is Canada.
Sequim and Troll Haven
The Dungeness Spit is a great walk through the sand out to the lighthouse. A little more than 11 miles round trip out to the lighthouse, much of the spit is a wildlife refuge meant to be viewed from the trail. I say trail, but you’re really walking along the beach. Planning for low tide will save you from climbing over a lot of beached logs. The dedicated environmentalist will bring a plastic bag for picking up trash along the beach that can be tossed in the trash cans at the lighthouse. There is an entrance fee of $3 per family, and normally plenty of volunteers around to answer questions.
If you’re in a whimsical mood, take a side trip down Gardiner Road to Troll Haven. Umm…I think the name speaks for itself.
On your way out of Sequim, stop at Fat Smitty’s Restaurant. Sadly, because of food allergies I’ve never been able to eat here, but the mere mention of the name is enough to get any frequent fryer drooling. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. Even if you happen to overlook the giant sign, the half dozen carved statues out front will certainly catch your eye.
Port Townsend and Whidbey Island Ferry
The Victorian city of Port Townsend is our Eastern most stop on the coastal tour. It’s also a popular arts community and a great place to find local bands playing in coffeehouses and supper restaurants. The architecture alone is worth a walk through the town, and if you’re in a shopping mood, many shops offer pieces by local artists. Known for it’s wooden boat artisans, Port Townsend is a destination for boats of all sizes seeking repair or refurbishment. The NorthWest School of Wooden Boat Building offers classes to interested builders and usually has it’s door open for people wanting to walk through the shop.
If you’re interested in heading over to Whidbey Island, Port Townsend is where you’ll catch your ferry. It leaves roughly every 1.5 hours, but low tides will cancel sailings. If you’re on a tight schedule, consider making a reservation through WSDOT for your vehicle. The reservation deposit will apply to your ticket.
Don't forget to plan a trip to see the Western coast, and also the fun things around the Hood Canal and the Puget Sound.