Why is it that every time I ask my kids to unplug themselves from a screen, they turn into a pack of wolves? It’s as if they don’t know how to be human without some sort of device shining in their eyes.
If the thought of enduring another day filled with the beeps and boops of your kids’ games and videos makes you cringe, fear not! For there is a magical place where electronic gadgets will be forgotten, a place where your wolves can howl at the moon. It’s the Olympic Peninsula, and it’s amazing.
Camping, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, swimming, crabbing, rockhounding, digging huge holes in the sand — you can do all of these activities and more on the peninsula. The one thing you might not be able to do is update your social media every two minutes. Wi-Fi is close to nonexistent when you’re deep in the woods, and life moves at a different speed. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to enjoy everything and be glued to a screen.
Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state, the Olympic Peninsula is often reached by ferry. And the ferry ride serves as a great mental threshold, because once you’re on the other side, you are truly on vacation.
Read on to discover three areas of the peninsula to explore on your next unplugged family getaway.
Nearby Olympic Peninsula: Hood Canal
For a weekend adventure, the west side of Hood Canal is easy to access. Technically a fjord, Hood Canal is the body of water that separates the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. With calmer waters and millions of tiny inlets, it’s also a mecca for breathtaking views and an abundance of wildlife.
You can reach Hood Canal in several ways. My family usually takes the Edmonds-Kingston ferry to the Kitsap Peninsula, heading west on State Route 104. This will take you across the Hood Canal Bridge, and from there, you can connect to U.S. Highway 101 — the famous Olympic Peninsula Loop.
Heading south on Highway 101, you’ll weave in and out of national forestland. Several Olympic National Forest campgrounds along this stretch can serve as a home base for a weekend full of nature adventures. (Campsites are first come, first served; you can’t reserve sites.) Try Collins Campground, located in the Olympic National Forest on the shores of the Duckabush River, or Seal Rock Campground, situated right on Hood Canal. (Falls View Campground, with a loop trail to the cascading waterfall on the Big Quilcene River, remains closed for public safety, due to the hazard posed by diseased trees.)
If you’re looking to reserve a site before you go, try Dosewallips State Park, where you can rent cabins as well as camp right alongside the river. The day-use area of this park has a wide, flat beach along the Dosewallips River, perfect for skipping rocks or playing in the sand. Pro tip: Bring a towel and some sandwiches, because a short trip down to the beach is never short, or clean. (Nothing says “vacationing with the kids” quite like 37 pounds of sand deposited on the floor of the car.)
Up for more adventure? Go kayaking! Just off Highway 101 in Brinnon, find Hood Canal Adventures. Rent by the hour or go on a guided educational wildlife tour; either way, prepare to be blown away by sights of bald eagles, rock crabs in tidal inlets and fish of all sorts — your kids will be talking about it for days.
Where to eat on the Olympic Peninsula
You won’t find big-city dining, but these homey spots will fuel all of your peninsula adventures.
- Halfway House, Brinnon: Welcoming service and diner favorites will make this spot a new family favorite. Save room for the delicious pies and cobblers.
- Geoduck Restaurant & Lounge, Brinnon: Burgers and beer star at this friendly spot, which is technically a “biker bar,” but children are allowed in the restaurant and on the deck overlooking Hood Canal.
- Gearhead Deli, Quilcene: Fill up on freshly made sandwiches and other tasty eats at this spot in Quilcene; there’s a small park across the street where children can get their wiggles out.
- Adagio Bean & Leaf, Sequim: Find premade sandwiches, A+ coffee and ice cream in a space that looks like Hogwarts.
- Alder Wood Bistro, Sequim: You’re in for a treat at this wonderful restaurant, which serves wood-fired pizzas, delicious seafood entrées and more — all featuring locally sourced and organic ingredients.
- Hard Rain Cafe & Campground, Forks: This quirky gift shop café at the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest serves terrific salmon burgers.
Fun in the rain shadow in scenic Sequim
Want to get farther out? Head northwest on Highway 101; about 45 miles from Dosewallips you’ll arrive in Sequim. (Tip: It’s pronounced “skwim.”) Located in what is known as the Olympic rain shadow, Sequim enjoys a drier, brighter climate than the rest of the peninsula. Lavender fields and U-pick berry farms are plentiful out here and offer a great way to spend a lazy day.
For camping, we love Sequim Bay State Park. It’s a prime spot to hop on the Olympic Discovery Trail, a 130-mile bike path stretching from Port Townsend all the way to the Pacific Ocean. A great starter ride is to cycle 5.9 miles on a section of the trail from Sequim Bay to Railroad Bridge Park on the Dungeness River, where you can skip rocks all afternoon.
A few miles north of Sequim, the Dungeness Recreation Area is a 216-acre county park on Puget Sound with a popular campground. Spend a day hiking the world-famous Dungeness Spit, a 5.5-mile stretch of driftwood-strewn beach that “spits” out from the mainland. If you make it all the way to the end and back — an 11-mile commitment — you’ll be rewarded with a free lighthouse tour and very tired children.
Another popular spot in Sequim is the Olympic Game Farm. A little like a zoo, a little like Disneyland’s Autopia, this game farm is basically a driving tour of animals. Pay your admission and drive (slowly) to see llamas, elk, deer, bison, yaks, zebras, Kodiak bears and other intimidatingly fragrant animals. You may have to wash bison slobber off the car, but this is one adventure your kids will never forget. (Read a bit more about the farm here to decide if a visit is right for your family.)
Four miles west of the Olympic Game Farm, you’ll find the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for wild seabirds and waterfowl as well as a place for ample exploration of the remarkable geological feature that is the spit.
Into the wild: Coast and rain forest
For an even more unplugged vacation, keep heading west on Highway 101, circling Olympic National Park and visiting its amazing coast and rain forest. Eventually, you will end up in Forks. Yes, the Forks made famous in the “Twilight” series. More than the fictional home of vampires and Native American werewolves, Forks is a great place to outfit your family for a few days of hiking, fishing, watching for whales, beachcombing or just hanging out in nature.
Low-tech lodging is plentiful. Bogachiel State Park, 5 miles south of Forks, is a riverside campground located at the tip of the Hoh Rain Forest. Fifteen miles northwest of Forks, in the La Push area, Olympic National Park’s Mora Campground is close to stunning Rialto Beach, where you’ll see pelicans swooping and diving over the water. Nearby attractions include Ruby Beach, with its millions of stacking stones (parking and access to the beach are closed through mid-September for a construction project); First Beach, abutting the town of La Push; and our favorite, Second Beach. The trailhead for Second Beach can be found off La Push Road, on the Quileute Tribe’s land. It’s about a mile long, well maintained and utterly enchanting.
South of Forks, also within Olympic National Park, the historic Kalaloch Lodge has cabins for rent (with no TV or Wi-Fi), so you can stay on the bluff and wander the stunning beach below (watch out for logs and riptides). There is also an adjacent national park campground.
It’s difficult to imagine anything living up to the beauty of the Washington coast, but that’s because you’re not in Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest yet. Twenty miles south of Forks on Highway 101, turn down the Upper Hoh Road and start driving back in time — to prehistory. Stop at the national park entrance to pay your fee. If you have a fourth-grader, use your Every Kid Outdoors Pass to enter for free, and then head to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center.
Start your exploration in the Hall of Mosses, a short loop trail that introduces you to mammoth spruce trees, sheets of lichen and ferns so large that it’s almost a letdown not to see dinosaurs crashing around. A small detour from the trail will bring you to the banks of the Hoh River, a perfect stop for lunch and more mucking about.
Whether it’s for a night or for a week, exploring the Olympic Peninsula is guaranteed to make memories that will last forever — no charging cable required.
Editor's note: This article has been updated for 2022.