Family Fun | Outings + Activities | Travel | Family fun

Unplugged Summer Fun on the Olympic Peninsula

Camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, beachcombing and more low-tech adventures

Courtesy Kayak Brinnon

Nirvana did it. Jay Z did it. Even Alicia Keys did it. So 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 electrical outlet.

If the thought of enduring another summer filled with beeps, boops and the theme song from Animal Crossing 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 and run from vampires. It’s the Olympic Peninsula and it’s amazing.

Camping, fishing, hiking, bird watching, swimming, crabbing, rockhounding, digging huge holes in the sand — you can do all 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. Not only is Wi-Fi close to nonexistent when you’re deep in the woods, but 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 overlooked by families because getting there usually involves a ferryboat. But the ferry is a great marker. Once you’re on the other side, you are truly on vacation. Here are three areas to consider for your next unplugged getaway.

For Olympic Peninsula novices: 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 home to breathtaking views and incredible wildlife.

You can reach Hood Canal in several ways. We usually take the Edmonds/Kingston ferry out 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 Loop Highway.

Heading south on Highway 101, you’ll weave in and out of national forestland. Several Olympic National Forest campgrounds along this stretch (campsites are first come, first served; you can’t reserve sites) can serve as home base for a weekend full of nature. Try Falls View Campground, with a loop trail to the cascading waterfall on the Big Quilcene River; Collins Campground, located in Olympic National Forest on the shores of the Duckabush River; or Seal Rock Campground, located right on Hood Canal. 

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 along the river. The day-use park area 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 on the floor of the car.)

Up for more adventure? Go kayaking! Just off Highway 101 in Brinnon, find the little turquoise shack that is home to Kayak Brinnon. Owner Christina Maloney has eight years of experience leading kayak tours. Rent by the hour or go on her educational wildlife tour; either way, be prepared to get 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. 

Next stop: Sequim

Want to get farther out? Head northwest on Highway 101; about 45 miles from Dosewallips you’ll be in Sequim. Located in what is known as the Olympic rain shadow, Sequim enjoys a drier, brighter climate than the rest of the peninsula. Lavender 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, 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. Construction on the trail started in the 1990s and to date, 69 miles of it have been paved. 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 the Sound with a popular campsite (you can reserve some sites ahead, some are first-come, first served). 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, you’ll be rewarded with a free lighthouse tour and very tired children.

Another Sequim highlight is the Olympic Game Farm. A little like a zoo, a little like Disneyland’s Autopia, the game farm is basically a driving tour of animals. Buy a loaf of wheat bread (or three) with your admission and drive (slowly) though herds of llama, elk, bison and other intimidatingly fragrant animals. Watch sibling bonding skyrocket as friendly llamas stick their heads through the backseat windows in search of a tasty treat. You may have to wash bison slobber off the car, but this is one adventure your kids will never forget. 

Ruby Beach, flickr CC

Into the wild: Coast and rainforest

For an even more unplugged vacation, keep heading west on Highway 101, circling Olympic National Park. Eventually, you will end up in Forks. Yes, that Forks. More than the fictional home of vampires and Native American werewolves, Forks is a great place to outfit you and your family for a few days of hiking, fishing, whale watching, beachcombing or just hanging out in nature.

Low-tech lodging is plentiful. Bogachiel State Park, 5 miles south of Forks, is a riverside campground 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 and its millions of stacking stones; First Beach, along 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 Indian Reservation. It’s about a mile long, well maintained and 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 kiosk to purchase a pass ($20 per car, no fee from Aug. 25–28 for the National Park Service’s centennial) 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, 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.

You won’t find any Creepers or Zombie Pigmen in the Hoh. And texting is difficult when you’re busy making sandcastles. But whether it’s for a night or for a week, exploring the Olympic Peninsula is guaranteed to make memories that last forever, no charging cable required. 

Eating your way around the Peninsula

The Halfway House diner, Brinnon: Diner food and delicious pies.

Geoduck Restaurant and 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.

Gear Head Deli, Quilcene: Fill up on freshly made sandwiches and other tasty eats at this new spot in Quilcene; there’s a small park across the street where wiggly children can run their energy off..

Adagio Bean and Leaf, Sequim: Find premade sandwiches, coffee and ice cream in a space that looks like Hogwarts.

Thriftway, Forks: Pick up last-minute groceries and don’t miss the delicious fried chicken at the deli counter.

Three Rivers Resort Restaurant, La Push: The resort also has a rustic lodge and campground; the restaurant’s shakes and burgers are tasty (try the Werewolf Burger), and no vampires are allowed.

Hard Rain Cafe, Forks: This quirky gift shop cafe at the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest serves terrific salmon burgers.

More unplugged adventures

The 101 on KOA: OK, so KOA campgrounds do typically have Wi-Fi, as well as other amenities such as hot showers and laundry facilities — some even boast swimming pools and hot tubs! But this makes them ideal for a starter low-tech vacation.

Glamping: If camping is just a little too rustic (as in, you really need a bed), no worries: Cabin-like options abound in some of our state’s prettiest places. Book an unplugged getaway in a yurt on the coast, platform tent in the woods, or cabin near a roaring waterfall. 

Big river fun: For the ultimate unplugged summer adventure that young kids and teens alike will adore, book a one-day rafting adventure on rivers such as the Wenatchee (a wide eastern Washington classic) or the Methow (with stunning desert scenery). 

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