Road Trip: Olympic Penninsula

Written By Beth Geiger

It’s time for a road trip! Discover iconic beauty, lesser known gems, and Nature Conservancy treasures on a three day loop around the Olympic Peninsula

Day One:

First stop: Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. Stroll through bizarre head-high mounds (origin still debated), along with the rare Puget Prairie ecosystem: only 2.6% of its original extent remains. The Conservancy helped preserve this unique place, and we work with partners to restore the prairie ecosystem.

Option: full day add on to Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge, about a 60 mile detour south of Aberdeen.

Next, flock to Gray’s Harbor National Wildlife Refuge near Hoquiam. In spring hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds—including most of the world’s Western sandpipers—stop here. Hoquiam celebrates with the Shorebird Festival. By July, some birds are passing back through. The Conservancy leads a project nearby to remove derelict fishing gear, protecting these birds and other marine life. Tip: Arrive within two hours of high tide to see the most birds.

Sleep at Lake Quinault deep in the rainforest, or at Kalaloch for spectacular ocean views.

Day Two:

Don’t miss picture-perfect Ruby Beach, nine miles north of Kalaloch, where a short path through wind-bent madronas leads to an iconic place of pounding surf and rocky islands.

Along Highway 101 you’ll cross the Queets, Quinault, and Clearwater Rivers. The Conservancy helps sustainably manage these river corridors, which are crucial habitat links between the Olympic Mountains and Pacific Ocean.

Option: Half to full day to Hoh Rainforest, a 27 mile detour to the National Park visitor’s center, camping, and trails through the famous rainforest.

Just past Forks, turn left twelve miles to La Push. For a true wilderness coast, walk 1.2 mossy miles to sea-stack studded Second Beach (trailhead is on left just before La Push).

Another 45 minutes on Highway 101 brings you to Lake Crescent. Just past the lake, turn onto East Beach, then Boundary Creek Roads. Stroll a section of the Spruce Railroad Trail, which dates from World War 1, when spruce was logged to build airplanes. In a mile a wooden bridge crosses the lake’s startlingly blue water.

Option: Half day to Sol Duc Hot Springs and Sol Duc falls loop hike, Olympic National Park (camping available).

Continue north past Joyce (sweet general store) to Clallam County’s Salt Creek Recreation Area for some of Washington’s finest tidepooling (camping available).

Find lodges or camping in the national park, or motels farther east in Port Angeles or Sequim.

Day Three:

Two miles before Sequim, find Railroad Bridge Park (left on Carlsborg, right on Runnion), where the Olympic Discovery Trail crosses the Dungeness River on a new 750-foot long footbridge. In 2015, the S’Klallam Tribe and the Conservancy replaced the old, damaged bridge, using funding from the Conservancy-led Floodplains by Design program. Walk the bridge, look for eagles, and visit the Audubon Center. 

On to historic Port Townsend for lunch and browsing in the 1890s downtown. Then, ferry east to Whidbey Island. The Conservancy’s Robert Y. Pratt Preserve within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve (left on Main, right on Hill) is a few miles north at Coupeville. A three-mile trail follows the bluff, returning on the beach. Ascend the bluff, then catch your breath along with big views west across Admiralty Inlet.

Grab a cool treat in quaint Coupeville, then return south to the Mukilteo ferry and back to Interstate 5.


Wide Open Spaces, Forest Hikes and Sagebrush Rambles

Written by Beth Geiger

Ramble through fragrant sage and fantastic geology, along with a bit of history, wine tasting, and a bat count on this multi-day loop through eastern Washington.

Day One:

Start in a tunnel of trees on Highway 410 from Enumclaw to scenic Chinook Pass, where you can ramble flowery meadows around tiny Tipsoo Lake (tadpoles!) or hike three miles around Naches Peak. Then drive east into Ponderosa pine country.

Fifty miles from Chinook Pass, turn right on Highway 12 to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area Visitors Center on the Tieton River. The Conservancy purchased 10,000 acres to expand this area. Watch for wildlife and cliffs along the six-mile Tieton River Nature Trail. A suspension bridge 1.8 miles from the visitor’s center makes a good turnaround.

Stop by Tieton, where artisans have set up shop in old fruit warehouses, offering everything from colorful mosaics to artisanal cheese. Check for details and events.

Yakima offers hotels, wine tasting, Mexican food, and a pleasant river walk.

Option: half day side trip to see Murals at Toppenish and Fort Simcoe Historical State Park.

Day Two:

Head up the Yakima River Canyon along Route 821. The Conservancy helps protect Yakima River headwaters with our 2015 central Cascade lands purchase. Swing over a suspension footbridge to explore Umtanum Creek Canyon, watching for old orchards (and rattlesnakes).

Next: north via Ellensburg, Interstate 90, and Route 281 to Quincy for the Conservancy’s Beezley Hill Preserve. The 3-mile Monument Hill Trail (east on Route 28 from Quincy, left on PN-W Road 7 miles) features desert flowers and sweeping views of the Columbia Basin.

Heading north on Route 17, take an hour to explore Lenore Lake caves, carved by epic glacial floods that scoured Eastern Washington 12,000 to15,000 years ago, and later used by Native Americans. 

On Route 28 past Ephrata, don’t miss Dry Falls Interpretative Center at Sun Lakes State Park (camping available). You’ll see a Niagara-sized waterfall, minus the water. Imagine it raging during the massive ice age floods that scoured the region about 12,000 years ago.

Cool your feet in the Columbia River at Steamboat Rock State Park (camping available), and find lodging in Electric City.

Day Three:

Start your day with a free tour of imposing Grand Coulee Dam, which changed the face of the northwest when it was built in the 1930s.

Returning south to Route 2 west, take a right onto Jameson Lake Road into the Conservancy’s Moses Coulee Preserve, another landscape carved by the ice age floods. Explore wildlife, sagebrush and basalt pillars along the half-mile trail to Dutch Henry Falls.

Feeling batty? On July 16th and 30th stick around cliff-rimmed Jameson Lake to volunteer for the Conservancy’s night time spotted bat count. One of 14 bat species here, spotted bats are among the only bat species whose echolocation is audible to humans. The count is an unusual chance to experience the desert at night and help endangered animals. 

Continuing west, explore pioneer times in historic Waterville. Find accommodations and evening events around Wenatchee and Leavenworth.

Day Four:

Discover fairyland charm at lovely Ohme Gardens, perched on a shady butte in Wenatchee. Then follow Route 97 to the historic coal mining towns of Cle Elum and Roslyn (explore the Coal Mines Trail), around the Conservancy’s 2015 48,000-acre Central Cascades checkerboard land purchase. Explore these lands on a challenging hike to Margaret Lake/ Lake Lillian or an easy hike along Kachess Lake before heading west on Interstate 90 to complete your adventure.