USA // The Pacific Northwest //

The Olympic Peninsula

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Some thirty miles from Seattle, the far northwest corner of Washington State ends at the Olympic Peninsula, a largely untouched wilderness of great snow-capped peaks, tangled rainforests and the pristine beaches of the Pacific edge, as well as being home to eight Native American tribes. As every tween will inform you, this is also the moody, vampire-laced landscape of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series – though the films were mostly shot in Oregon, the books are set in Forks, just outside Olympic National Park. Fringed with logging communities such as this, it’s the magnificent national park where you should spend most of your time, with its superb hiking trails, campgrounds and lodges.

With its multicoloured mansions overlooking the water, convivial cafés and compact scale, PORT TOWNSEND is a handsome relic from the 1890s. Perched on the peninsula’s northeastern tip across from Whidbey Island, Port Townsend’s physical split – half on a bluff, half at sea level – reflects nineteenth-century social divisions, when wealthy merchants built their houses Uptown, far above the clamour of the working-class port below. The Downtown area lies at the base of the hill on Water Street, which sports an attractive medley of Victorian brick-and-stone commercial buildings, now home to restaurants, boutiques and especially, art galleries.

Fifty miles west of Port Townsend, PORT ANGELES is the most popular point of entry into Olympic National Park, a few miles to the south. Its harbour is backed by soaring mountains, but there are few reasons to linger at this workaday stopover – other than the town’s having the peninsula’s best transport links and the biggest choice of motels, supermarkets and cheap places to eat.

Magnificent OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, comprising the colossal Olympic Mountains in the heart of the peninsula plus a separate, isolated sixty-mile strip of Pacific coastline farther west, is one of Washington’s prime wilderness destinations, with raging rivers, alpine meadows, sizeable tracts of moss-draped rainforest and boundless opportunities for spectacular hiking and wildlife watching. Black-tailed deer are fairly common and quite relaxed around people wielding cameras; black bears, Roosevelt elk and cougars are rarer to spot.

Around 95 percent of the park is designated wilderness and inaccessible by car; no roads go through the middle but instead enter the interior from its edge like spokes on a wheel. Get oriented and check latest conditions at the main visitor centre in Port Angeles before driving seventeen miles (one way) up to Hurricane Ridge, which at 5242ft affords mesmerizing views of the jagged peaks and sparkling mountain glaciers around Mount Olympus (7980ft), the park’s highest point (its peak is only accessible to professional mountaineers).