Bikepacking around the Olympic Peninsula
6 day loop around the Olympic Peninsula, starting and ending in Olympia. Route based on the Adventure Cycling Washington State Parks maps.
Route available at https://ridewithgps.com/routes/22594421
Day 1 — Hood Canal
We drove up to Olympia Wednesday night after work, leaving plenty of time to catch up with some Portland friends that recently moved, Scott and Kassina. Scott was kind enough to whip us up some delicious egg and rice tacos and ride us a ways out of town. Our first day consisted of a 60 mile route starting in downtown Olympia, heading east out on the 101 before turning north along the west shore of Hood Canal. Riding out of town past the Capital and Capital Lake was the fun before a good chuck of busy 101 miles. It was only 12 miles in that we encountered our first and only flat of the trip, just outside Shelton.
101 became gorgeous after not too long. Mountain views, riding along the water, that’s hard to beat. Soon we were on water’s edge, and my mind wandered to riding down Chuckanut drive, into Bellingham. We opted for a couple quick stops to soak in views of the canal.
Our first camping spot was at Dosewallips State Park, just outside the small town of Brinnon. I was stoked to find It’s-Its in a giant freezer, right at check-in. Obviously we promptly inhaled a couple. A large campground with both an RV loop and a couple tent-only loops, we found our site right on the river. Gorgeous! Except that I was eaten alive by Mosquitos literally within minutes. We had some time to explore and set up camp, then rode up to a nearby convenience store to source dinner as well as some bug spray. It was time to get creative in a gas station-sized store, and here we discovered the perfection of frozen vegetables! I came out with a bag of frozen mixed veggies, a box of Kraft mac&cheese, cottage cheese and a six-pack of Rolling Rock. Dinner was delicious and filling. So close to Solstice, we enjoyed a late, beautiful sunset over the water to end our first day on the road.
Quick note about food storage. We brought a length of line to hang a pannier with food each night in an effort to keep critters away. However, we managed to forget a banana in one of Phil’s bags and awoke in the middle of the night to find a raccoon trying to make off with it! Needless to say we were more careful the rest of the trip and didn’t have any other encounters with small (or large) critters at our campsites. Just a dirty, raccoon-handled pannier.
Day 2 — Olympic Discovery Trail
Day two was the longest day of the tour and it felt like it. We covered 64 miles from Dosewallips to Port Angeles, following the 101 straight north before connecting with the Olympic Discovery Trail just outside Sequim. The ODT is a dedicated multi-use path that will one day run east to west across the length on the peninsula. In our case, it offered us 25 car free miles into Port Angeles and a welcome change from riding on the highway.
Given the previous morning’s flat tire, we stopped at All Around Bikes in Sequim, which is right off the ODT, to grab another spare tube and top off tire pressure. I knew my tire was running low after using a CO2 on the flat, but was surprised to see it at 30 psi! Turns out the shop will be closing for good in the next few weeks, but we were glad for the spare parts and input on our day 3 route. Based on the owners input, we decided to adjust our route from taking 112 out around the NW corner of the peninsula to sticking to the 101 up through Olympic National Park and around Lake Crescent. More on that wise decision later.
Overall, trail conditions on this section of the ODT varied from awesome to less than ideal. The further west we rode towards Port Angeles the more often the trail curved and meandered with short, punchy climbs through the woods. Popping out onto the coast didn’t help things, as a strong late afternoon breeze had picked up and reduced our pace to what felt like a crawl. While all of that would have been completely awesome if we were fresh and full of energy, at this point in the day we were tired, hungry, zombies ready to relax over food. Feeling depleted from a big day with plenty of climbing, we headed into town for a huge and well earned burrito dinner, washed down with Horchata.
Warmed up and full, we resupplied at Safeway in the middle of town and rode the last 8 miles out around the airport and up the Elwha River (pictured below) where we camped at the Elwha Dam RV Park. One of the owners, seeing we had a long day, offered us a few beers as they don’t sell any in the park. He referenced the “club house” which I immediately took to assume some sort of bar. In reality, it was a small kitchen with a couch and shower rooms. Whoops — you can tell where my head was at. When I immediately asked him if there was beer in there, he replied maybe when the park “grows up” and handed over a couple frosty beers. First of many acts of kindness by strangers on this trip! Our one and only shower of the trip was the best way to end that day.
Day 3 — Crescent Lake
Deer on the side of the road (left) and picture of the lakeside road (right)
Prior to the trip we laid out two routes for day 3, one out 112 along the coast and one on the 101 through Olympic National Park. The road around Lake Crescent is notoriously narrow with limited visibility, so we had planned to stick to the coast. However, the bike shop owner in Sequim suggested we’d be fine if we went early and beat the car traffic. Turned out to be one of the best decisions of the tour!
Stories of the 101 along Lake Crescent made it sound sketchy and dangerous, so we got an early start to beat traffic. Being a Saturday, it was all tourist traffic (as opposed to trucks). We hit the bicycle warning light before heading into the section, which blinks for one hour. What a surprise it was. We rode lakeside for ten miles, pulling over to gawk and take pictures, and the road felt far from sketchy! Lake Crescent is massive, and that early morning sunshine looked so good on its sparkly surface.
Out of the lake there was a long descent and then many miles straight into headwind. We took turns in front and counted down the miles until Hungry Bear Diner — a potential brunch spot we spotted on the map. After an early morning, not a lot of food, then many hard miles, we were beyond ready for a brunch feast, and that is exactly what we got. It was fantastic. Our waitress had not only bright blue eye-liner but bright blue mascara to match. We loaded up on plates of classic diner food that we could come no where near finishing.
We rode along on full stomachs, until stopping in a grocery store in Forks to resupply food and to grab a bag of ice for the campsite, which was about 6 miles up the road. Forks is where the Twilight movies were shot, and there were more than a few references seen among its businesses.
Six miles south of Forks is Bogacheil State Park , complete with real hiker/biker sites. It sits on the edge of the Hoh Rainforest and was arguably the most scenic campground of the tour .Not having reserved a campsite, we lucked out with the best hiker-biker site, before three other bikepackers rolled in as well. As you would expect of a rainforest, it was shockingly green and jungley.
Gotta have a frosty 6-pack
Our very private campsite, looking down on the river.
Day 4 — Pacific Ocean
With no reserved campsite and a popular destination ahead, we got going early once again, and hauled. First up was a quiet road through wet rainforest, still very cloudy that early.
Soon we were headed straight for the coast, which was quite exciting to both of us. Phil had been looking forward to riding along the coast the whole trip, and signs of coastal vegetation and salty air brought an immediate sense of calm to me. There is no where like the Pacific Northwest coast.
We made a pit stop for coffee and breakfast at Kalaloch State Park. It was only about 10:30 by this time so we were pleased with the time we were making.
We share a love for breakfast cereal. Because it’s rare we ever have any, it’s always a treat, especially these sugary classics.
So you want to find an open campsite near Lake Quinault over 4th of July weekend? Good luck! However, that was the plan, so we had to make it work. After a fruitless discussion with the lodge staff and deciding we really didn’t want to ride miles up a random forest service road to camp for the night, we rolled down to one of the campgrounds on the lake to sell our story to the camp host. Lucky for us (there’s a theme on this trip), the first host happened to be one of those “I always take care of bikers!” kinda guys, and within minutes we were setting up camp. Below is feet from where we pitched our tent, which was under a seriously giant tree.
The rest of the day was spent hanging around the mercantile to charge our phones, lounging near the lake, and enjoying a well earned dinner (complete with beers in real pint glasses!) at one of the few area restaurants. The campsite house, Bruce, a 70-year old quick-witted guy, had a couple friends around our age visiting as well as his wife, all from Vancouver, WA. Bruce was a logging truck driver on the Olympic Peninsula until the industry mellowed, after which he became a teacher in the Quinault area. He was far from short of opinions, lacking any sort of filter, and therefore was a bit of a riot to hang out with. The visiting couple was a very sweet guy with tattoos on his hands and a woman who installs eyelash extensions for a living. The evening ended around the campfire with the host and his friends, complete with great conversation, fireworks, and shots of Fireball. What a perfect day. They thought we were crazy, we thought they were slightly crazy… it’s good for you to spend time with those that are different.
One last little obstacle for the day — on the bathroom was a notice about a recent bear siting at the next door campground. We didn’t really want to risk tempting a bear with our food in a tree trick, so I wrote a note and stashed the bag in the woman’s bathroom, hoping for the best. It was untouched the next morning and we slept well.
Day 5 — Back Roads
Coffee and breakfast on the lake was beautifully peaceful. At this point, getting up and at it was habit, and we had our morning camp breakdown routine to a tee. We waved goodbye to Bruce as he headed out for his daily morning bathroom cleaning duties, and hit the road.
Somewhat by design, our daily mileage tapered off the last two days of tour. Our route from Lake Quinault to Montesano was a mere 50 miles. The route headed southeast, away from the 101 and back inland. We rode through a whole lot of nothing. The scenery was still beautiful, but almost vacant of civilization for quite some time.
We made a slight detour to grab a snack at a grocery store down a dead end road. Hearing voices from outside the little store, I walked inside and halted a loud, friendly conversation between 4 older guys and the cashier woman. They stopped to stare at me until one said “are you lost?” I smiled and said, “no, just looking for snacks!” They were super friendly and by the time I paid and made it outside, Phil was fully engaged in conversation with all four of them. Their school growing up in this tiny town was 150 kids total, across all grades. They joked about their nosy, incestuous little community but were clearly proud of its history.
We continued through pretty farmland roads until rolling into the quaint town of Montesano. Another mile straight up a hill, we landed in a very nicely maintained campground, Lake Sylvia State Park. Clearly a haven for families with kids, people were splashing around and canoeing in the lake. We jumped right on a couple of classic Klondike bars from check-in.
We went through a 6-pack a night, no problem (left), another creative small town store dinner of tofu pho this time, with frozen veggies again.
Each night Phil hung a clothes line to air out the kits, or dry them after washing with Dr. Bronners.
Day 6 — Highway Home
It was a cold morning on Lake Sylvia, probably the coldest of the trip, which felt strange for the Fourth of July. We rode along a quiet road, parallel to the highway for about half the ride, before having to ride down hwy 8. Riding through more poverty than we’d seen the whole trip, it was a series of small communities of neglected diners and trailer parks.
We pulled over to one of those rest stops with free coffee right before hauling through a ton of highway miles. At the coffee and cookie counter, we chatted with the couple friendly older women running the coffee stand. They told us all about bear sightings near their homes just miles away.
After essentially just putting our heads down and time trialing down the highway, riding back through town felt welcoming. We really were riding strong by the end of the trip, as it doesn’t take long to get into a rhythm. We rode right past Washington’s capitol building before successfully completing our trip at Scott and Kessina’s house, where the Suburu was.
- The kindness of strangers was evident at every turn. In light of everything happening in the world, it was rewarding to interact with folks of varying backgrounds, most of whom we wouldn’t engage with in the course of our typical day to day at home.
- Perfect riding conditions followed us around the peninsula, for which we were quite grateful.
Things To Know
- In general, riding on the 101 felt safe and the highway has a good shoulder in most sections. As with any busy roadway, be cautious. The shoulder is however very littered with logging debris.
- 32 mm tires worked great for the occasional gravel or chip seal section of roadway, and for exploring off route.
- Early summer weather was perfect on our tour, with mostly sunny skies and day time temps in the mid 70s. Nights and mornings were a bit chilly at some of the campsites.
- Due to the 4th of July holiday, we booked campsites ahead wherever possible as not all end of day points on our route had traditional hiker/biker campsites. The peace of mind helped too.
- RV Parks can be your friend as many have spots for tent camping. As an added perk they often have nice showers, access to outlets, etc.
- Lake Quinault is almost always full in the summer, so unless you plan months in advance you’ll need to get creative with your camping options if you want to spend a night in the area.
Food / H20
- There are plenty of small convenience stores along the route and we passed large grocery stores at least every other day. We valued eating well on the road and it was no problem with a bit of planning. As we had read prior to leaving, this is not a foodie trip. As much as our California coast pastry tour was enjoyable, it was also very fun to get crafty and creative in tiny convenient stores.
- No problems accessing water on the route and rarely did either of us drain both our bottles between refilling.
- Our favorite food spots include Fast Burritos (Port Angeles), The Hungry Bear (Beaver, on 101), and the Kalaloch Mercantile (at the Kalaloch Lodge on 101). We ate a lot of tortillas with peanut butter!