Motorcycle touring-guide author Christy Karras offers tips on a two-wheeled trip to Hurricane Ridge, Cape Flattery and other attractions on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
On a recent sunny day, Julie and Bob Drake of Chehalis followed a whim and rode their motorcycles up Highway 101 along Hood Canal, bypassing the congested Seattle metro area in favor of roads dotted with seafood joints and state parks en route to Olympic National Park.
“We couldn’t think of any better place to go” than the Olympic Peninsula, Julie Drake said as the couple paused near his-and-hers Harleys to take photos near the top of the Hurricane Ridge road on the peninsula’s north side. She added that she especially liked the innumerable twisties along the way.
If you don’t ride a motorcycle, you may not know that “twisties” are the road curves that riders crave, curves that aren’t much fun in cars but are a roller coaster for bikers.
There aren’t many roads on the Olympic Peninsula, but the ones that exist seem purpose-built for motorcycle touring. Not only are they full of curves, but traffic is typically lighter than in many parts of the Puget Sound region. Add lush, ever-changing scenery and the peaceful feel and piney scent of wilderness, and you’ve got conditions for a memorable ride.
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Day trip or weekend
It’s possible to explore a lot of the peninsula on a day trip from Seattle, but the most rewarding route — all the way to its northwestern tip and back, with a detour up Hurricane Ridge — is about 350 miles and nine hours.
You can see more over a weekend, especially if you start on a Friday afternoon. Bikers get priority boarding on most Washington State Ferries routes, including those between Seattle and the peninsula. That means even when cars might have to arrive an hour or more early, motorcyclists get on before everyone else.
Like the Drakes, many start at Hood Canal, where Highway 101 winds along steep shores past biker-friendly watering holes serving fresh seafood and gives a taste of the vast wilderness just a few miles to the west. The historic town of Port Townsend, just north of 101 on the peninsula’s northeastern tip, is also a popular lunch spot.
Hurricane Ridge is one of the peninsula’s classic rides and one of the park’s most popular attractions. While there’s an entrance fee to get to Hurricane Ridge, it’s lower for motorcycles ($5 instead of $15).
Although weekend traffic forms a steady stream as the road climbs about 5,000 feet, even slow vehicles ahead barely dampen bikers’ enthusiasm as each curve brings increasingly expansive vistas of glacier-topped peaks.
Many motorcyclists do little more than pause to take in the view at the top, but consider walking the paved trails near the parking lot that give views all the way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
As with any riding in this part of the world, it helps to dress in layers and be prepared for anything: Weather up top might be warmer and drier or cooler and wetter than it is where the road starts in Port Angeles.
Lake Crescent and beyond
The north side of the peninsula gives travelers a few options. Highway 101 is less scenic for a few miles west of Port Angeles — until it arrives at Lake Crescent, where it skirts the deep blue lake as tree-flocked mountains rise on the other side of the road (watch for sloughed-off pavement and patched asphalt).
Another option west of Port Angeles is Highway 112, the Juan de Fuca National Scenic Byway. Although the entire stretch from Port Angeles to Cape Flattery is considered scenic byway, much of its eastern half doesn’t offer water views. Highway 112 is also often narrow, humpy and lumpy, with scattered asphalt patches and the occasional debris or tar snake. Still, its hundreds of curves and rural surroundings make for an uncrowded change of pace.
The best sections of 112, both in terms of scenery and road conditions, are west of Sekiu. This is where the road dips down close to the water in sometimes spectacular fashion, and where every curve leads to a new vista of water and rock. Clallam Bay and Sekiu are seaside villages mostly based around fishing, and amenities are limited. Make sure you reserve a room in advance and get dinner early if you plan to stay near the midpoint of an out-and-back.
Out to the edge
Beyond Neah Bay, at the very end of 112, is Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly point in the continental United States.
While seeing it involves a short but sometimes uneven hike, it’s completely doable in riding gear, and the views are worth the grunt.
Highway 113 is a quick connector between 101 and 112, making it easy to access the western end of 112 even if you take 101 past Lake Crescent.
The Olympic Peninsula has downsides: Riding can be miserable in the rain and not very scenic in clouds, which means only a few weeks of good riding weather remain this year. But when the sun does shine, big-leaf maples in autumn colors add a wow factor along Hood Canal and through lowland woods. Anywhere you go, keep an eye out for wildlife, rough patches in the road and blind curves.
The Drakes have ridden their motorcycles all over the West and say they feel lucky to live here. “We really love the Northwest. It’s just really good riding,” Bob Drake said. “We are so blessed to live where we live and experience this type of country. This is some of the prettiest territory in the world.”
Christy Karras is a Seattle-based freelance writer and co-author of “Motorcycle Touring in the Pacific Northwest” (GPP Travel, 2010).