The 35 miles of Olympic Discovery Trail sandwiched between Sequim Bay and the Elwha River are considered the trail system's crown jewel. Bounded by a sparkling tidal estuary in the east and a recently undammed river in the west, the rail-trail visits the towns of Sequim and Port Angeles as it crosses the base of the Olympic Mountains. The route is divided into three segments here: Blyn to Sequim, Sequim to Port Angeles, and Port Angeles to the Elwha River.
The route follows the corridor of the Seattle, Port Angeles & Western Railway, constructed between Port Angeles and Discovery Bay from 1914 to 1915. The railway linked with the Port Townsend & Southern Railroad but didn't connect to a main line. The railroad solved the problem by using barges to transport railroad cars across Puget Sound. The railway had the distinction of being the only one in the nation whose schedule was determined by the tides. By 1931, the railroad had discontinued passenger service, and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad had acquired the line to haul freight and timber. The Seattle & North Coast Railroad bought the railway in 1981 and reinstituted passenger service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend. It didn't take hold, however, and crews began removing track in 1985. Soon after, the Peninsula Trails Coalition formed to build a trail.
Blyn to Sequim: 7.5 miles
This piece of the Olympic Discovery Trail starts at the Jamestown S'Klallam Reservation in Blyn and skirts Sequim Bay through a forested state park, ending in the town of Sequim (pronounced "skwim").
The rail-trail actually starts in the woods, about 0.6 mile east of the tribal headquarters, but there's no parking. Plans call for extending the trail 2.5 miles east to a new trailhead and parking lot. The tribe's small reservation includes the facilities you can see from the Blyn trailhead at the library, as well as the 7 Cedars Casino across US 101. As you follow the trail west and join Old Blyn Highway, it's not uncommon to see people digging for clams in Sequim Bay at low tide. The trail reappears on the left in 0.25 mile, crosses a couple of bridges over Jimmycomelately Creek, and begins climbing in the woods bordering the bay.
The path joins Dawley Road and crosses the Schoolhouse Point Lane intersection at mile 2.1. Just beyond, the trail turns right into the Camp Ramblewood Environmental Learning Center. You'll need to watch for the small, blue Olympic Discovery Trail markings as you descend the winding road through Sequim Bay State Park past towering firs and cedars. Hiker-biker campsites are available here for trail users. The path climbs out of the park and crosses Discovery Creek on a 150-foot-long restored trestle within earshot of US 101. The trail arrives at Whitefeather Way trailhead at mile 4.8 and crosses Johnson Creek trestle. At 410 feet long and 86 feet above the creek, it's the largest on the peninsula. Built in 1914, it was curved and banked for stability. Volunteers converted the trestle for trail use, even repurposing the water storage platforms with benches.
The route leaves the forest and rolls across an arid prairie toward Sequim. The high peaks of the Olympic Mountains to the south create a rain shadow over the region that's responsible for sunny, dry weather. Meteorological data shows that Sequim gets only 16 inches of rain annually, compared to 26 inches for Port Angeles. The west end of this trail section on the Elwha River gets more than 40 inches, and the eastern end of Crescent Lake gets 70 inches. No wonder Sequim is a popular retirement community.
Following the path along E. Washington Street, the route turns right at Rhodefer Road at 6.4 miles, across from the visitor center, and continues into Carrie Blake Park. The trail goes around the park perimeter to restrooms and parking at Blake Avenue and Fir Street.
Carrie Blake Park in Sequim to Port Angeles City Pier: 20.1 miles
A couple of creek crossings account for the steepest terrain on this mostly level trail section that stretches from the retirement community in Sequim to the bustling waterfront in Port Angeles.
Leaving Carrie Blake Park, the Olympic Discovery Trail heads due west on Fir Street, north (right) on N. Sequim Avenue, and west (left) on the paved trail on the north side of W. Hendrickson Road. Traveling through Sequim neighborhoods, the trail turns left onto a path next to N. Priest Road at 2.3 miles and finds the railroad grade on the right at 2.5 miles. Just ahead is Railroad Bridge Park, where the Dungeness River rages past. Exhibits at the Dungeness River Audubon Center here include displays of local wildlife and a native plant garden.
The restored railroad trestle—the first acquisition for the Olympic Discovery Trail—is one of the few remaining wood truss railroad bridges, completely made from timbers, except for its steel tension bars. A 610-foot trestle extension on the west side crosses the floodplain. Note: A portion of this trail (encompassing the railroad bridge) has been closed due to trestle damage caused by a February 2015 flood. Until repairs are made, people using the trail must take a detour around the closed section; a recommended route to the south has been posted. An equestrian side path starts at the trailhead on the west end of the bridge.
The railroad grade continues across farmland and prairie and passes the Sequim Valley Airport. The trail crosses Kitchen-Dick Road at mile 6. (For a side trip, consider heading north 3 miles to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You can hike 5.5 miles to a lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit, one of the longest natural sandspits in the world. Clallam County operates a campground nearby.) In 0.5 mile, the trail turns south along the side of Vautier Road and then enters Robin Hill Farm County Park.
More than 3 miles of hiking trails and 2.5 miles of equestrian trails wind through the forest, meadows, and wetlands in the park. The National Park Service grows native plants here for the revegetation of the Elwha River valley, where a dam was removed to restore a free-flowing river.
The trail crosses McDonald Creek on a 93-foot-long railroad flatcar bed converted into a bridge. Following Barr and Abbott Roads, the trail runs through pastureland before joining a path on Spring Road. The route continues west along Old Olympic Highway and ducks under the highway at mile 10.7 to cross a creek. Leaving the farmland behind, the path surroundings transform to second-growth forest over the next 3 miles.
At mile 14, the trail enters a forested ravine and descends to the Bagley Creek covered bridge, formerly a Bainbridge Island ferry ramp. You'll want to give way to cyclists descending from the west, who may encounter a dangerous combination of a slippery surface and the sharp turn to the bridge. Ascending to US 101, a good vista of the Olympic Mountains can be enjoyed at the Deer Park Overlook. The trail passes the Morse Creek trailhead, reenters the woods, and makes a steep, 150-foot plunge to the Morse Creek trestle.
The trail heads north past a residential neighborhood for a mile and abruptly arrives at the Strait of Juan de Fuca with spectacular views along the coast and across the water to Canada. The 4-mile path to downtown Port Angeles hugs the shoreline, allowing opportunities to spot birds and sea life. The Ediz Hook sandspit that protects the Port Angeles harbor can be seen after turning onto the waterfront trail, soon followed by views of historic buildings in downtown.
Arriving at City Pier, you will discover opportunities for shopping, dining, and lodging. The Feiro Marine Life Center features a touch tank for aquatic life, and a tower provides views of the mountains and strait. A ferry offers service to Victoria, and buses at the transit center can give travelers a lift back to Sequim.
Port Angeles City Pier to Elwha River: 7.1 miles
Leaving behind the busy maritime district in Port Angeles, this route climbs to views overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ends at the Elwha River, site of the biggest dam removal project in history.
The Olympic Discovery Trail is also known as the Port Angeles Waterfront Trail as it heads west along the north side of Railroad Avenue, Front Street, and Marine Drive. Passing several shops, cafés, and marine businesses, it forks to the right 1.8 miles from City Pier to sail out toward the Coast Guard station on Ediz Hook. The sandspit extends to picnic areas, parks, and beaches, where visitors can scan the horizon for orca pods, identify birds, or look for marine life. Sail & Paddle Park features a special area for people with disabilities.
Instead of heading right to Ediz Hook, however, this route takes the left fork, crossing Marine Drive and climbing the aptly named W. Hill Street. (Though both sides of the street have shoulders, the south side is wider to accommodate trail traffic.) Stenciled emblems on the road direct travelers onto W. Fourth Street, where Crown Park presents views over the harbor. The route turns right onto S. Milwaukee Drive, which leads to the W. 10th Street trailhead at 3.1 miles.
The path resumes on the peaceful, wooded railroad corridor. The W. 18th Street trailhead is just down the trail at 3.8 miles, and the trail passes the end of an airport runway before it crosses Dry Creek and arrives at the Kacee Way trailhead (4.9 miles), donated by the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. Deer and smaller wildlife are frequently seen roaming the area surrounding the path.
The trail descends gradually for 1.5 miles into the lush Elwha River floodplain. A trail bridge suspended beneath the 589-foot-long Elwha River Bridge, completed in 2009, enables unobstructed views up and down the river. From here, or down below at river level, visitors can see islands of sediment slowly migrating downstream. The sand was released from behind 100-year-old dams that the federal government began removing in 2012. As a result, salmon are returning to spawn upriver.
Though the trail ends here, a temporary on-road route continues west toward Joyce and Lake Crescent. Consult the Olympic Discovery Trail's official website for details.
To reach Blyn, from the intersection of State Route 20 and US 101 near Port Townsend, take US 101 W for 11.3 miles. Turn right onto Blyn Crossing (opposite Snow Creek Road), and then turn right again at the T-intersection onto Old Blyn Highway. Pass by the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Headquarters. In 0.4 mile, park at the library on the right at the end of the complex.
To reach Carrie Blake Park in Sequim, from the intersection of SR 20 and US 101 near Port Townsend, take US 101 W for 15.9 miles. Exit onto E. Washington Street. After traveling approximately 0.9 mile, turn right onto S. Blake Avenue. In 0.3 mile, access the trail, parking, and restrooms at E. Fir Street and N. Blake Avenue. Clallam County Transit buses carry bike racks. Schedule and routes are available online.
For trail access at Port Angeles City Pier, from Sequim, take US 101 W about 16 miles. Turn right onto N. Lincoln Street in Port Angeles. Turn right for parking at City Pier.
For Elwha River bridge parking, take US 101 W from Port Angeles about 4.5 miles. Turn right onto Laird Road. In 0.7 mile, turn left onto Elwha River Road. In another 0.7 mile, turn left onto Crown Z Water Road, which leads to a water treatment plant beneath the bridge.