Olympic Discovery Trail - Blyn to Elwha River

Washington

At a Glance

Name: Olympic Discovery Trail - Blyn to Elwha River
Length: 34.7 Miles
Trail activities: Bike, Inline Skating, Fishing, Wheelchair Accessible, Horseback Riding, Walking
Counties: Clallam
Surfaces: Asphalt
State: Washington

About this Itinerary

This 3-day bicycle adventure on the Olympic Discovery Trail rolls across the flatlands between the choppy Strait of Juan de Fuca and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in northwestern Washington. At places the trail is so close to the channel that detours are recommended for storm surges. Elsewhere, the trail passes through shady second-growth forest of Douglas fir and red cedar alongside a clear mountain lake.

The wide channel that serves as the border with Canada imparts a salty maritime flavor to the cities of Port Townsend, Blyn, and Port Angeles. Overlooking this scene, the snowy peaks of the Olympics modify the climate so greatly that rainfall ranges from 70 to 16 inches a year between Crescent Lake in the west and sunny Sequim (pronounced “Skwim”) in the east.

You’ll spend one night in Port Townsend and two in Port Angeles, exploring the three completed sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail with the help of the peninsula’s buses equipped with bike racks. Discover coastal fortifications, Victorian architecture, lavender farms, marinas, seafood restaurants, and the Native American culture of the Jamestown S’Klallampeople. Consider whale-watching, kayaking, and hiking side trips. Eventually the trail will stretch for 130 miles from the Puget Sound to Pacific Ocean, but for now the paved or crushed rock trail is limited to about 64 miles.

Day 1: Port Townsend (14.6 miles)

Flying into SeaTac International Airport, your trip starts with a voyage across the Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island aboard a ferry that leaves Colman Dock in Seattle. Take State Route 305 north through Poulsbo (an interesting former fishing village that celebrates its Scandinavian heritage) and cross the Hood Canal Bridge on State Route 3. In 5 miles, turn right onto Beaver Valley Road (State Route 19) and follow this as it turns into State Route 20 and then West Sims Way into Port Townsend. Turn left on Sheridan Street and find your hotel, the stately Manresa Castle, in one block.

Built as the mayor’s 30-room home in the ornate Victorian style during Port Townsend’s heyday in 1892, it later became a Jesuit teaching college before renovated as a hotel with spacious grounds and restaurant in 1968. A couple of rooms are said to be haunted.

The eastern segment of the Olympic Discovery Trail starts in a busy boat yard on Haines Place about a mile northeast of the hotel. You’ll pass all manner of pleasure craft and work boats being repaired on the way to the trailhead at the Port Townsend Bay waterfront.

Named Larry Scott Memorial Trail to recognize a local bicycling advocate, the packed gravel trail skirts Port Townsend Bay as it roughly follows the route of the 1880s Port Townsend & Southern Railroad toward Quilcene. Pause at the top of the grade for a breath-taking view back toward Port Townsend’s skyline and the ferries plying the Puget Sound. The trail heads inland within sight of a sprawling paper mill that’s been operating since the 1920s.

The trail passes between leafy neighborhoods and wood lots as it takes on a rural nature. There are a couple of climbs that afford pleasant pasture views before you reach the southern terminus at the Milo Curry Trailhead (mile 7.3). The ride back to Port Townsend is along this same path.

To quench your thirst at the end of the trail, consider the Port Townsend Brewery at the corner of Haines and Sims. If you have time, this would be a good time to explore bike-friendly Port Townsend. Large sections of the waterfront and uptown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to the predominance of Victorian architecture. The seaport’s economic downtown came so quickly after the 1890s boom that many swank Victorian buildings and homes were never replaced. That preservation serves the city well today. Antique shops, book stores, and vintage clothing are among the shops downtown.

Historical Fort Worden State Park sits just north of Port Townsend. Built as a coastal defense in the early 1900s, the 434-acre park has 2 miles of waterfront, 12 miles of bicycling trails, and numerous opportunities to scramble among the old fortifications. Military housing on the old base is available for overnight lodging to this day. The city also is home to arts and jazz festivals, as well as events centered around the maritime trades. Check the city guide for events during your visit.

For dinner, the Sweet Laurette Café & Bistro on Lawrence Street offers French cuisine Wednesday through Sunday; a block away the Lanza Ristorante specializes in Italian.

Day 2: Blyn to Port Angeles (27.8 miles with an optional 15.6 miles to the Elwha River)

The easiest way to begin the next stage of the trip is to take Jefferson County Transit from Port Townsend to Blyn (there’s no trail connection). A bike rack equipped bus leaves regularly from the Haines Place Park and arrives in 34 minutes at the Jamestown S’Klallam tribal center in Blyn. If you don’t want to be stranded without a car in Port Angeles, however, you can drive to Port Angeles and backtrack to Blyn using Clallam County Transit.

The Olympic Discovery Trail resumes at the tribal headquarters for the S’Klallam People, who have inhabited the northern shores of the Olympic Peninsula for thousands of years. You’ll find a gift shop that specializes in Native American goods here, as well as the tribe’s 7 Cedars Casino. Out in Sequim Bay, you might see people harvesting oysters and clams on the sand flats.

The trail picks up the historical route of the Seattle, Port Angeles & Western Railway, said to be the only railroad governed by the tide tables, because it used barges to ship cars across Puget Sound. Keep your eyes on the Olympic Discovery Trail markers, as the trail occasionally uses local roads on its way to Sequim.

The trail crosses the memorably named Johnnycomelately Creek estuary and follows the western shore of Sequim Bay into the 92-acre Sequim Bay Park. Winding up and down ravines among towering fir and cedars, you’ll first cross a trestle over Discovery Creek with views of Sequim Bay, then the 400-foot-long, curved Johnson Creek trestle that brushes the treetops. Emerging from the forest, look across the plains to mile-high Hurricane Ridge to the south.

The trail follows local streets into Carrie Blake Park in Sequim. If you’re hungry for lunch, the Alder Wood Bistro and Oak Table Café are close by.

Follow the Olympic Discovery Trail on Fir Street and North Sequim Avenue to the trail alongside West Hendrickson Road. In the summer, you’ll likely notice acres of lavender growing in fields west of Sequim, which calls itself the Lavender Capital of North America. There’s even a summer event— Sequim Lavender Festival— to honor the fragrant shrub.

About 3 miles from Sequim, you’ll roll across the Dungeness River in Railroad Park on a new bridge that replaced a timber trestle that washed out in a 2015 flood. The Audobon Center in the park houses examples of the Olympic Peninsula’s flora and fauna. As Kitchen-Dick Road crosses the trail, consider taking a 7-mile round-trip to a view of the Dungeness Spit, at 5.5 miles the longest natural spit in the nation. For a fee, you can hike out to the lonely lighthouse at the very end.

The trail continues across more prairie to a couple of unusual stream crossings— the one at McDonald Creek is a converted railroad flatcar, while the bridge over Bagley Creek is a repurposed ferry ramp (use caution on this steep descent, especially if it’s wet).

Emerging from the woods onto the shoreline, the trail follows riprap along the Strait of Juan de Fuca shoreline for about 4 miles into Port Angeles. There are lots of opportunities for birding and looking for sea life. A bypass around an exposed trail section assures a drier, safer route during winter storms.

You arrive at a busy maritime hub at the Port Angeles City Pier, which features a lookout and scheduled events. There are several tourist-oriented seafood restaurants here, which is also the terminal for ferries that cross the strait to Victoria, British Columbia.

Although numerous bed & breakfast inns cater to visitors in the area, the Five SeaSuns B&B is centrally located and less than a mile from the Olympic Discovery Trail on Lincoln Street.

The last leg of today’s Olympic Discovery Trail trek is a 15-mile out-and-back excursion to the overlook for the Elwha River. It’s significant because the 2011 dam removal on the river was the largest in history, draining two man-made lakes and reopening a river to migratory salmon. The view from a pedestrian walkway beneath the Elwha River Road bridge shows ever-changing sandbars in the ravine below as sediment moves downstream. Riding west from the city pier, note that the Olympic Discovery Trail is also called Port Angeles Waterfront Trail until the latter forks right toward the 3-mile Ediz Hook sand spit, a good place to watch shorebirds and search out marine life. Turn left at West Hill Street and follow the emblems in the road to follow the trail.

You’ve likely worked up a good appetite by now. Although a number of seafood restaurants cater to tourists, the Chestnut Cottage Restaurant and Kokopelli Grill, both on First Street, and Café Garden on First Street are all highly recommended.

Day 3: Forks to Crescent (29.3 miles)

Today’s ride begins at the current furthest western reach of the Olympic Discovery Trail and encompasses some of the smoothest and newest segments, as well as the roughest trail as you skirt the far shoreline of Lake Crescent. Remember to pick up snacks and a lunch at a grocery store or sub shop before you leave in the morning.

To reach the trailhead, you’ll take Clallam County Transit from the Port Angeles Gateway Transit Center. Check the schedule for Route 14, it takes a little more than an hour, but the mountain scenery and rain forest along Highway 101 is stunning. You’re heading toward Forks, the setting for Twilight vampire trilogy. Although Forks dries out a bit in the summer, annual rainfall averages 119 inches a year— four times that of Seattle.

You’ll want to ask the bus driver where to ring the stop bell for West Snider Road. Get off in a clearing and backtrack (heading east) across a bridge to Cooper Ranch Road (less than a mile). Turn right and look for the Camp Creek Trailhead.

The paved trail runs straight through the managed timber lots in the Olympic National Forest. Skinny alders grow in a recently logged section, while tall Douglas firs block out the sun in another block. Following the wild Sol Duc River, the trail rises steadily to Forest Road 219, which it uses to reach Highway 101.

The trail takes the wide highway shoulder for 2 miles, and then heads up a ridge on the left side of the highway to Fairholm Hill. Soon you’re heading downhill on a paved trail with the clear blue waters of Lake Crescent glistening through the trees. This is the path of the abandoned Spruce Railroad that delivered logs from the western forests to Port Angeles until the 1950s. The National Park Service and Clallam County are sprucing up the trail by paving it. The asphalt ends about six miles from Fairholm Hill and becomes rocky single track.

If you’re on narrow gauge tires, this might be a good place to turn around. Camp David Junior Road, which you passed at the Ovington Trailhead about a mile ago, rolls along the lake side, passing the camp store at Fairholme Campground (open in summer months) and out to Highway 101 where you can catch the bus (17.7 miles total).

Plunging ahead, follow the single track down to the lake shoreline past salal bushes and old fir and cedar. In places, there is nothing but loose rock between the trail and the deep waters of the glacially carved lake.

Two tunnels, blasted shut when the railroad abandoned the line, are visible where the trail detours around them. A pedestrian bridge at the second detour crosses a cove that forms a natural swimming pool at Devil’s Point. (Plans call for reopening these tunnels and running a new and improved paved trail through them.)

The trail ends at East Beach Road (Lyre River) Trailhead. You can either back-track to catch the bus in Fairholm (using Camp David Junior Road as described above for a total 29.3 miles) or take East Beach Road past the Log Cabin Resort out to Highway 101 and a bus trip back to Port Angeles (total 23.9 miles). The Log Cabin Resort is open May through September and has a restaurant and deli.

If you have more time in Port Angeles with a car, you might also consider the winding road up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park (fee). The park’s visitor center is closer to town on South Race Street. If you’re longing for the sea, whale-watching tours and ferry excursions to Victoria, British Columbia, are based in Port Angeles. Kayak rentals also are available.

 

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