From lavender to seafood to hot-air balloons, see what Washington's Olympic Peninsula has to offer
Credit: Facebook/Olympic National Park and Forest

From lavender to seafood to hot-air balloons, see what Washington's Olympic Peninsula has to offer

If your Washington weekend excursions never stray west of Seattle, here’s your chance to awaken your senses, big time. That wedge-shaped hunk of land that juts out from the mainland gets its name from the coastal mountain ranges and their snow-splattered peak, Mount Olympus. Olympic National Park and Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is the wild heart of this massive region, which is unrelenting in its drama and diversity.

On the peninsula, you can hike through alpine meadows and stroll through sun-drenched lavender fields. Take a bracing dip in glacial waters or soak away a week’s worth of worries in mineral hot springs. Explore the world’s largest stand of virgin temperate rainforest and poke your way along lonely beaches watching orange-billed oystercatchers dig for their quarry. Along with untamed trails are villages to explore, some seemingly frozen in time.

Here are a handful of places to explore on a weekend away, from Port Townsend due west to Sol Duc hot springs and south to Hood Canal. Use this interactive map to plan your route and get ready for sensory overload – in a good way.

Go to the Sequim Lavender Festival® – Sequim (50 km from Port Townsend)

Go to the Sequim Lavender Festival® – Sequim (50 km from Port Townsend)

Get a healthy dose of Provence in the Pacific Northwest at the Sequim Lavender Festival®, a three-day celebration (July 17-19, 2015) of all things lavender, from fresh-cut flowers and essential oils to herbs de Provence and lemonade.

The town of Sequim (pronounced skwim) sits in the Olympic Rain Shadow (so does Victoria, B.C.), so it gets almost five times more sunny days than Seattle. The dryer weather also means that its climate is similar to that of Provence, France, the lavender capital of the world. But we’re not just talking about a few rows of fragrant flowers here. Sequim is the Lavender Capital of the Pacific Northwest, after all. Tour the seven lavender farms and stroll through undulating fields of purple as far as the eye can see. Pick bunches to take home, purchase hand-crafted organic products and learn about this fragrant flower and herb.

Sip some suds at Port Townsend’s Brewfest

Sip some suds at Port Townsend’s Brewfest

Beer, tacos, music: this festival triumvirate comes together on Saturday, July 18 at Port Townsend’s 7th Annual Brewfest, hosted by the Port Townsend Brewing Company. Escaping the city to this quaint Victorian seaport (initial plans envisioned it to be the “New York of the West”) doesn’t mean forgoing your craft brew, thanks to this free event and fundraiser (benefiting Edendaw Community Cancer Foundation). Sip on some of the brewery’s Northwest-style IPAs and pale ales on tap and sidle up to El Sueno's taco truck to fill your belly while listening to Locust Street Taxi perform in the beer garden.

Wander America’s largest sand spit — Sequim (50 km from Port Townsend)

Wander America’s largest sand spit — Sequim (50 km from Port Townsend)

Want to have your own private island-like adventure? Shuffle through the billions of grains of sand that make up (almost) 9-km-long Dungeness Spit. Need some context? This decidedly non-dinky sandbar reaching out into the sea is almost the length of the seawall that circles Vancouver’s Stanley Park. And, depending on what you read, it’s either the world’s largest naturally occurring sand spit or the longest sand spit in the U.S.

Regardless, it’s worth exploring this amazing ecosystem that’s part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Check out a map and you’ll agree that the “graveyard hook” of the spit looks like a snake about to strike, with the upper reaches of the bar bisected like a hyperextended jaw. Thankfully, you won’t find any snakes in the area, but you’ll certainly see some shorebirds, such as oystercatchers, feeding in the mudflats. If you’re ambitious enough to make it to the 8-km mark, visit the New Dungeness Lighthouse. The light station has been in continuous operation since its lard-oil lamp was first lit in 1857.

Ride Hurricane Ridge – Port Angeles to Olympic National Park

Ride Hurricane Ridge – Port Angeles to Olympic National Park

Ready to test your mettle on a knee-knackering ride up Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park? On August 2, from 7 a.m. to noon, vehicles are restricted from the road so recreational riders can channel their Tour de France heroes as they ascend the paved route through the evergreens, spotting black-tailed deer along the way.

Hardy riders who want to start at sea level to cycle the 66 kilometres to the 1,585-metre summit of Hurricane Ridge can take a new route introduced this year, which starts in Port Angeles (warning: this isn’t part of the vehicle-free zone). Visit the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce website for event registration information and route details. And watch out for wildlife: check out the web cam and park alerts before you go – there have been recent reports of aggressive goats and Roosevelt elk!

Soak in Sol Duc Hot Springs (66 km from Port Angeles)

Soak in Sol Duc Hot Springs (66 km from Port Angeles)

After a long day riding the knee-knackering Hurricane Ridge Road (see previous slide), head to Sol Duc Hot Springs and sink into one of three mineral pools. The warm waters, which hover around 37°C, are ideal for turning stiff muscles into jelly. Despite being located in the wild environs of Olympic National Park, the soaking pools and freshwater swimming pool are part of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, where you can bed down in one of the fully equipped cabins, sip a glass of Sol Duc Resort Private Label Wine at dinner, or simply visit for the day. Don’t forget to BYOT (bring your own towel) or you can buy one at the resort.

Slurp shellfish at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon — Lilliwaup, Hood Canal (92 km from Port Townsend)

Slurp shellfish at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon — Lilliwaup, Hood Canal (92 km from Port Townsend)

In the Hood Canal, oysters aren’t just delicacies, they’re a way of life. And the Hama Hama Oyster and Clam Company has been “serving nature” in the area since, oh, 1922. This fifth-generation family-run sustainable shellfish farm has some colourful history, like how “Hama Hama Oyster Mama” was the handle of CB enthusiast Myrtle, who ran the farm store in the 1960s.

After more than 90 years in operation, the family decided to open the Oyster Saloon (summer hours are daily from noon to 5:30 p.m.) last year, to showcase their briny beauties at their best. The menu varies depending on the season, but if you’re lucky you can suck back some cucumber-y Hama Hama and vegetal Blue Pool oysters and see if you can taste the “merroir” (in shellfish parlance, it’s what terroir is to wine) in these local varieties.

See the sun come up in a hot-air balloon – Sequim (50 km from Port Townsend)

See the sun come up in a hot-air balloon – Sequim (50 km from Port Townsend)

Anyone who’s ever experienced the exhilaration and serene sensation of gliding like an eagle while surveying the landscape from a thousand feet up understands the enchantment of flying in a hot-air balloon.

Set off in the early morning from Sequim Valley Airport with Vagabond Balloons to watch the sun rise as you drift over the Olympic mountains and forests, peering down on lavender fields (see slide 1) and waterways, including the Dungeness River, Discovery Bay and Protection Island. And in true traditional fashion (thanks France!), enjoy a champagne toast and continental breakfast once you float back to earth. Not a morning person? No worries: sleep in and cap off the day with a flight at sunset, where you can watch that great golden orb cast shadows on land and sea as you bid adieu to the day.