Moon Olympic Peninsula author Jeff Burlingame was born and raised in the Olympic Peninsula, in the town of Aberdeen. He grew up exploring the areas around him; working as a shake rat in the peninsula’s woods; hiking the 14-mile round trip trail to the top of Colonel Bob Peak; and fishing the area’s beautiful rivers, lakes, and streams. Below he shares tips with Moon.com on how to enjoy this majestic area.
Exploring the Olympic Peninsula with Jeff Burlingame
1. What is the best time of year to visit the Olympic Peninsula?
I’m a big fan of spring and fall, when I can enjoy the area and all my favorite outdoor activities (albeit oftentimes with a rain jacket) without too many people around. But the weather is limiting during those times of year, and many spots aren’t open. So, especially if you’re traveling from some distance, the best time to visit continues to be between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
2. For Twilight fans visiting the area, what would you recommend they see aside from Forks, to get the most out of their trip to the Olympic Peninsula?
I would say a visit to La Push is equally as important for Twilight fans as is a visit to Forks. La Push is such a beautiful place that I would recommend it regardless, but with it being home to the Quileute Tribe (and also “home” to character Jacob Black), it is even more important for Twilight fans to visit there.
3. What is your favorite off-the-beaten-track hike in the Olympic National Park?
For me, it’s a toss up between remote coastal hikes—such as the one that takes you to the lighthouse at the end of Dungeness Spit near Sequim and the trails around Ozette Lake —and hikes that take you into the Olympic Mountains far away from the sights and sounds of modern man.
4. What would be some of your top recommendations for fishermen?
With fishing here, it depends on the time of year. Summer-run steelhead can be had in many of the rivers and are a favorite of mine. You also can fish for salmon in the ocean and trout in area lakes, many which are stocked. It’s a semi-complicated sport, and rules and seasons vary greatly, so it’s best to check with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife prior to fishing.
5. For outdoor enthusiasts, what are some of the best campsites?
As with hikes, my favorite campsites lie off the beaten path, deep in the forests where all is quite and you can be alone with nature. However, many popular campsites are quite nice, as well, and of course they are a lot more accessible for families and car travelers. The best include Mora at La Push, Sol Duc, Heart O’ the Hills, Fort Flagler and Fort Worden, Potlatch State Park, Twin Harbors, and anywhere on the beach!
6. The Olympic Peninsula is well-known for its stunning coast—what is your favorite coastal point?
For scenic purposes, it’s the northern coast from Cape Flattery south through to Queets, because it’s the road less traveled, and also because the sea stacks just off-shore are fabulous to look at. For recreation, though, hands down it’s the southern coast from Moclips down through Ocean Shores, Westport, Tokeland and Long Beach to the fishing town of Ilwaco.
7. Where do you recommend travelers go for the best burger?
Depends on what area you’re in. My favorites include the Hard Rain Cafe in Olympic National Park , Clark’s Restaurant off Highway 101 near Aberdeen, the Corral Drive-In in Long Beach, the Ritz Drive-In in Shelton, Bloomers Landing in Port Hadlock, Fat Smitty’s in Port Townsend, Al’s Hum Dinger in Hoquiam, Doc’s Marina Grill on Bainbridge Island, and the Crow’s Nest in Montesano. And that’s just off the top of my head.
8. Of the three temperate rain forests in the area, Hoh, Queets, and Quinault, which is your favorite, and why?
Each of the three has traits I find appealing, so my favorite changes with the wind. Were I to be placed on a deserted island and only allowed to bring one rain forest with me, I think I would pick the Quinault. It’s certainly not the most popular of the three, but it is the one I grew up in and am most familiar with. It would be like bringing a slice of home with me.
9. What would be a great place to visit for those looking to get a small town experience?
By big-city standards, most every town on the Olympic Peninsula would be classified as a small town. The ones closest to the Puget Sound cities of Tacoma and Seattle are the largest and have grown in recent years. Some of them have become bedroom communities. I don’t really consider those small towns, per se, and I don’t consider the biggest towns in any given area, such as Aberdeen, Shelton and Port Angeles, small towns, either. For my money, the best small towns are Moclips, Westport, South Bend, Hoquiam, Montesano, Poulsbo, Port Gamble, and Port Townsend.
10. To learn more about the Native American culture, where would you advise visitors to go?
The best places to go are directly to the tribe itself. I am not aware of a one-stop-shopping site to learn about all the tribes on the Olympic Peninsula, although some of the bigger museums do cover a lot of Native American ground. The tribes are scattered throughout the area, so it’s best to determine which ones are nearby cities, towns, and sites you will be visiting and head directly to the reservation’s headquarters. Most have some sort of information available for visitors and some, such as the Makah, have excellent museums of their own. Local chambers of commerce also can be helpful in this regard. My biggest advice would be to not overlook learning about Native American culture during your visit. It’s rich, and there are centuries upon centuries of it.
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