Olympic Gold: Touring Washington’s Olympic Peninsula on a KLR650

forks-bella

Sure, it’s home to the Twilight Saga, but I say the real beauty of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula is the beaches, forests and for the motorcyclist — the road itself.

In This Article You Will Discover

  • The Best Beaches on the Olympic Peninsula
  • Where to Stop During Your Roadtrip
  • What’s So Special About Forks…
  • And More!
twilight-webb

Neah Bay, WA… home to a perfect “twilight.”

It’s a road of never-ending corners… Travellers are warned to slow to 45 m.p.h, then 35, then 25 — then 15, as two-lanes of chunky asphalt carve up thick coastal rainforest. Rocky beaches peek through gaps in the tree-line, precariously close to the right-hand shoulder. West of Port Angeles, after Highway 101 meets the lonely Highway 112, my ride around Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula had become exactly what I’d hoped it would be.

After 75 km of droning along the I-5 south from Vancouver earlier this morning, my Kawasaki KLR650 seems impossibly fast through this humpy, lumpy, curvy stretch of pavement. A couple on a mid-‘90s Goldwing pull over and let me blow past. Adventure bikes with long-travel suspension have the advantage on this, the Hana Highway of the Pacific Northwest.

My destination is Neah Bay, the Makah Indian Reservation townsite and home to Hobuck and Shi Shi beaches, among others. It’s an “end of the road” town; you leave the way you came. Forty miles to go. I never want this road to end.

twilight-neah-bay

Out-of-the-way Neah Bay is a perfect place to watch the sunset.

The corners eventually pull out straight; I slow to 50 km/h and enter the town of Neah Bay. It’s scruffy, sparse and utilitarian. Handmade signs dot the roadway, warning: “Meth Equals Death, “No Excuse For Drug Abuse” and more alliterative anti-addiction slogans. The beach is mostly seaweed and barnacles. Following the directional signs toward Hobuck Beach Resort & Campground, I begin to wonder what I’m doing here.

A four-mile jaunt out of the townsite answers my question — Hobuck Beach is picturesque West Coast sand. Waves roll in from the deep Pacific. Foliage is wind-shaped to resemble something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Kayakers frolic in the whitewash. The sun has begun its dramatic plunge into the sea. I know now why I came.

Checking into the campground, I hear two fellow journeymen mention Vancouver — my home — has just been hit with an earthquake in the mid-sixes. My first thought is of the Ikea cabinets and flat-screen TV I had just hung in my condo. My second doubts the sanity of camping on the northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula, mere metres from the open ocean, at this time.

You have tsunami alarms here in Neah Bay, right?

The quake is a non-issue; waves up to a metre in height lap the shoreline. A surfer wades out in search of that perfect break. The descending sun bathes the area in surreal purple that eases to gold, then to grey under the September harvest moon. It is a perfect twilight.

Famous Forks

quileute-treaty-line

They take their Twilight seriously here in Washington!

Twilight. Ten years ago, if you had told the residents of Forks, Washington — an industry ‘burg 70 km south of Neah Bay — their home would become internationally famous as the setting of a wildly popular teen-vampire book and film series, the local loggers would have run your crazy-ass out of town.

Today, the Forks’ fame is part of everyday life. Since author Stephanie Meyer penned her first vampire novel, set in Forks, in 2005, the town has never been the same.

Everyone is cashing in on Twilight — from book-themed tours, souvenirs, annual Twilight events to one devilishly hilarious local selling $5 bundles of Twilight Firewood.

rialto-beach

Rialto Beach, near La Push, is a popular storm-watching locale.

However, unless you’re a 15-year-old girl, the real reason to visit the area is the beaches in and around the Quileute Nation Indian Reservation and the adjacent oceanside village of La Push.

After making the 45-minute run south from Neah Bay, I point my KLR650 westward from Forks and blast down an empty two-lane en route to the sea. Bathed in unseasonably warm September weather, I can always feel as I near the ocean. The temperature drops sharply, maybe five degrees. The cool air cuts through my jacket’s mesh — heaven. Salt scent fills my helmet. Through the trees, I can see whitecapped waves crashing on beige beachsand.

Haystack rock formations flank the beaches, some with arches and spires to rival those found in Mexico’s Baja.

second-beach

Gorgeous Second Beach, located between Forks and La Push, allows for camping right on the sand (with a permit).

First Beach is located right in the town of La Push. Tucked into a bay, with a breakwater on one side, the surf here is small, suited for boogey-borders and beginners. The sand is clean, though, and accommodation can be found practically at the water’s edge, at the Quileute Nation Resort.

When visiting, always keep in mind that you are on Indian Land. Take time to learn and respect local traditions, culture and etiquette. And don’t even think about doing any beachcombing!

Second Beach, a 15-minute hike from the roadway, tops First. A dramatic stone arch marks the northern edge, and soft sand stretches south past 30-metre-tall rock formations before fading into late-summer fog. The state allows beach camping here, with the correct permit, so a few tents dot the shoreline. Third Beach, a short ways away, is much the same. So many choices, and for me, so little time… I wade into the frigid seawater and let the waves wash over my bare feet. That’s enough, for now.

West Side Ride

Since heading south on Highway 101, the roadway has been encased in cedar, spruce and fir trees — often a dozen miles inland from the ocean vistas I had hoped for. South of Forks, though, the 101 begins to deliver serious scenery as it takes a seaside route through the Olympic National Forest. As these two-lanes pass stretches of sand, weather-stunted trees thin out enough to allow endless ocean views. The road straightens as it rolls by viewpoints — a courtesy to those who fancy a gander.

Beaches — more than you could visit in a week — are marked, many with campsites and more that allow tents right on the sand. For surfers, kayakers, campers and hikers — it’s Eden.

To my left, the Olympic Mountain Range stabs into the sky. It is a wilderness preserve in the truest sense — roads lead to the outskirts, but should you wander into the wild, you’re on your own. Somewhere within, Sol Duc Hot Springs lures weary hikers to ease their muscles in mineral water. I can’t stop riding now. Eyes forward. Roll on.

East Side Townships

Highway 101 continues its straight-shot south, gathering steam as it tumbles past the beaches of Oregon and California; but I veer east, taking Highway 12 lazily past the necessary fuel-and-coffee towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, before heading north to McCleary and re-joining the 101 as it rims the east side of the Olympic Peninsula. The east side of the peninsula is much like the east side of Vancouver Island — more towns and smaller waves than its west coast counterpart. Less rugged, sure, but no less scenic. In fact, it is on the east side where the road skims the ocean for many more miles at a time, separating the rider from the saltchuck with only a metal guardrail and a couple metres of rock.

first-beach

First Beach, in the Town of La Push, is located west of Forks, WA.

Towns such as Hoodsport and Quilcene pop into view, but the ride is too much fun to quit. Traffic becomes a problem for motorists, but not motorcycles. A kick-down and a roll-on easily dispenses of two- or three slowpokes.

Heck, Washington State law compels drivers guilty of delaying five or more vehicles to pull over and let us pass. Canada’s road laws could learn something from this…

It isn’t long before every lollygagging campervan, sport-ute and California-plated convertible is a memory. The road is smoother on the east side; sport bike riders will have the advantage here.

As I near Port Townsend, home a Washington State Ferry Port (only $5.10 for a bike and rider, each way) and the logical start/finish point for riders coming south from Vancouver, traffic bogs down again. But it’s OK. I’m tired. I kick it into third. Port Townsend appears: first as homes, then as gas stations, then as a lovely, artsy and historic seaside community. It’s alive with street buskers, busy pubs, cafes, sightseers and motorcyclists.

port-townsend

Historic Port Townsend is the most interesting and bustling town on the peninsula.

A burrito the size of my head awaits at El Sarape, a Mexican restaurant on the north end of the seaside strip through town. I ponder a cerveza to accompany, but decide on a late-night ride back to Vancouver instead.

The day turns, once again, to twilight, as the ferry’s horn signals my departure. I may have stayed a week — if my KLR could carry a surfboard.

See a video of this trip here: Olympic Peninsula Motorcycle Ride

If You Go

  • The Makah Tribe requires you to purchase a recreation pass for $10 if you visit Neah Bay.
  • Pack rain gear, and a warm sleeping bag (if camping). Even in summer, west coast nights get cold and damp.
  • Gas, food and accommodation is easily found in most towns throughout the Peninsula.
  • For more information, visit www.olympicpeninsula.org.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

1 comment… add one

  • Dennis D. Nov 22, 2011

    Twilight wasn’t filmed there.

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