Washington’s longest byway, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway encompasses the glacially sculpted peaks and immense forests of the Olympic Peninsula. The byway showcases diverse geography from sea stacks along the wild ocean beaches, to lush estuaries. Travelers are drawn to the old-growth forests, and unique plants and wildlife of Olympic National Park, the living tribal cultures or the lifestyle of contemporary forestry and fishing communities.
US 101, the Olympic Peninsula and Pacific Ocean Highway, or Olympic Loop Highway, begins just west of Olympia, at the point where it leads northward from Interstate 5, skirts the many-fingered upper reaches of Puget Sound, and then cuts across to Hood Canal, which it follows to Quimper Peninsula. Swinging in a westerly direction, the route roughly parallels Juan de Fuca Strait for nearly 100 miles and then turns to the south and zigzags to Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and the lower Columbia River country. Practically encircled by the route is the wilderness of the Olympic National Forest and the Olympic National Park, a region of rugged, white-tipped peaks and alpine valleys, steep wooded foothills, glaciers and crystal lakes, and turbulent, icy streams fed by the melting snows of the high mountains. A profusion of wild flowers, fostered by the heavy precipitation of fall and winter months, adds to the charm and beauty of this nearly primitive area. Thousands of deer and large herds of Roosevelt elk feed in the high meadows and browse in wooded glades, fish abound in the lakes and streams, ptarmigan and grouse whir across the roads and trails, and bears feed on the tender shrubs and berries. Access to this wilderness is possible from various points along US 101, by means of stub roads that run for short distances into the forests; here, some are met by rigorous mountain trails that lead to high plateaus and mountain meadows, through somber forest aisles, along precipitous slopes, and up the narrow valleys of cascading streams. Several of these trails can be followed on horseback. Resorts, camps, and forest shelters occur at fairly frequent intervals.
But the mountains are only a part of this wilderness wonderland. Salt water is never far distant. Side roads dart down to idyllic beach camps, where time is marked only by the changing shadows of towering fir and cedar upon the mirror of some protected bay or inlet; or they lead to picturesque fishing towns, Indian villages, white-walled lighthouses, seaports, sawmill towns, and isolated trading hamlets. Occasionally branch roads, and even the main highway, swing down to the precipitous, surf-thrashed coast, or to points from which can be seen the sweep of rolling green breakers, as they crash white-tipped upon hard-packed sands or thunder against jagged cliffs.
South of Aberdeen, the main route winds through high hills, some covered with heavy stands of maturing second- and third-growth forests, others bare except for bleaching stumps and charred logs. At Raymond the highway again reaches salt water and, swinging southward, skirts the east shore of Willapa Bay. Branch roads lead across marshlands and cranberry bogs down to the Pacific Ocean. Scattered along this section of the route are tidewater hamlets and beach resorts, Indian reservations, lighthouses on lonely promontories, and miles of sandy beaches, broken by jutting rocks over which the breakers tumble in a swirl of green water and white spume. The route ends at Megler on the Columbia, where a bridge connects with Astoria, Oregon, and the southward extension of US 101.