Washington’s coastline begins where Oregon’s coast ends and runs all the way around the Olympic Peninsula as it winds its way through the Puget Sound on its way to the Canadian border. U.S. 101 hugs the coast for much of the way, affording some great scenic travel for RV owners. Washington’s coast is unique and not at all like Oregon. Once you cross the Columbia River, Oregon’s rocky seascapes yield and give way to forested slopes of Douglas firs. As you skirt around the Cascades, you’ll pass through a mix of verdant rainforest territory, rugged coastline, and snowcapped mountains. The peninsula eventually ends, but the coastline continues on from Seattle and past an array of connecting border islands as it heads north. From the northern end, the snow-covered North Cascades and Mount Baker lie to the east, while Mount St. Helens is easily accessed from the southern terminus. Washington’s western side offers plenty of opportunities for RV travel, and RV parks are abundant as are places of interest.
Ross Lake is formed where the Skagit River meets up with Ross dam, high in the Cascades. G
The bridge over Deception Pass connects Fidalgo Island with Whidbey Island, its neighbor t
Sunsets over the Straits of San Juan from Fort Worden State Park can be spectacular.
Being from the Midwest, we have a number of options for traveling to Washington. Our most popular route takes us across the northern portion of the state via Highway 20, the Grand Coulee Dam, Okanogan, and Winthrop on the way to the North Cascades National Park. The road is very scenic but also RV-friendly. Washington Pass has no steep drop-offs or extreme downgrades and is easily traversed in any RV. Entering the park, you’ll pass by numerous mountain streams and waterfalls on your way to Ross Lake, which is deep green in color due to the mineral content in its waters. Continuing on down the western slope will connect you with the I-5 at Burlington, but we generally continue on to Anacortes, where we set up our base camp.
Anacortes is on Fidalgo Island, which is one of the border islands leading down toward Seattle. Fidalgo Island is connected to Whidbey Island to the south via the Deception Pass Bridge. The only way on or off this series of islands is via ferry or the Highway 20 bridge to the mainland, which is the way we enter. Anacortes is the northernmost town and you’ll find plenty of boating activities here. You can take a whale-watching cruise to go see orca whales frolic in the Straits of San Juan de Fuca or hop on a Washington State ferry to visit the San Juan or Orcas islands.
The San Juan Islands are smack in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, bracketed by Fidalgo Island, Vancouver Island, and Bellingham. The only access to them is by the Washington State Ferries system. You can fit a large RV onto the ferry, but the cost is high and there really aren’t any big-rig–friendly roads on the islands, so it’s best to take a smaller vehicle and do day trips. The ferries system services both islands as well as Victoria, British Columbia, for those who want to visit Canada.
The Bald Eagles love to call this area home.
A baby orca follows its mother off the coast of San Juan Island. Orca pods are native to t
Fort Worden’s lower campground is located right in the heart of coastal activity batteries
The drive-through tour of Sequim’s Olympic Game Farm will get you up close to plenty of wi
The Washington State Ferries system fills in the gaps where roads don’t exist and can save
Feeding the wildlife at Olympic Game Farm is a treat for both visitor and animal.
Getting to Whidbey Island to the south is easy. You simply drive over the Deception Pass Bridge. The road continues on past Oak Harbor until Keystone, where another ferry will take you across the Admiralty Inlet to Port Townsend. This ferry route has been revamped lately with new ferries, but certain times may require an advance reservation for a large RV, so be sure to check with the Washington State Ferries system on the latest developments, including cancellations due to low tides at Keystone.
A brief evening rain over the Point Hudson lighthouse at Port Townsend produced one of man
Port Townsend is a quaint town filled with excellent examples of Victorian architecture. It was slated to become the state capital until Olympia snagged the international customs office, which caused much of the international traffic to dock at Olympia rather than Port Townsend. The downtown area is filled with shops and restaurants. A major attraction is Fort Worden, which was built in the early 1900s as a coastal artillery defense port to ensure that no enemy warships could enter the Puget Sound and threaten Seattle. Built on a large bluff overlooking the Straits of San Juan, it was part of a three-fort network that defended the waters. Large disappearing guns were built into concrete revetments. After World War II ended, the real threat was recognized as aircraft, so the fort gradually wound down. The fort is now part of the Washington State Parks system and you may recognize it as the scene from the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.” There are two campgrounds here. One is high up on the bluffs and the other is down by the beach. You can set up camp in a full hookup site within a stone’s throw of a large artillery battery. The huge guns have been removed, but the concrete bunkers, gun emplacements, and fire control pits are still there and wide open for you to explore.
Port Townsend is also a great location for a base camp to explore the surrounding area and it’s close to Sequim. Sequim (pronounced “Skwim”) is known by its place in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains because it is invariably sunny there. In fact, a palm tree was planted in front of the visitor center just to prove a point. You can walk out to the lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit, a nesting place for shorebirds and sea lion pups. You can also take a drive through the Olympic Game Park and feed bread from your car window to yaks, bison, and elk. You can even throw bread to some relatively tame grizzly bears, which are behind a small fence a few feet away from your vehicle. Founded by Lloyd Beebe, this was the site for many of Walt Disney’s wildlife movies up until Walt’s death. The Grizzly Adams television series was also filmed here, although Ben is since long gone. It’s always an interesting drive, but you can plan on vacuuming out your car and wiping buffalo slobber off your doors when you are done.
Hoh Rain Forest
Heading west on U.S. 101 past Port Angeles and Lake Crescent as you skirt around the Olympic Mountains will bring you to Forks. Day trips from Forks can take you up to Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, the very tip of the Olympic Peninsula, or into the Hoh Rainforest. The Hoh is part of Olympic National Park and a two-lane road will wind back into the forest, terminating at the visitor center, where RV parking is available. From here, a number of hiking trails will take you through its unique topography. The Hoh is a temperate rainforest, unlike the well-known tropical rainforests. The Cascades serve as a backstop for moisture blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, and the Hoh typically receives up to 12 feet of precipitation every year. The mossy pines and ferns give the forest an ethereal quality, shadowed by a flocked canopy of maple and spruce trees alongside the Hoh River.
Seamounts and tidal pools north of Kalaloch at Ruby Beach
Kalaloch and the Coast
Heading south from Forks, Highway 101 hugs the coastline tightly as it winds its way down to Kalaloch. A Forest Service campsite south of Kalaloch is a popular stop for RVers who can camp on the terraced sites and experience a Pacific Coast sunset. Hikes on the beach will take you past streams, fir trees with massive burls, and bald eagles in the treetops. A number of beaches are located along this coastal area, and trails take you down to beaches filled with seamounts and tidal pools. Heading inland takes you to Lake Quinault and another large RV park next to the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree. At this point you’ll have a number of options. You can stay on Highway 101 to cross the Columbia River Bridge and head down Oregon’s coast. You can take U.S. 12 over to Olympia where the I-5 can take you north to Seattle or south toward Portland, or you can follow the Columbia River on Highway 4 to Longview, allowing access to Mount St. Helens.
The lateral blast crater of Mount St. Helens is best seen from the west side access via Ca
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is one of those sites that you should see at least once in your lifetime. Where else are you going to be able to view an active volcano and witness the effects of its devastating blast of May 18, 1988? Most visitors approach it from the west side, leaving the I-5 at Castle Rock and driving until the road’s end at Johnson Ridge. From here you can look directly into the gaping hole in the side of the mountain that resulted in the lateral blast. A number of visitor centers along the way provide great information to help you understand what happened. You can even take a helicopter ride to the volcano, which we found to be a great experience. The road is RV-friendly and the visitor centers provide plenty of room for big-rig parking.
The lesser-traveled western flank of Mount St. Helens affords unique up-close views of the
A handful of visitors choose the east side. This area is tighter and twisty, so it’s best to leave the RV behind. There are a number of RV parks in the area between Woodland and Castle Rock, as well as some on the east side near Cougar and Yale that you can base camp out of. The roads on this side take you through winding forests that were shielded from the blast for the most part. Eventually you’ll drive up into the blast zone and see a whole new world. Various hiking trails will take you to the shores of Spirit Lake, Ape Canyon, Lava Canyon, and other interesting viewpoints. My son and I have climbed the mountain and looked down into its crater, which was one of those experiences we’ll never forget. The Monitor Ridge hiking trail begins at Climber’s Bivouac, which is near Ape Cave, another interesting visit.
Take Your Time
Washington is a big state. Don’t try to cram too much into your itinerary or you’ll miss truly seeing it. There’s much more to see than what is described in this article, so check out the references and links and do your research. Allow enough time in each area to see what it has to offer and then return in future trips to see what you’ve missed.