As previously mentioned, I recently made tracks to the Clallam County area of Washington State. Accompanied by a recovering broken elbow and freakish spring weather, I trekked through the wilds of one of Washington’s more remote – and beautiful – counties. It is truly one of my very favorite areas of the state. Join me for a few of the highlights.
I almost didn’t even head out on this particular adventure. My elbow was still feeling dicey and I’d completely drug my feet in securing a hotel – just couldn’t decide whether to go for one or two nights. I was planning on hitting up the Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push, but was dismayed to find no availability on their website. However, since human contact sometimes beats tech in the Rochambeau of hotel procurement, I decided to call directly and double-check. Score one for human contact! Granted, they had a minimum two-night stay which explained the online denial, but as I really had nothing else planned but sitting around the house and kvetching about my elbow, I decided to go for it.
Which meant that in order to actually get any benefit from a two-night stay, I needed to pack like the wind. (To be free again – ‘cause I’ve got such a long way to go… name that tune!) And even though I whipped together my gear in near record time AND blazed through my trip to the grocery store, I still just missed the Edmonds/Kingston ferry. Gah! Although, as the grocery store trip ended up providing an invaluable source of supplies during my journey, I suppose it all worked out for the best. Plus, it allowed me to experience a very unique ‘tree-worship’ performance while parked in the ferry line. I don’t really know exactly what was going on there, but that guy really loved that tree… (In a relatively non-intimate way. Come on.) At any rate, he seemed pretty happy about life, so more power to him.
Once finally aboard the ferry, I headed to the upper decks to enjoy the ride. (Albeit short – only about a 30 minute ride to Kingston. If you haven’t yet enjoyed the WA State Ferry system, I highly recommend it. It’s the largest ferry system in the country – and third largest in the world!) As I’d been racing around like a maniac (ala Flashdance) trying to make the ferry, I’d neglected to grab any breakfast. Or, based on the amount of time I’d spent waiting in the ferry line, any lunch… Due to this fact and the accompanying sudden urge to eat my shoe, I decided to head over to the ferry galley to check out the food options. Since I was embarking on a foodie adventure, I was a bit reluctant to begin the trip with snack bar options. However, since my shoe was (bad pun alert) gaining traction as a possible food source, I caved and grabbed a corn dog and cup of chowder instead. And I’m not gonna lie – I enjoyed that meal as much as the tree-lovin’ guy enjoyed his tree. (In a relatively non-intimate way. Come on.)
After appreciating my “meal” and the view of the lovely Puget Sound, I returned to my car to prepare for the offload in Kingston. (A very cute port town – and good to check out during long ferry waits.) While driving off the ferry and continuing on towards my destination, I noticed the GPS was displaying my car as if it were actually a boat – and continued to do so for at least the next 10 minutes. Who knew the KIA Sportage was so versatile! Also incorrectly displayed on my GPS was the time display – I think it had me driving/sailing through the East China Sea or something. :-} However, after a bit of fiddling and my car eventually deciding on its own we were no longer navigating the seas, the time righted itself and I noticed just how far behind schedule I actually was. The hotel check-in deadline was 8pm and as it was already after 4pm and I still needed to make it through rush-hour and all the way up to the peninsula, I needed to move it!
I’ll just fast-forward through what was generally a very windy, rainy, poorly visible race against time and announce my arrival to the hotel check-in as being 8:02pm. BAM! (They were just closing and humored my tardiness…) And it would’ve been a few minutes before 8pm had it not been for the haphazardly loaded, slow-mo pickup truck I got stuck behind around Lake Crescent. Yeah. (Take US 101 North towards Forks and turn off onto WA-110 – La Push Road. Follow signs into La Push.)
To say La Push is a small community is an understatement; but this is a huge part of the area’s allure. I’ve been coming to this area for years to escape the city and get lost on the beach. (Which I might add, are lovely and full of sand – contrary to the popular image of rocky Washington beaches.) It’s also incredibly windblown, remote and lacking in cell service. (La Push is located directly on the Pacific Ocean, at the mouth of the Quileute River and is home to the Quileute tribe.) But again, that’s much of its charm. (“What? You called me two days ago?? Well, good golly – SO sorry I missed you! I didn’t have any cell service…”) That said, being a small, remote community isn’t terribly conducive to late night dining options. However, I’d learned the local store/deli/gas station was open until 9pm, so I quickly threw my stuff into my room and raced over to hopefully grab some dinner. Following below is the majesty that was my dinner:
After enjoying my Michelin Star-worthy fare, I poured another glass of wine and headed out onto the deck….
Deep sigh… Beautiful!!! Such a sublime, clear night… I grabbed a deck chair, propped my feet up on the railing and enjoyed a bit of wine. It had been windy and rainy on the way up, but all of a sudden the clouds had parted and the sky was a pristine, star-filled wonder. Even though I’ve experienced many a rainy day in the Forks/La Push area, I’ve been equally privy to its gorgeous, blue-sky filled days – And clear-skied nights like this one. And with no interfering light from the city and the stretching expanse of ocean providing a backdrop, it’s a truly breathtaking thing to behold. I really don’t know how long I sat out there enjoying the scene… Well, okay – maybe I do. I think it had something to do with when my glass of wine ran out. (But I did grab another. Whew! And promptly resumed my deck watch. Crisis averted.)
Other than the stunning location and close proximity to the many beautiful hikes and beachcombing opportunities of the area, I can’t honestly say I’d stay in the hotel portion of the resort again. They also have cabins and I’m interested in further investigating, but regardless of the hotel being clean, sporting a decent kitchen and an amazing view of the ocean, it was insanely NOISY. (Especially considering the no phone, no Internet, no TV appeal) I could pretty much hear every footstep from every surrounding room – including the room below mine. Every flush of the toilet, every coughing fit from the dude next door and every scream of the inconsolable child a couple doors down… There was also a kid who felt the need – with the unfortunate blessing of his parents – to run up and down the stairs and back and forth on the walkway in front of the room doors. Wow. Louder than Stompy McStomperson who lives upstairs from me in my apartment building – and that’s saying something. (Stompy McStomperson!! /raises fist)
The next morning, the clouds had returned, but this didn’t hamper the surfer scene. Anyone who doesn’t think there are surf opportunities on the rugged Washington coastline clearly hasn’t been to La Push. Granted, full-body wetsuits are much less a suggestion than requirement for the water temperatures of the area, but that doesn’t seem to hamper the enthusiasm for catching waves. And there are some pretty nice ones depending on time of day and weather conditions. I did have to brave the incredibly bold seagull who’d camped out on my deck railing – and wouldn’t leave – but it was a nice start to the day to drink my coffee (thankfully one of my staples purchased beforehand) and check out the surf.
After determining that the one restaurant in La Push was apparently closed down, I got my gear together for the day and drove back towards Forks. I’d been thinking about heading up towards the Neah Bay area and seeking out the northwesternmost tip of the contiguous United States, Cape Flattery. (Also the oldest, permanently named feature in Washington State, circa 1778 – named by British explorer, James Cook.) Knowing that I was heading into a very under-populated area, not to mention it being the tourist off-season, I decided to stop and grab a local area map and extra water/supplies in case my GPS was plotting a return to the East China Sea.
On that note, I ended up at the Three Rivers Resort for said supplies – and a delicious, old-skool burger lunch to boot. WITH TOTS! (And fry sauce!) I’ve stopped at the Three Rivers Resort several times during my area visits and they’ve never disappointed. They serve good, classic burgers and sandwiches with great shakes, pie and other assorted diner treats. The staff is always friendly and it’s a great jumping off point for many area hikes, beach adventures, fishing and drives.
With a belly full of tots, I continued back towards Forks and US 101 North. After gassing up and ensuring I did indeed have all the supplies I might need if stuck out in the middle of nowhere, I drove east on 101 towards the Neah Bay turnoff. (WA-113 – Burnt Mountain Road) At this point in the day, it started to full-on SNOW. In Forks. Home of rain-by-the-bucket. K Luckily, my car does quite well in the snow and onward I went. (However, my wonky elbow really wasn’t excited about the prospect of needing to be fully present during the drive. It would’ve been much happier lounging listlessly at my side.)
The drive along WA-113 is beautiful. It’s winding, incredibly scenic and very, very quiet. Sooooo very alone out there… And sure enough, between the overhanging trees and general remoteness of the road, my GPS was a bit challenged. It should also be mentioned that cell service is very much out of the question. Grab a map, take supplies and maybe bring someone along who might know a thing or two about cars. You just never know… And regardless of time of year, make sure your vehicle can handle snow, heavy rain, freakishly strong gusts of wind, etc. Also keep a lookout for the most awesomely named highway in the state… Pysht Highway – Also known as Pysht River Road. It leads, of course, to the awesomely named, tiny community of Pysht. Even though the area is quite lovely, I can’t help but drive down that road feeling smug and generally disgruntled – it’s in the name! Throw in a few slow head shakes for full, disgruntled effect…
On my way to Neah Bay, I passed through a couple of small coastal communities along the way. (WA-113 will hook up with WA-112) While although I was rolling through during the off-season, there were still a couple places here and there that were open. There’s a small strip-mallish area as you drive into Clallam Bay and there was a cute little restaurant open in Sekiu. (Check out By the Bay Café – nice diner with good diner fare.) There is definitely a lot more activity going on in the summer / early fall months, but there are places to visit during the offseason as well.
HELPFUL TIP: If you’re fond of using real deal, fully functional restroom facilities, I’d like to heartily suggest you do your business in Forks before heading out. Just trust me. Sure, there’s plenty of forest along the road to Neah Bay, but it’s a less than desirable scenario on a snowy day, for instance. Ladies in particular, please take heed. There is, however, a public restroom (daylight hours only) in Clallam Bay. Please also note there’s an actual state correctional facility in the area – so don’t get any ideas of a late night potty break-in…
There is also no shortage of wildlife along these back roads, year-round. I saw a very large herd of Elk along with two, GIANT eagles. (Actually, I spotted many more than two, but I saw this particular duo sitting side by side on an outcropping of rocks, just taking in the sea. AMAZING!) Drive carefully on these roads. There is much wildlife, many errant branches blown about, rocks, potential washouts and crazy turns in the road. You never know when you mind round the corner and come up against a 7-point elk…
After navigating the windy coastal drive to Neah Bay, (located in the Makah Reservation) I took a little time to investigate the town. Again, as it was the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of action, but Neah Bay is definitely the largest settlement in the area. There are a few dining options, a grocery/hardware/outdoor supply store, a gas station and a nice museum run by the Makah tribe. Check out Linda’s Wood Fired Kitchen or the Warm House for good local fare.
Just out of Neah Bay, you’ll find the road leading to Cape Flattery – follow the signs to ‘Cape Flattery and Beaches.’ (Stop at Washburn’s General Store in Neah Bay to grab the necessary recreation pass for the Cape Flattery area.) If you happen to be in the area during or just after a storm, be prepared for the GAUNTLET OF DOWNED TREES (Oh nooooooos!) you’ll need to navigate on the way to the Cape Flattery trailhead. It’s a nicely paved and maintained road, but there were some serious fallen trees and strewn branches accompanying me on my drive. Yowsa!
The hike to Cape Flattery is fairly accessible and well maintained, but does get slippery/muddy during the wet months. And if, for instance, you happen to be nursing a broken elbow and decide to make the trek ANYway, be extra careful through the muddy sections right before you reach the point. (I was doing so well! Until about 100 yards before my destination… Bah!) There are so many amazing vistas and lookouts as you get closer to the point. Be sure to check out the amazing coves, rock formation and PIRATE CAVES on either side of the trail. (Maybe there weren’t ever pirates in those caves, but there should’ve been. Or maybe I’ve just seen Goonies too many times…) The view from the actual point of Cape Flattery is amazing and while although you can’t actually step out to the true northwesternmost tip of the United States, it’s still pretty fun to check out. The lighthouse-hosting island just off the point of Cape Flattery is Tatoosh Island. (NOTE: Binoculars are a great addition to the Cape Flattery experience.)
After a somewhat successful afternoon of hiking (my elbow disagrees), I made the windy return trek back towards Forks, where I decided to stop for dinner before returning to La Push. I’ve tried several of the dining options in Forks over the years, but I decided to go with something new that night. And why not Chinese? I will admit to not expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the food and service and now stand corrected. I stopped by the Golden Gate and had a very nice meal, complete with steamed dumplings, orange chicken and steamed rice. And considering the dinner I’d had the night before, it was DELICIOUS! I’d certainly return the next time I’m in the area. Forks isn’t exactly a culinary hotbed, but there are a few classic options to enjoy. Other Forks restaurants to check out: Sully’s Drive-in, Forks Coffee Shop, The Hard Rain Café, Forks Outfitters (Grocery/Hardware/Outdoor supplies)
With that, I bring this portion of my Clallam County adventure to a close. I still have more areas and more cuisine to cover, but as this entry is getting fairly long, I’ll save it for my next entry.
Until next time… Cheers!