The deep red sunrise across Long Beach Peninsula turned the pale wet sand a fierce red as I scanned it for the tell-tale dimples of razor clams.
It was a cool April morning when I made my way from Adrift Hotel down to the 28-mile stretch of pristine sand in the southwestern corner of Washington, just shy of Oregon’s northwest border. I was on a self-drive adventure from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula, home to the Olympic National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is really three parks in one – wilderness coast, ancient forest and snowy mountains, with nearly a million acres and 900 miles of hiking trails.
My journey had started 172 miles away, in Seattle, via the I-5 South and the Highway 101 South. Passing through the quiet seaside town of Olympia, I had stopped briefly to see the colourful farmers’ market and to visit the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a rich and diverse estuary at the end of Puget Sound.
Back on the beach… I borrowed a clam gun, a two-foot long plastic tube that I held over the dimple, and I pushed it deep into the sand until I heard a crunch – I’d struck a clam.
Creating a vacuum, I pulled upwards, bringing sand and clam to the surface – my first of a potential 15, which is the limit per person. The necessary tools can be borrowed for free from the local tourist office, but you need to pay for a permit.
The unpatrolled beach is vast and unspoiled, but bear in mind that there are strong rip currents along the coast, so swimming is not recommended, but there’s plenty to do in Long Beach, including horse and bike riding, and the sand is even hard enough to drive along.
My second day took me north, hugging the Pacific coast, with the ocean’s rolling waves pounding the shore, into what is known as temperate rainforest. It rained… a lot. At times, I could barely see the road.
After a three-hour drive from Long Beach, I arrived at Kalaloch Lodge, set on a high bluff overlooking a wild stretch of coast in the Olympic National Park. I walked on to the driftwood-lined beach below my cosy log cabin, where I was greeted with the sight of hundreds of huge tree trunks piled high; they had been washed down the Kalaloch Creek.
The following day, I drove eight miles north, stopping at beautiful Ruby Beach, where I kept an eye out for harbour seals, porpoises, orcas and humpback whales, a common sight along the coast. I stopped to take in the huge sea stacks and surf-tossed logs along the shore, while a bald eagle circled above me.
Onward to Hoh Rainforest, 32 miles inland from Ruby Beach, where my sense of scale slipped away when I entered the forest on foot, the towering canopy and gigantic trees making me feel the size of a hobbit in a living fairy-tale setting.
Twelve feet of annual rainfall helps produce the massive conifers that dominate the rainforest and the deep, soft mosses, ferns and plants that compete for space on the rainforest floor.
Fans of Twilight will be familiar with the next stop on the tour, the town of Forks, where the series was filmed and an annual festival honours the programme. Also notable for being the rainiest town in the US, which presumably scared off vampires and werewolves during my visit, it’s a good place to stock up before heading for Chito Beach Resort for the night.
There my cosy cabin sat on rocks overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 19 miles from Cape Flattery Head, the northwestern tip of the continental United States. Quiet, secluded and warm, seawater sprayed at my cabin window and I strolled along watching the sunset, with orcas surfacing off the shore.
The next day, a ten-mile drive west along a snaking road, with views across the sea to Canada, took me to Neah Bay, home to the Makah, an Indian tribe. The wonderful Makah Museum (makahmuseum.com) opened my eyes to this popular place, which is a bolthole for adventure-seekers, hikers, kayakers, surfers and fishermen. From the nearby Flattery trailhead, where I left my car and walked along a trail spur, I enjoyed the spectacular views overlooking massive rock stacks and caves, with waves crashing on to the steep rocks and Tatoosh Island and its lighthouse in the distance. This magical and beautiful place really touched my soul; in the water below, a sea otter floated on its back, drifting on the current, and sea eagles flew in abundance overhead.
With a warning to watch out for elk crossing the road, as night fell I drove east from Neah Bay to Port Angeles and pulled into Domaine Madeleine, a beautifully private bed and breakfast property with exquisite gardens and views of the sea, for an overnight stop. My early morning vista from the garden offered more sea eagles and whales; they had become the norm. As I left, deer darted across the road and the rising sun lit the distant snow-capped mountains.
My next stop was 47 miles away, passing through Sequim and into the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, with its vibrant working waterfront. The high street and surrounding roads were lined with beautiful Victorian buildings housing unique boutiques, galleries, cafés and restaurants. I stayed at the Bishop Victorian Hotel, where an exceptionally steep and long Victorian staircase led to the bedrooms.
Down in the harbour I boarded a whale watching boat with Puget Sound Express (www.pugetsoundexpress.com), which carried me past a sea lion floating on a buoy in the sunshine and out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We went this way and that in search of whales, and finally were rewarded with the amazing sight of a pod of around five orcas with a baby moving slowly through the strait.
After breakfast among the local fisherman and their boats at Blue Moose Cafe, I said goodbye to Port Townsend, and drove an hour and a half to Bainbridge Island, where a ferry ($11.50 one way) took me quickly over Puget Sound to the centre of Seattle, where my journey had begun.
With its iconic Space Needle dominating the landscape, Seattle is a hotbed of coffee shops, markets, global tech headquarters and legendary music venues, all of which wait to be explored for less with the Seattle City Pass. And beyond lies Mount Rainier and onwards, into Washington State’s spectacular wilderness, which waits for me to return and explore another day.
America As You Like It offers a nine-night holiday to Seattle/Washington state from £1,736 pp based on two people sharing, including return flights on Icelandair from London Heathrow to Seattle via Iceland, fully inclusive car hire and nine nights accommodation. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Package without flights: from £888 pp based on two people sharing
Flights with Icelandair: www.icelandair.co.uk
Return economy class flights to Seattle from Glasgow start from £496 including taxes. Icelandair flies from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Aberdeen in the UK, with onward connections to 18 North American gateways. Long haul passengers can have a stopover of up to seven days in Iceland en route for no extra cost. If passengers stop over on their outbound journey they will save about £50 pp on APD tax. For bookings or customer service contact 020 7874 1000