Peak Experience: Port Angeles with kids

I’d never given much thought to the area around Port Angeles, Washington. I thought of it as a working town, without much for kids. Just a stop en-route to and from Victoria, BC.

But our recent trip enlightened me. I now think the Olympic Peninsula’s outdoors options are among the Pacific Northwest’s best bets. Adventure comes in all sizes here, whether you let a inch-long crab pinch your  finger or you’re willing to summit a 5,200-foot-tall, wildflower-draped mountain.

If you’re going on a family trip to the kid-friendly Port Townsend, make time to explore the Olympic Peninsula’s natural wonderland. Port Angeles makes for an easy day-trip from Victoria, BC, just a quick 1 1/2-hour long jaunt on the M.V. Coho.

Here’s a whole day of fun, hour by hour:

9 a.m. Breakfast in Sequim.

Start your morning off right with breakfast at the Oak Table, a kid-friendly Sequim institution serving up a variety of carbalicious breakfasts. Inside the handsome oak dining room, families share enormous pancakes and egg dishes. The kitchen rings a bell whenever a soufflé-style apple order is up – the waitress has less than a minute to deliver the three-inch-high pancake to your table before it collapses.

10 a.m. Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary.

located about 30 minutes west of Port Angeles, boasts one of the best tidepooling spots in Washington State (and one of the funniest names). Put on your hiking boots, then take the staircase down steep bluffs and onto the beachcombing at the Washington Coastmussel-covered, rocky shore. Six-foot-tall boulders and slippery seagrass encircle tidepools filled with purple urchins, blood stars and gregarious hermit crabs. Bring a field guide to identify sea life, because you’ll find plenty of it.

Two caveats – check the tide schedule before going out and wear sturdy shoes that can get wet and can take a beating. Toddlers and skittish preschoolers will face a difficult time climbing up and down the bluffs and staircase; be ready to haul them down and back up. And once up, although the cliffs are fenced off, hold your kids’ hands and watch them closely. It’s a long way down them thar hills.

Tongue Point is located in the Salt Creek Recreation Area, an excellent family camping choice. Tree-sheltered sites, a playground, World-War-II bunkers, amazing views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ocean waves lulling you to sleep – sounds good to me.

Dream Playground and totem pole in Port Angeles Washington

The Dream Playground

Noon. Lunch in kid-friendly Port Angeles.

We ordered sandwiches from First Street Haven (107 E 1st St., 360-457-0352), which offers sandwiches, salads and soups. The dining room is small, homey and extremely popular with locals and visitors, and our sandwiches were big enough to share with the kids. Across the street, the chic Itty Bitty Buzz slings excellent take-away sandwiches — as long as you get there before they sell out. Locavores may want to browse the stalls at the year-round Port Angeles Farmers Market.

1 p.m. Eat lunch at the Dream Playground (at Erickson Playfield) , a community-wide project inspired by children’s dreams. After asking local kids what they’d like to see in a playground, the designers constructed a multi-use play area with a wooden castle, climbing equipment, a dragon-faced slide, swings, and a toddler-sized “town” with a ferry, bank and post office.

Visiting the Olympic National Park with kids

Visiting the Olympic National Park with kids

1:30 Olympic National Park with kids.

Drive south toward the Olympic National Park, at the southern edge of Port Angeles. Stop at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center where the Discovery Room’s intelligent fun builds a few new brain cells. Kids can play at offering advice from inside a child-size ranger station, create a totem pole with felt, stick their hands inside a cougar’s mouth (OK, just the skull). Drawers slide open to reveal thematic toys, puzzles and books.

Olympic National Park ranger station with kids

In the center’s main area, a life-size elk looks out over a 650-year-old tree cross-cut and a whale-hunting canoe. But remind kids to look up – there’s a cougar watching you from overhead.

The gift shop offers all the usual park center goodies, but look for the junior ranger handouts, which the kids can fill out for a badge. The rangers are helpful but often overwhelmed by visitors; once you snag one, they’ll give advice on where to go in the massive park.

2:00 Hurricane Ridge with kids.

Head up to Hurricane Ridge for the Olympic National Park’s most-scenic views — the $15 car fee is well worth the expense. The 45-minute drive takes you through various habitats and past lookouts (one incredible spot allows you to take in Bellingham, Victoria and Port Angeles all at once).

For the best rubbernecking, bribe/plead/ask for someone else to drive. Sword ferns, leafy trees and huckleberry plants give way to moss-covered rocks, then to dark fir tunnels of thick forest. Basalt outcroppings and grassy meadows host deer, Olympic marmots and black bears. As you ascend to treeline and above, you’ll notice heart-stopping drops down steep valleys populated by wind-whipped trees.

Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at the Olympic National Park

Lookout at Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center

At the peak, you’ll find the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, an interpretive center with descriptions of the riotous floral rainbow growing outside and a 3-D diorama of the ONP. Look for the mountain map at the lookout, which makes sense of the jumble of peaks that surround you – with a little help, each one gains a distinct personality.

The downstairs snack bar refuels before a ranger-guided interpretive hike. In winter, skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing are popular pasttimes for those intrepid visitors prepared for the unpredictable winds that gave this ridge its name.

webster woods art park with kids in Port Angeles Washington3:30 An art hike in Port Angeles.

Have you ever been on an art ramble? I hadn’t. At Webster’s Woods Art Park, gentle, toddler-friendly trails take you through a forest of art. Look up, down and sideways to catch glances of over 110 artworks among evergreens. No, you won’t find a Van Gogh, but children generally love the playfulness, color and texture of modern art.

Among many works, we found a giant spoon, a working gong, several painted bushes, a fire-hydrant-carved log and precariously balanced glass sculptures. And my favorite — a small grouping of tutu-costumed trees, ready to pirouette.

More: Find excellent tips and suggestions from the Olympic Peninsula site, including a list of family-friendly activities. Find lodging and dining deals at the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce.