A Weekend Trip with Kids to the Olympic Peninsula

This summer, Mariah Voutilainen went on a whirlwind weekend trip through the Olympic Peninsula with her husband and two children (ages 3 and 5). In just three days and two nights, the intrepid Seattle-based family visited Sequim, Dungeness Spit, Port Angeles, Joyce, Makah Indian Reservation, Cape Flattery, Elwah Dam and Hurricane Ridge. That’s a total of 339 miles — but who’s counting?

Let’s find out more about Mariah’s trip through the Olympic Peninsula.

Q: What was your favorite town or destination in the Olympic Peninsula? What did you like about it?

My favorite part of the trip was the drive from Sequim all the way to Cape Flattery.  I really liked the small town of Joyce, Washington, with its historic general store museum. The museum was open on Sunday morning, and the woman who worked there knew a lot of history, including facts about the train that used to come through the town, and the people who settled there.  Kids were welcome to touch and try out the artifacts in the museum, including the old-fashioned fire truck and the horse carriage.

The Makah Cultural and Research Center at the Makah Reservation was also very interesting, although not completely finished in some places.  There were also kid-friendly exhibits there, and a very nice gift shop where you could buy a permit to be on the reservation as well as Makah/Native books and paraphernalia, including locally made jewelry.

Cape Flattery was absolutely gorgeous!  The hike through the woods was very easy–it was mostly paneled with wood planks so that you could easily stay on the trail.  There were several look-out points that had amazing views of the water.  It was really amazing to be at the western-most point of the United States.

Q. What can you do with kids in the Olympic Peninsula? What did you enjoy most?

I think the boys enjoyed almost everything, but they really liked the Dream Playground at Erikson Field.  We went there and they had a ball.  Additionally, they thoroughly enjoyed getting amazing ice cream at Buzz, a local coffee shop and ice cream parlour in Sequim.  I’d have to say that the small scoop of ice cream was actually half a pint!

Q. Did you come across any child-friendly restaurants while visiting the Olympic Peninsula?

The two restaurants we ate at (a cafe on the Makah Reservation called Whalers Moon Delight, and a Mexican Restaurant called Fiesta Jalisco in Port Angeles) were both fine, although I wouldn’t say that they were particularly “kid-friendly.”   The food was nothing to write home about, really, at either one.

Q. That’s too bad. Did you like your hotel in the Olympic Peninsula?

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Sequim. It was a pleasant, affordable place to stay, with rooms that looked recently updated.  Most importantly, they included continental breakfast, which at these types of hotels nowadays include either make your own waffles or pancakes (this one had pancakes, which were really fun for the boys to make).  Also included was a pool and hot-tub, which were a good distraction for the boys, who went to swim twice.

Q. Anything else you’d like to say? Why would you recommend a trip to the Olympic Peninsula to families?

Definitely would recommend a trip to Sequim and all the other places we went.  The lavender farms in Sequim are lovely, as is the Dungeness Spit beach.  So much to do there, and it doesn’t take long to do if you plan it correctly!

Cycling Across Canada with Kids

Joe Kurmaskie and his wife Beth set out on a cross-Canada adventure with their three boys, ages 9, 7 and 1. Method of transport: bicycles. Really. And it was awesome.

Kurmaskie’s crew started out from their home in Portland, Oregon, cycled to North BC’s Prince Rupert, then east across Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They started out on a three-seat tandem bicycle, pulling a trail-a-bike with a baby trailer attached. But always conscious of safety, the couple soon switched to a two-seat tandem for Joe and one son, pulling a trail-a-bike and baby trailer, with Beth riding alongside on her own bike.

Q: What was the best part of your journey?

Having the whole family join a wheeled adventure, all of us, for the first time. Beth had never joined one of these long trips before, nor had my youngest son. So this was a high risk, high reward deal — road testing a perfectly good marriage if you will. And it broke my way. Beth turned into Xena Warrior Cyclist and I couldn’t have been more proud.

So the best of it was to spend so much quality time in and out of the saddle on an adventure with some of my favorite people. To quote the Avett Brothers on the subject of family, “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”

Q: What was surprisingly challenging?

It came as no surprise, but the most challenging part was when I had to adjust to Beth being off the triple, pedaling her own bike. Which left me to pedal a tandem trail-a-bike trailer combination with three sons aboard: 16 feet long and in excess of 450 pounds of gear and boys
and diapers and fishing poles.

It was the equivalent of a rolling Bowflex on wheels. But once I got the rhythm of it … man, just talking about it now makes me miss those days of labor. The pay off — the amazing places and things and people we saw and met, and the quality time spent with my sons in the saddle talking about stuff you don’t get to in the workaday existence.

Q: Which part of the Pacific Northwest did you enjoy cycling most?

That’s like asking me which part of paradise was exceptionally sparkly… but here goes. The Olympic Peninsula. You feel like you are pedaling through Lake Country in Switzerland.

Q: Which part of BC did you enjoy cycling most? Why?

Discovering so many oases and hidden spots on Vancouver Island, from the Galloping Goose Trail to Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. You can’t get tired of Vancouver Island
and all it has to offer, even if you went up to pedal it every summer for the next dozen years. Which is what we intend to do — spend at least a week every summer exploring some spot on that island.

That said, the Yellowhead Highway from Prince Rupert to Smithers in Northern British Columbia is like something from the Land That Time Forgot – like you’ve pedaled right into a landscape from Lord of The Rings.

Salt Spring Island with friends

Q: How would you recommend a family start out with a cycling vacation? What are the “baby steps” to a bike vacation?

Everyone must decide what their comfort zone is – a weekend trip out to the regional state park or even starting with a few day rides that put them in their bed that night. But soon you want to push it just a bit beyond what you think is your comfort zone.

I recommend that no matter what time frame and length you chose you get everyone comfortable on the bike rig.

I choose to keep the family – at least all the kids, attached to me – that way I don’t have to worry about everyone’s judgment when it comes to traffic and routes and safety. I stay hyper aware and alert about traffic issues, but don’t have to burden a nine-year old or even an eleven-year-old with that responsibility. This formula has worked for two continents and 10,000 miles of family bike travel. So they get to pedal and ride and get exercise but they don’t helm their own bikes.

Q: What kind of bike set up will you use on your next trip?

As my family is growing up we are planning to shift over to two tandems and one of us pulling a trailer and one pulling the trail-a-bike. Why does that seem to add two more people than my family? We aren’t Catholic, just careless. We just welcomed our fourth son, Sawyer Ray Kurmaskie, into the world. He’ll be the one in the trailer this time. Matteo will graduate to the trail-a-bike and Enzo to the other stoker seat on the second tandem.

Of course I might end up pulling both the trailer and the trail-a-bike again – you’ll have to ask my wife before we set out on the next adventure.

North BC

Q: Did one community in the BC or the NW really stand out for you?

Gosh – again that’s a horse race – there were so many great experiences in Victoria, BC, Smithers and Courtney. If you read my new book, “Mud, Sweat and Gears” you’ll learn why these towns stand out – it’s for different reasons, characters and moments – if pressed we’d
vote for Salt Spring Island, BC, for the combination of people, experiences, food, moments of tenderness and acts of kindness given and received.

Q: What did you do when the kids got whiny or tired? How did you inspire them to keep going?

The gang had digital cameras and plastic lightsabers and lots of new experiences every moment. Because a bicycle adventure is active and  keeps them involved and lets them stop for things they spot or want to do or check out the kids NEVER once asked if we were there yet. Because we always were.

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Curious? Want to hear more about how this all went down? I sure do. And now my husband wants to follow Joe’s trail (the compromise for mom — cycling between spas, ha).

Buy Joe’s book at discount AND support Joe’s project “Camp Creative,” when you order “Mud, Sweat and Gears” at Metal Cowboy.

Mention that you read this article and he’ll take 20% off the price. Check out Joe’s website for more info on Camp Creative or his other endeavors. I would also encourage you to check out his funny and fascinating slideshow of the adventure.

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.