Join Naturalist Journeys for our Classic Olympic Peninsula nature tour. This Pacific Northwest nature tour includes time to explore the ruggedly beautiful Washington State Pacific coast, which forms the Olympic National Park’s western boundary. Stroll remote, quiet beaches near Puget Sound, explore tide pools, and discover a number of bays and harbors, including Neah Bay and Cape Flattery. During the journey, we tuck in for two cozy nights at Lake Quinault Lodge, three nights at Lake Crescent Lodge, and finally two nights in the artsy town of Port Townsend. This exceptional Washington tour offers a combination of birding, scenery, hiking, wildlife, culture, and cuisine that’s hard to beat!
- Discover Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for your chance to spot 40+ bird species, including Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds, Common Yellowthroat, and Bewick’s Wren
- Relax at the scenic Lake Quinault Lodge, nestled on the water's edge in a lush, temperate rainforest
- Walk through Sitka Spruce forest to a beautiful Pacific beach, with views of incredible sea stacks
- Hike through one of the world's wettest places: the western side of Olympic National Park
- Travel high into the Olympic Mountains to see wind-sculpted pygmy trees and myriad wildflowers
- Explore Cape Flattery and Neah Bay, the westernmost point of the continental United States
- Take time to explore the Dungeness Spit overlooking Puget Sound
Sat., May 8 : Arrive in Seattle
Plan to arrive in Seattle in the morning, then take the convenient shuttle right to the airport Radisson where we assemble for lunch at 2:00 PM. We can let you know if others in the group plan to arrive early so you can coordinate sightseeing (if you wish). We may plan to explore Jack Block Park or Nisqually NWR if we have enough time after lunch.
Accommodations in Seattle (L,D)
Sun., May 9: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge | Olympic National Park | Lake Quinault
En route to Lake Quinault, one of the prettiest spots on the Olympic Peninsula, we make a birding visit to the renowned Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), an Important Birding Area. This is a prime time of year to visit, and we hope to find five species of Washington’s swallows, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, and Great Egret; Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed Hawk; Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbirds; Willow and Pacific Slope Flycatchers; Pacific, Bewick’s, and Marsh Wrens; Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s Warbler; Savannah, White-crowned, and Song Sparrows; Band-tailed Pigeon; and more. We should find over 40 species, while enjoying a leisurely (and flat) four-mile hike on boardwalks and trails.
Nisqually NWR was established in 1974 for the protection of migratory birds and encompasses three thousand acres of salt and freshwater marshes, grasslands, riparian, and mixed forest habitats that provide resting and nesting areas for a wide variety of migratory waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds. Recently, this outstanding refuge got even better with the construction of a one-mile boardwalk that leads through salt marsh wetlands to the shores of Puget Sound.
We then head west, following the southern boundary of Olympic National Park, making stops that include a visit to the park’s largest Sitka Spruce tree. Lake Quinault is a fine example of the lush temperate forests of Olympic National Park. Chestnut-baked Chickadee should be on hand to greet us! They often signal a good mix of species as we settle into our lovely, historic national park lodgings on the shore of Lake Quinault. On arrival, we settle in, marvel at the ancient trees, and enjoy dinner in the historic dining room of Lake Quinault Lodge.
Accommodations at Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic National Park (B,L,D)
Mon., May 10 : Lake Quinault | Quinault Rainforest | Second Beach Hike
After a lovely breakfast at the lodge, we start the day with an outing to an authentic temperate rain forest on the north shore of Lake Quinault. Learn about the native trees and plants of the region and experience the splendor of a cathedral-like ancient forest while searching for old-growth forest birds like Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Pygmy, and possibly, the elusive Spotted Owl.
After our ancient forest hike and a picnic lunch, we drive up the coast for a short hike through a younger Sitka Spruce forest to a scenic beach on the Pacific Ocean. Gaze off to amazing views of sea stacks and crashing surf while looking for shorebirds, alcids, cormorants, otters, and seals. With luck the local Peregrine Falcon is in residence and puts on a show.
In the afternoon, we return to Lake Quinault Lodge where energetic guests can take a sunset canoe paddle out on the crystal-clear waters of Lake Quinault. We have set up dinner reservations for you at varied times, so you can sign up for dinner at your leisure at the hotel and take advantage of evening canoeing and other activities.
Accommodations at Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic National Park (B,L)
Tues., May 11 : Hoh River Rainforest | Marymere Falls | Lake Crescent
Today we explore a loop trail in perhaps the park’s most famous site, which showcases the finest temperate rain forest in Olympic National Park. Experience the splendor of the cathedral-like Hoh Rainforest while searching for ancient forest birds and wildlife. Massive Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock dominate the rainforest, with giant Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Red Alder, and Vine Maple growing alongside in smaller numbers.
The west side of Olympic National Park is one of the world’s wettest places, and myriad plant species thrive here. We examine mosses, ferns, liverworts, fungi, and wildflowers galore. Big-leaf Maple is perhaps the most memorable tree species here, with oddly sculptured trunks and branches. These trees also exhibit a strange adaptation: they send rootlets into their burden of lush mosses and epiphytes. Starting with Banana Slug, we observe the intricate web of ecological relationships. Above us stand mighty trees, giants of another era, and nest sites for rare Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl.
Under the intricate canopy of these lush forests we look for feeding flocks of Townsend’s Solitaire, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Townsend’s Warbler, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. On large Black Cottonwoods along rushing streams we may find Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Tanager, or chattering above us, Vaux’s Swift. With luck, we may encounter the forest-dwelling Roosevelt Elk. After time to walk among the forest giants, some of which are over 500 years old, and a picnic lunch, we continue on our way.
Depending on weather, we enjoy a picnic at the park, or stop in Forks, Washington, a former lumber town now famous as the film site for the Twilight movies about vampires.
We then head on to our lodgings at historic Lake Crescent Lodge; our route takes us along the extraordinarily beautiful, glacially-carved Crescent Lake. Once we check in, we take a short, one-mile afternoon stroll to beautiful Marymere Falls, where American Dipper nest.
We then return to the lodge to watch the sun set over Lake Crescent as we enjoy dinner and do our daily tally of birds and wildlife.
Accommodations at Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic National Park (B,L,D)
Wed., May 12 : Hurricane Ridge | Elwha River
Today we drive high into the Olympic Mountains — we may even encounter snow! We pass through several changes in vegetation, and if the road is open all the way, top out in the alpine for a fabulous view of snow-capped mountains and in the distance, the sea!
While still in forests, we stop at the park’s main visitor center. A winding road takes us through changing vegetation as we climb in elevation. Waterfalls and cascades occur alongside the road, and scenic stops abound. The panorama of glacially carved peaks is so abundant here, and provides us with amazing scenery and a living geologic classroom.
Learn more about the adaptations of plants and animals to high elevation and alpine climates as we search for one of the Olympic Peninsula’s endemic species, the Olympic Marmot. In the open tundra we may find courting American Pipit and Horned Lark. Among the stunted and wind-sculptured groves of pygmy trees in the krumholtz zone, we may find Sooty Grouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, and White-crowned Sparrow, or perhaps a McGillivray’s Warbler singing to define its territory.
We find myriad wildflowers! Mountain Goat were introduced to the Peninsula and provide a dilemma for park management, as they are fond of foraging on unique and rare native plants. We may see them with their young — quite a sight.
Enjoy a picnic lunch and a walk to Hurricane Hill atop Hurricane Ridge for fine views of Olympic peaks and glaciers. In the afternoon, we descend from the mountains to a picturesque overview of the former, and recently removed, dam along the Elwha River. This was the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history, and has already yielded a significant increase in the native salmon populations. From here, we return to Lake Crescent Lodge where you can enjoy another beautiful evening along the lake.
Accommodations at Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic National Park (B,L,D)
Thurs., May 13 : Makah Museum | Neah Bay | Cape Flattery
A trip to Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, the westernmost point of the continental USA, is impressive for its remoteness, scenic beauty, and insight into native cultures. The route is winding, and passes through a mix of pristine forest areas and vast clear cut areas, bringing the logging history of the peninsula quickly into perspective. Part of it parallels the coast, where Bald Eagle are a common sighting. Near Neah Bay we find many Red Cedar in the forests. This tree was vitally important to the culture and remains so today.
In the village of Neah Bay, we enjoy the impressive Makah Museum and explore the bayshore, looking for Purple Sandpiper on the rock jetty. We then take a hike on a tribal trail to Cape Flattery, where from a viewing area we look off to a seabird nesting island. Watch for Tufted Puffin, Sooty Shearwater, Brown Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Black Oystercatcher, both Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Caspian Tern. Mammals we watch for from this scenic perch include Sea Otter and Harbor Seal.
It is a full, but very rewarding day, and we return to our delightful accommodations on the lakeshore.
Accommodations at Lake Crescent Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., May 14 : Dungeness River Audubon Center | Dungeness Spit | John Wayne Marina
We drive through Port Angeles today, continuing on to the peninsula town of Sequim where Dungeness River Audubon Center is located. The center grounds have multiple feeders and a fantastic taxidermy display of local birds. Just outside, we walk a short, level trail that crosses above Dungeness River and continues high through the riparian forest canopy amid giant Big-leaf Maples. Here you can photograph, as well as view, birds like colorful California Quail, Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds, Steller’s Jay, and a number of songbirds often posing at the feeders.
Trails of Railroad Bridge Park, where the Center is located, give us a chance to look for Swainson’s Thrush, Pacific-slope and Willow Flycatchers, Western Tanager, Evening Grosbeak, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and four species of vireos: Hutton’s, Warbling, Cassin’s, and Red-eyed.
Following a picnic lunch, we drive through a mix of agricultural fields and forests out to Dungeness Spit, a National Wildlife Refuge and an Audubon Important Bird Area. It features a two-mile round trip hike through mature coniferous forest leading down to a 4.5-mile long spit overlooking Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and Cascade Volcanoes. The spit provides excellent habitat for migrant and resident birds—especially gulls and terns, various waterfowl, and shorebirds—in its marshes, grasslands, and driftwood/dunes. The sheltered waters and mudflats, along with the spit itself, provide great habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds.
Among other birds, we could see Brant, Pacific, and Common Loons, Western Grebe, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and a few shorebirds. We walk a short distance onto the spit and then back again, getting a good idea of which species are around, while enjoying the great views from this natural wonder.
Driving back to our lodgings at Sequim, we see a bit of the history of the Dungeness area—old schoolhouses and picturesque barns dot the landscape. If time, we may go over to see Rhinoceros Auklet and other seabirds at a stop at the rock jetty of John Wayne Marina.
Sequim has become a popular spot for growing lavender, and has some wonderful restaurants; we choose one tonight for dinner!
Our hotel has a top-floor deck, great for a view of the landscape or if clear, the night sky.
Accommodations at the Holiday Inn Express, Sequim (B,L,D)
Sat., May 15: Fort Worden State Park | Kah Tai Wetlands | Fort Flagler State Park
Our day today includes both nature and birding, and some time in the historic town of Port Townsend. Fort Worden State Park, best known as the set for the film, An Officer and a Gentleman, is also an outstanding area for seabirds due to the tidal mixing of currents near the Pt. Wilson Light House. Common Murre, Ancient and Marbled Murrelets, Pacific, Red-throated, and Common Loons, and Harlequin Duck are all possible here. A Great Horned Owl is often at home in some of the large trees around the buildings.
After walking around the scenic lighthouse area with sweeping views of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Whidbey Island, and both Cascade and Olympic mountain peaks, we head just a few miles to Kah Tai Wetlands to look for a large variety of wintering waterfowl and sparrows. Here we are likely to see both kinds of scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Common and Hooded Mergansers, American and possibly Eurasian Wigeons, Green-winged Teal, and Northern Pintail.
We enjoy lunch in Port Townsend, and give you some free time to look around the shops and historic buildings, which house book stores and art galleries.
We then return to Sequim, and enjoy another of the area’s nice bistro restaurants.
Accommodations at the Holiday Inn Express, Sequim (B,L,D)
Sun., May 16 : Best Birding Coffee Shop | Edmonds Ferry | Airport
On our way back to Seattle, we first stop at “Better Living Through Coffee,” where they not only feature good coffee and pastries, but also good birding right out the window! Armed with caffeine and delicious carbs, we drive an hour to the Edmonds Ferry, where more birding and marine mammals await during our 30-minute crossing from Kingston to Edmonds. We then drive to the airport, arriving by 11:00 AM.
Seattle is a great place to extend your vacation if you wish to stay on for a few more days. By ferry, you can also reach Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. (B)
Cost of the Journey
The cost of the guided Olympic Peninsula Birding & Wildlife tour is $3190 DBL / $3995 SGL, based on double occupancy. This cost includes eight nights’ accommodations, all meals as specified in the itinerary (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner), transportation during the journey, detailed pre-tour information, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
This cost does not include: additional activities such as local boat rental on Lake Crescent, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, or gratuities for porterage or personal services.
Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is served by most major airlines. It is also a fun city to explore if you wish to come in early, and a raised tram from the Radisson Hotel provides easy public transport into the city from the airport area.
ARRIVALS: The tour begins with lunch at the Radisson hotel near the SEATAC AIRPORT (shuttle from airport or parking available). Please meet in the lobby of the hotel at 2:00 PM on May 8. Some may wish to come in a day or two early to enjoy the city.
DEPARTURES: We return to the Seattle airport by 11:00 AM on May 16, for flights out after 12:30 PM.
Items of Note
Pace of the Tour
The focus of this tour is birds and natural history, so in order to access the parks and refuges, you should be able to walk 1 – 3 miles a day, at a birder’s pace. To participate fully, you should be able to get in and out of vans repeatedly, and to walk this length of trail over uneven terrain.
Photo credits: Banner: Scoping Tufted Puffins at Cape Flattery, courtesy Woody Wheeler; Common Murre, Peg Abbott; Rialto Beach by Woody Wheeler; Naturalist Journeys Group x2 by Woody Wheeler; Olympic Marmot by Carol Simon; Olympic Group, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Beach Rocks, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Tufted Puffin, Greg Smith; Cascade Mountains, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Steller's Jay by Peg Abbott; Whidbey Fort, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Rufous Hummingbird, Greg Smith; Sea Otter, Greg Smith; Black Turnstone, Greg Smith; Beach Rocks, NJ Stock; Townsend's Warbler, Steve Wolfe; Dungeness River Audubon Center, Woody Wheeler; Dungeness Spit NWR, Woody Wheeler; Green-winged Teal, Tom Dove; Violet-green Swallow, Steve Wolfe; Red-winged Blackbird, Greg Smith; Cape Flattery, Woody Wheeler; Chickadee, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Sea Otter, Greg Smith; Snowy Plover, Greg Smith; Black-tailed Deer, Woody Wheeler; Upper Dungeness, Woody Wheeler; Hiking, Naturalist Journeys Stock.