Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series of articles. A hidden gem in Northwest Washington that you should put on your trail destination bucket list is Port Angeles, Washington, population 20,000. Submitted by Peninsula Adventure Sports with support from Lorrie Mittmann, race director for the GOAT Run (Great Olympic Adventure Trail Run) in Port Angeles, WA.
Photo above: Running break en route to Marmot pass, starting from Tubal Cain Trailhead. Credit: Peninsula Adventure Sports.
Port Angeles, Washington
Port Angeles is located in the far northwest corner of Washington State, between Olympic National Park and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Once primarily a timber and mill town, it is now also a tourism and outdoor recreation hub. Both the stunning natural features and the mild weather make Port Angeles the perfect basecamp for excellent outdoor adventure year round. You can find high peaks, ocean beaches, wild rivers, crystal clear lakes, and temperate rainforests filled with huge trees and lush greenery.
The town has a population of around 20,000 with a Love Where You Live attitude. It is a welcoming, active, involved community and just big enough to provide some interesting local restaurants, pubs, and shopping.
Port Angeles is located in the rain shadow of the rugged and pristine Olympic Mountains, which means that it gets less rainfall than many other areas of western Washington. The marine influence moderates the temperature, so that it is rarely ever too hot or too cold to enjoy hitting a trail. At certain times of year, you can trail run or kayak in the morning, and ski at Hurricane Ridge in the afternoon.
The headquarters of Olympic National Park is located in Port Angeles, and the town is the gateway for over 3 million park visitors annually. The Park provides nearly 1 million acres of wilderness to explore. But wait! In addition to National Park lands, we also have dog-friendly Olympic National Forest (including the Buckhorn Wilderness) which surrounds the Park, as well as Washington State park and forest lands all around the peninsula.
Port Angeles is also a jumping off point for a fun international outing. It is easy to take the Coho Ferry from downtown to the Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This British colonial city is a great day trip with highlights Butchart Gardens, a world-class natural history museum, great restaurants, breweries, and shopping.
A 2016 Seattle Times article sums up Port Angeles well, and since that time the town has made huge strides to live up to its potential. Here’s a great excerpt from the writeup:
“Pound for pound, Port Angeles has the most diverse wilderness access of any town in the U.S. and is one of the only places where you could easily surf and snowboard (and possibly even kayak) in the same day,” raves the Matador Network, listing Port Angeles as one of the “20 Coolest Towns in the U.S.”
Port Angeles is in the midst of change. The downtown is where the biggest changes are or will be most evident. Once-empty storefronts are being filled with hip new shops and pubs which are now side-by-side with some great long-time standbys. The Chamber of Commerce recently invested in bringing an ice skating rink to town during the winter months.
There are a number of large projects underway that will transform the downtown in the coming years, including a multi-phase waterfront improvement project, a new 4-star hotel built by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, a new performing arts and conference center, a new building for the existing Fiero Marine Life Center as well as a new longhouse and cultural center for the Lower Elwha Kallam Tribe. Finally, last but not least, is a planned large-scale refurbishment of the 1916 historic Lincoln Theater.
On the Olympic Peninsula there are trails (1000 miles!!!) to suit all skill and endurance levels. You can definitely find a trail to meet your running vacation goal. Olympic National Park has over 600 miles of trails to explore, while dog-friendly Olympic National Forest provides an additional 270 miles, and there are 100 or so miles on state park and forest land (also dog-friendly). The local jurisdictions also have you covered! Local non-profit Peninsula Trails Coalition has been working with Clallam County and the peninsula towns since the late 1980s to build the Olympic Discovery Trail. This hard-surface “rails-to-trails” type multi-use path currently provides around 80 miles to explore, with another 50+ in the works.
The newest singletrack addition to the local system is the singletrack Olympic Adventure Trail (aka OAT as the locals call it), just west of town a few miles. This is the go-to trail for year-round trail running (note that it is a multi-use trail, so you could see mountain bikers and horses as well). With 21 miles of singletrack trail at no more than 7% grade, this is a running trail for everyone. The tread was built to be free of most roots and rocks, so it is non-technical. This is another one that is dog-friendly. There are multiple access points for many days of exploration.
Tame or non-technical and easier grades:
- Olympic Adventure Trail
- Little River Trail
- Miller Peninsula
- Hoh Rainforest
Moderate / some climbing but not overly technical:
- Upper Dungeness Trails – Tubal Cain, Marmot Pass, Dungeness Trail
- Grand Ridge
- Lake Angeles
Technical / lots of elevation:
- 7 Lakes Basin
- Mount Muller
- Upper Dungeness Trails – Mount Townsend, Royal Basin
Bonus: While all of the trails except in the National Park are mountain bike friendly, we also have 2 trail systems dedicated solely to mountain biking,: Dry Hill and Colville Trails.
Parking, Transit & Fees:
To explore these trails, you will need a car. There are entry or parking fees associated as well. The Olympic National Park annual pass is $55 per vehicle or get the weekly pass for $30 per vehicle. There is no day pass option. At the Olympic National Forest (Northwest Forest Pass), the annual pass is $30 per vehicle or get a day pass for $5. Honored at all Forest Service operated recreation sites in Washington and Oregon where a day use fee is required.
Another option is to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass. It’s $80 and is good at all federal recreation areas in the country (Park Service, Forest Service, BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife) for one year. PRO TIP: If you are 62 years or older, get the Senior Pass for $80 which is good for your lifetime!
For Washington State park and forest lands (Discovery Pass) the annual pass is $35, day pass is $11.50. This is valid for all Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and State Park lands.
National Park passes can be purchased at the entrance booth when you go through. National Forest and Washington State passes can both be purchased at Swains, which is seriously a store you don’t want to miss anyway! The Olympic Discovery Trail, Olympic Adventure Trail, and Clallam County Parks are free.
Port Angeles is a tight-knit community, especially within the outdoor recreation world. Almost everyone spends time having fun outdoors, be it running, mountain biking, BMX, fishing, hunting, skiing, bird watching, kayaking, surfing, and more. The citizens are engaged in the community, friendly, and ready to lend a hand. The local businesses support any and every cause, and individuals, businesses, and organizations partner to get good things done, whether for arts, education, or events.
Arts & Culture:
Visit Port Angeles has best described the variety and quality of the arts and culture in town. The following information is directly from there amazing website, which is worth a click because it will also tell you everything else you could possibly want to know about visiting.
It’s easy to get inspired in Port Angeles. From a historic underground tour to art spotting for murals along the Port Angeles Mural Trail to Native American heritage celebrations and museums, Port Angeles is popping with culture galore. Explore the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, galleries, or the umpteen pieces of street art scattered throughout the downtown core.
Art in Port Angeles:
Port Angeles’s art scene is bursting with not only art murals and sculptures all over town, but more monthly and annual events that show off the artsy side of this small town. Stroll through downtown where you’ll find outdoor sculptures done by northwest artists for the Art on the Town program, and even art created by children called “Fish on the Fence” located along the waterfront near the Landing Mall. The Art on the Town program includes the “Avenue of the People”, a 15-piece outdoor sculpture exhibit that conveys a story of everyday life in a small town, by Bob Stokes — who is a popular artist that resides in Port Angeles and is a driving force in the city’s art scene — and two other resident artists: Mike Anderson and Gray Lucier.
Follow a Mural Trail:
For a few hours of fun, plan to hunt and seek around downtown Port Angeles for hand-painted art murals that tell a story of Port Angeles’ rich maritime heritage and Native American culture. The self-guided art tour to 12 murals scattered about our downtown can be done on foot or by bike. Download the map to chart your art course!
Second Weekend Art Walk:
Every second weekend, downtown Port Angeles galleries, restaurants and shops stay open late to host various exhibits and art displays during the Second Weekend Art Walk. A few of the businesses that participate include Heatherton Art Gallery, Port of Angels Jewelry Shoppe, The Metta Room/Turnip the Beet, Bar N9ne, Mended Gallery, Studio Bob, Ernst Fine Art Photography, and Landing Mall Artists Gallery. Bar N9ne, a bar that hosts live music, does an “Art Rock” concert — a band plays while an artist paints or sculpts to the music. They have also hosted other art-inspired events like shadow puppet theater, dancers, and more.
Stroll Through an Outdoor Art Park:
For a nature-meets-art exhibit, head to Webster’s Woods Art Park at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. The five-acre gallery and Webster’s Woods Art Park features an indoor selection of art along with over 100 sculptures artfully placed –and camouflaged — among the trees. The art park is open year-round from dawn to dusk and is free. The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center also hosts a number of events and special exhibits including the Shakespeare Outdoors live theater event to the Paint the Peninsula juried painting competition.
Native American Culture:
The entire Olympic Peninsula is rich in Native American history and culture. There are eight local tribes residing on reservations along the coastal areas of the Peninsula who ceded their land back in 1855 and 1856: Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah.
The Klallam people once spanned the entire northern portion of the Olympic Peninsula with 33 villages. Downtown Port Angeles was once the site of a historic village called č̕ixʷícən (Tse-whit-zen) believed to be over 2,700-years-old. The ancient village was discovered by the city in 2003 when Native American remains and artifacts were discovered during a city project at the base of Ediz Hook. The artifacts found are now on permanent display at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center. To date, this is the largest Native American village to be found in Washington state since the Makah’s Ozette village was uncovered in the 1970s.
The House of Learning Longhouse is the first of its kind in the nation to be constructed on a college campus. The Longhouse at Peninsula Community College was constructed through collaboration with six local tribes. The building is actually sitting on tribal territory set back in a wooded area and welcomes all with a traditional totem pole carved from one large tree. Wander or stop in during an event to view the impressive collection of rotating Native American art from area tribes.
You may have noticed several street signs in downtown Port Angeles in both the English and the Klallam language. The city’s waterfront park and the street signs were created to honor the Klallam tribal history. The city worked with the Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes in planning the 1.5-acre waterfront public park for all to enjoy.
Don’t miss the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys, a spiritual canoe voyage where paddlers heading to Canada land in Port Angeles at Hollywood Beach in downtown Port Angeles between July and August. The public is welcome to spectate and even participate.
Live Theater, Music & Special Events:
Anytime of the year, you can catch a play at the historic Port Angeles Community Playhouse, a classical music performance by the Port Angeles Symphony, live music at downtown bars and venues, or at one of the annual festivals like the famous Juan de Fuca Arts Festival. Every October, the tradition of storytelling lives on at the Forest Storytelling Festival.
Museums & Historic Tours:
There are numerous historic buildings throughout downtown Port Angeles. We highly recommend taking the Underground Heritage Tours, a city walking tour of Port Angeles’ underground network of tunnels and storefronts from the early 1900s. Another highlight is the restored Carnegie Library building just up the hill from downtown. The Clallam County Historical Society restored the original 1919 library into the Museum at the Carnegie. There are two exhibits on display, including the permanent “Strong People: Faces of Clallam County,” which tells the history of the entire county.”
Coffee culture is huge in the Pacific Northwest, including Port Angeles. We have high quality coffee and treats in abundance! Blackbird, Bada NW, Higher Grounds, Bella Rosa, and Fogtown are a few (but not all!) to try if you want to sit down and hang out for a while. If you are in a hurry to hit the road, there are any number of coffee huts – you won’t have to go far before you spot one.
The Pacific Northwest is also known for high quality craft beer, and Port Angeles is so on board with that! While there is just one local brewery, Barhop Brewing & Artisan Pizza, there is no shortage of craft beer on tap in Port Angeles. To find the best selection on tap, make sure to visit Midtown Public House, Next Door Gastropub, Angeles Brewing & Taproom, and the New Moon Craft Tavern.
Want to combine a visit to Port Angeles with even more beer? Summertime brings Far West Beer Fest and the Arts & Draughts Beer & Wine Festival.
But wait! Don’t forget about wine. There are incredibly talented winemakers at both Harbinger Winery and Camaraderie Cellars! After an outdoor adventure out west, Harbinger is the place to stop. The friendly casual atmosphere is welcoming to athletes covered in trail dust (they won’t even notice!). It isn’t strange to them that you might want a succulent Syrah or a cool and refreshing Albariño after hitting the trail. Pro tip: on a hot day, there is nothing better than La Vie en Rosé. Oh yeah, they also have beer and cider on tap. Extra Bonus: Harbinger Winery is in the same building as Adventures Through Kayaking.
Fun wine and cider events on the Olympic Peninsula include the Wine, Cider & Cheese, Red Wine, Cider, and Chocolate, and Harvest Wine Tour. Neighboring Sequim has some good stops if you are returning to Port Angeles from the Dungeness Trails – Peninsula Taproom for beer and Olympic Cellars for wine.
Where can you go straight off the trail? No one will bat an eye if you show up in dirty running shoes or a bit disheveled at:
- Barhop Brewing & Artisan Pizza: Wood-fired pizza
- Midtown Public House: Rice bowls, Bahn Mi, burgers, Korean tacos, and unique sharables
- Spruce: PNW locally-sourced comfort food
- Next Door Gastropub: Takes pub fare to the next level
- Coyote Barbeque: The brisket is not to be missed!
- Toga’s Soup House: Weekdays only – amazing soups and sandwiches, dessert case not to be believed, and don’t miss the fresh-baked german pretzels on Fridays, and Paulaner Original Münchner Märzen beer on tap.
- Little Devils Lunchbox: Smoked meat burritos and tacos
More great choices (but maybe clean up a tad first):
- Michael’s Fresh Northwest Seafood and Steakhouse: cozy and romantic steak and seafood
- Sabai Thai: never a bad meal (reservation recommended)
- Kokopelli Grill: hand-crafted southwest cuisine
- H2O Waterfront Bistro
- LD’s Woodfire Grill
- New Day Cafe & Eatery: They also have lunch and a juice and smoothie bar
- First Street Haven: All breakfasts come with a home made baked good
- Chestnut Cottage: Make sure you are hungry!
- Granny’s: Stop to fuel up for a day trip to the west, and also the best stop for soft serve cones on your way back
- Fairmount diner – traditional diner
Need it fast (and local)?
- Strait Slice Pizza: Giant NY style slices
- Barbeque: Memphis style bbq. Try the pulled pork nachos!
- Fast Burrito
- The deli at Country Aire Natural Foods: Also best place for trail snacks!
- Drakes: Huge selection of fresh subs
- Frugals: Burger, fry, and milkshake drive through, around since 1988
Wait! There are so many more places for food and drinks, too many to list. Visit Port Angeles has a full list of dining choices, and also loads of other info on places to stay and things to do!
For running and outdoor gear, maps, and overall not to be missed, check out Swains General Store. Around since 1957, the store is known by the saying “Swains has everything!” It does. Really.) Another great choice for local knowledge and high-quality clothing and great outdoor gear, including running shoes, is Browns Outdoor, family owned and operated in Port Angeles for three generations. For just running gear, you can visit Athlete’s Choice. Going beyond running, you can also go to Sound Bikes and Kayaks or Adventures Through Kayaking for bike and kayak equipment, rentals, and guided tours. They also have loads of knowledge about all of the area trails.
Trail Sharing & Maintenance:
Community service is a way of life in Port Angeles, including trail construction and maintenance. In addition to the previously mentioned Peninsula Trails Coalition, trail stewardship organizations include Top Left Trails Co-op, Back Country Horsemen Peninsula Chapter, Washington Trails Association, and Olympic Dirt Society (Dry Hill Mountain Bike Park). Clallam County has its own dedicated volunteer trail crew, as does Olympic National Park and Washington Department of Natural Resources. Joining in the trail work festivities include clubs such as Laser Kittens women’s mountain bike club, North Olympic Mountain Bike team, and Rain Bear Running Club.
Trail races in Port Angeles include OAT Run (Olympic Adventure Trail Run) – a 12K and half marathon point-to-point on single-track trail, with hot meal and beer at Harbinger Winery afterwards, and GOAT Run (Great Olympic Adventure Trail Run) – a half marathon, marathon, and 50K point-to-point on singletrack trail, with post-race food and beer at pristine Lake Crescent inside Olympic National Park.
For a combo of hard and soft surface trail, try out Frosty Moss Relay, an 80-mile relay run traversing the peninsula on the Olympic Discovery Trail and Olympic Adventure Trails. Participants run in 2 to 5-person teams, with a hot meal and beer at 7 Cedars Casino afterwards. New for 2020 is the Mini Moss, the 30-mile version of the relay!
The biggest and longest-standing race on the Olympic Discovery Trail is the North Olympic Discovery Marathon (NODM). It has been around since 2002 and includes a marathon, marathon walk, marathon relay, half marathon, 5K, 10K, and kids marathon. It is also part of a brand new series called Run the Peninsula. The series is made up of 5 races each featuring a different section of the Olympic Discovery Trail between Port Townsend to Port Angeles. Each race offers a 5K or 10K distance, and virtual races are available.
Salt Creek 24 is a brand new all-day, all-night run around scenic Salt Creek Recreation Area in Port Angeles, Washington. Runners and walkers circle the park in a 1.3-mile loop for 24 hours while enjoying expansive views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, towering evergreens and vivid green moss and ferns, and a bit of World War II history.
Bonus fun: Big Hurt Multi-Sport Race, Run-a-Muck mud run, NW Cup downhill mountain bike series, all in Port Angeles, and Rhody Run in Port Townsend, Quilcene Oyster Runs in Quilcene.