Indigenous Tourism in the Olympic Peninsula

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In the face of unforeseen circumstances, our girl’s getaway to the Pacific Northwest refused to be deterred. Determined to embark on an extraordinary adventure, I enlisted the company of my eldest daughter for an immersive journey through the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle. This 7-day road trip unfolded as an exhilarating exploration of Indigenous Tourism in the PNW, offering a firsthand account of captivating encounters, unforgettable experiences, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter.

Intrigued by the rising interest in Native American travel experiences and Indigenous Tourism, I sought out cultural, historic and adventure activities in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Less likely to find myself hiking or kayaking, we were lucky enough to take in the breathtaking beauty of the Olympic National Park and round out the visit with some stunning Indigenous art museums.

Although we completed this road trip to the Olympic Peninsula in 5 short days (plus a couple of days in Seattle), l would strongly recommend a 6-8 day itinerary. In hindsight, the first day of our itinerary was too ambitious, and we were not able to see all that we wanted to see. Included is our entire Olympic Peninsula and Bainbridge Island itinerary with activities, accommodations and meal options. During the off-season, take into consideration that many local eateries may be closed, so be sure to pack provisions just in case.

Vancouver, WACowlitz Indian Tribes

We began our trip to the Pacific Northwest in Portland. Original plans had me meeting up with a girlfriend, but at the last moment, she was unable to come along. I would still fly into Portland and stay a few days. I choose instead to stay in Vancouver, Washington, a short drive from the airport. We stopped off at Costco to get some supplies. I’m very glad we did as our choice for breakfast was limited traveling off-season.

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Fort Vancouver, Vancouver, Washington Photo Credit: DownshiftingPRO

A nice stop is Waterfront Park overlooking the Columbia River with Oregon just on the otherside. Another great stop is officer’s Row (21 historic homes) near Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver

Established as a trading post by the London, UK-based Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825, this fort had ties to Indigenous employees from Canadian Cree and Iroquois Nations. The Cree worked with HBC, whereas the Iroquois were recruited by the Northwest Company.

These Indigenous peoples were recruited for trapping, hunting and boating experience. From historical journals, correspondence, and other chronicles of life at Fort Vancouver, there are innumerable passing references to Cree, Metis and Iroquois residents and employees of the fort.

Long Beach Peninsula – Shoalwater Bay Tribe

Driving north from Portland, I would suggest an overnight stay on the Long Beach Peninsula. Nestled along the southwestern coast of Washington state, Long Beach offers a sprawling expanse of beach that stretches over 28 miles. The entire area is renowned for its abundant seafood harvests. This is the area of the largest salmon run in the world, razor clams, numerous other fish (halibut, cod, sardines, tuna, anchovies, etc.), and, of course, OYSTERS. Willapa Bay is now the source of half the oysters harvested in the State.

Insider’s Tip: Accommodation options – For a comfortable stay, options like The Adrift Hotel and Spa or The Breakers provide charming accommodations with easy access to the beach.

This would be a 2.5-hour drive from Portland and if yiu didn’t already, Long Beach is a good place to pick up supplies. This road trip to the Olympic Peninsula is a camping and RV bucket list route. Traveling off-season means less traffic. These are two-lane highways which can be quite treacherous if the temperature drops.

Here, you’ll enter into the Olympic National Forest surrounding the Olympic National Park Forest, which is almost one million acres, including 73 miles of Pacific coastline. The park is the epicentre of the Olympic Peninsula. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, almost 95 percent of the park is designated wilderness. The park is also home to 26 endemic species and is visited by over three million people a year, placing it among the top 10 most visited national parks in the USA.

You will need to pay an entry fee if you want to visit Olympic National Park but not to drive through Olympic National Forest but to park at the trailheads, you need an entry pass.For a non-commercial vehicle, the entry fee for seven days is $30. This covers up to fifteen people arriving in a single vehicle. Overnight camping/RV ranges from $24-43/night depending on site.

Quinault Lake – Quinault Indian Nation

Approximately three hours north of Long Beach, you will enter Quinault territory, the home of the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), which consists of the Quinault and Queets tribes and descendants of five other coastal tribes: Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz. With a quick stop at the Quinault Rainforest Trailhead. This will take you to Lake Quinault, then west to Kalaloch and continue on to Ruby Beach.

Quinault Rain Forest Trailhead Olympic Peninsula DownshiftingPRO
Quinault Rain Forest Trailhead – Photo Credit: Margarita Ibbott DownshiftingPRO.

Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach is located on the Olympic Peninsula, in the boundaries of Olympic National Park, just 30 minutes from Forks. It receives approximately 225,000 visitors annually. This is one of the most photographed beaches on the west coast with its sea stacks, huge surf-tossed logs and bald eagles. In 2022 renovations provided easier access for those with disabilities, paved parking and better toilet facilities. A short ¼ mile hike will provide access to the beach and breathtaking views over the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy a little time beachcombing, taking photos, and just breathing deeply!

Ruby Beach Olympic Peninsula Washington State @DownshiftingPRO
Ruby Beach, Washington Photo Credit: Lauren Ibbott DownshiftingPRO.

Hoh Rainforest – Hoh River Indians

The Hoh Rain Forest, pronounced “Hoe”, earns its name from the ever-flowing Hoh River that carves its way from Mount Olympus towards the Pacific Coast. Throughout the winter season, rain falls frequently in the Hoh Rain Forest, contributing to the yearly average of 140 inches (3.55 meters) of precipitation each year. The result is a lush, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous species. Mosses and ferns that blanket the surfaces add another dimension to the enchantment of the rainforest.

Visit the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center for directions to The Hall of Mosses Trail (.8 miles/ 1.2 km). It is an iconic loop that takes you through old growth forest and features a grove of maple trees draped with abundant club moss. The rainforest is a living laboratory of discovery for old and young alike.  Keep a watchful eye out for wildlife, from the small elusive banana slugs to the majestic local Roosevelt Elk herd.

Forks – The ‘Twilight’ People

The Twilight are neither people nor tribe doesn’t really exist, but if you are a fan of the Twilight books and films, you will know about Forks, Washington. There is a 4-day Twilight Festival every year when fans flock to the area to revel in all things Team Jacob and Team Edward.

While in Forks, be sure to stop at Forks Outfitters, which has a good deli for breakfast and lunch or pick up other supplies you might need before heading about 20 minutes to one of the most beautiful resort areas I have visited. Another fun stop was the Sasquatch store and the Rainforest Art Center and Timber Museum.

La Push – Quileute Tribe

Quileute Oceanside Resort Olympic Peninsula @DownshiftingPRO

Insider’s Tip – Accommodation Recommendation – Quileute Oceanside Resort, 330 Ocean Front Drive, La Push, WA 98350. Owned and managed by the Quileute Tribe, this is the epitome of supporting local Indigenous tourism and travel. This property has various accommodations options, from studio, 1, 2 or 3 bedroom efficiency units with fully equipped kitchens to camping/RV spots overlooking the beautiful beach.

On Wednesday evenings, there is a Group Drum Circle at the Akalat Center from 5-9 pm. Ask for more details at the resort front desk.

Consider visiting during Quileute Days, Jul. 14 – Jul. 16, 2023. It is a Celebration of Quileute Tribal Cultural Heritage and modern lifestyle. It includes a traditional salmon bake, dancing and songs, softball & horseshoe tourneys, arts, crafts and food!

I cannot say enough about how beautiful this location was, and I could have stayed for a week. The beach was long and full of fallen trees. The sound of the waves was a sound bath of tranquillity. The sea stacks and islands were breathtaking. I will return.

Susent looking at the sea stacks in La Push Washington Olympic Peninsula @DownshiftingPRO
Sunset over La Push, Quileuete Tribe, Olympic Peninsula Photo Credit: DownshiftingPRO.

Neah Bay – Makah Tribal Lands

Follow signs to Neah Bay, then enter the Makah tribal lands. The tribe has called the spectacular Neah Bay home since time immemorial, and until the mid-twentieth century was only accessible by water. This created a very tight-knit community that closely guards it’s Indigenous treasures.

The Makah people called themselves Qwiqwidicciat or Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx (pronounced kwee-DITCH-cha-uck), meaning “people who live by the rocks and seagulls,” referring to their lands along the rocky coastline.

One of the best-kept secrets is the Makah Cultural & Research Center. Located in the center of town. Be sure and take the time to visit this exceptional Native American museum.

The museum interprets and houses 300-500-year-old artifacts recovered from the Ozette Archaeological Site. There are also other historic and replica pieces and photographs related to the Makah Tribe on display year-round.

A landside, approximately 500 years ago, buried six longhouses and their respective contents, locking the pre-contact wooden and wood-based artifacts in a shroud of mud. Discovered in 1969, a team from the University of Washington worked on the excavation for 11 years uncovering over 55,000 artifacts, which the Tribe kept on the reservation and some are on display in the Makah Cultural Centre.

This museum is fascinating and well worth a stop for learning more about Native American heritage and Indigenous peoples. As whale hunters, these coastal tribes were all closely related to Canadian Indigenous peoples trading with the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) and Ditidaht (Nitinaht) Peoples of Vancouver Island.

Whale canoe at the Makah Museum and Research Center in Neah Bay Washington
Whaling Canoe with Skeleton of a Grey Whale – Makah Museum – Photo Credit: DownshiftingPRO.
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Insider’s Tip: Stop for some delicious fish and chips at Calvin’s Crab House, on your way to Cape Flattery, a small shack right by the water in Neah Bay.

Before heading out, pick up a parking pass at the museum, as you will need it when parking at Cape Flattery.

About a 40-minute hike from the trailhead parking, enjoy this slightly challenging hike to the point. There is a rest lookout over the cove before you push on to the observation deck where the Strait of Juan de Fuca joins the Pacific Ocean. From here, you will see Cape Flattery Lighthouse on a small Tatoosh island.

Cape Flattery Trail provides spectacular views of the rugged rocks, crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean and a wide variety of sea birds. Keep a lookout for bald eagles! This is a ‘must-do’ trail.

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Port Angeles – Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe

Driving down the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway was wonderful, with a view of Vancouver Island across the water. Head towards Highway 101 and ninety minutes away. Consider an overnight stay at the Lake Crescent Lodge. Built-in 1915 as a base camp for park visitors, this charming historic hotel is nestled among giant fir and hemlock trees where guests enjoy the simple elegance of yesteryear and the charm of a turn-of-the-century resort. Don’t miss a photo op out on the dock in front of the lodge! 

If you stay overnight, you may want to consider hiking the Lake Crescent Trail (or Spruce Railroad Trail). Following abandoned railway tracks, it is a fairly flat hike with some tunnels. Lake Crescent is a glacial lake surrounded by mountain peaks and remains one of the most popular attractions in the Olympic National Park.

Port Angeles is tucked in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and is the gateway to Olympic National Park. This smallish seaside-meets-mountain town has nuggets of history, hints of fame, bewitching beauty, and adventure waiting to be discovered.

Although you may have entered Olympic National Park a few days ago, you will, indeed, be entering the main gates at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. Many come just to see Hurricane Ridge.

Sequim – Jamestown S’klallam Tribe

Sequim is an agricultural center and is considered the Lavender Capital of North America. During the lavender season (in July), you’ll pass by numerous lavender farms, many of which not only grow but distill lavender for products shipped around the world. Other things to enjoy in the Sequim area include the Dungeness Spit and National Wildlife Refuge, Olympic Game Farm, or just browsing in the many delightful shops in the downtown area.

7 Cedars Native American and Indigenous Art Collage DownshiftingPRO
Native American and Indigenous Art – 7 Cedars, Sequim, Washington –
Photo Credit: DownshiftingPRO

Technically not a museum or gallery, there is enough original Native American art, crafts and woodwork in the Lobby and halls of 7 Cedars Hotel to merit a stay. Carefully curated by the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe, it is beautiful and could be compared to a finely displayed Indigenous art museum.

Insider’s Tip for Accommodations: 7 Cedars Resort and Casino- Relax in this luxury hotel and casino owned and managed by the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe. The rooms were very luxurious. There is also an award-winning golf course, fine dining and, of course, a casino.

7 Cedars totem poles Sequim Washington @DownshiftingPRO

Excellently curated and displayed, it was a pleasure to see ceremonial regalia, Native American masks, paintings, baskets, walking sticks and sculptures. This resort is named after the 7 totem poles at the front of the property. The largest is the 42.5-foot Sea-to-Sky Totem has been carved into a 435-year-old Western Red Cedar by tribal carver Nathan Gilles.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has been carving totem poles for over 25 years. Today, more than 35 totems grace their tribal campus.

Port Townsend – Chimakum (or Chemakum)

 Port Townsend is steeped in fascinating history, from its early Native American roots to its Victorian architecture and maritime legacy. It boasts two National Historic Landmark Districts. We found this Port Townsend charming and worth the drive from Sequim before heading south to Bainbridge Island.

Drive into town, to the far end of Water Street and stop at the totem pole in front of the NW Maritime Center. From here, you can follow part of the Chetzemoka (ĉiĉmәhán) Trail that was developed by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to educate the public on the relationship between the S’Klallam people who had lived for hundreds of years at this place, which they called “qatáy” and the European settlers who arrived in Port Townsend in the mid-19th century, intent on making it a key port of trade in the Northwest.

The Trail is comprised of 18 sites throughout Port Townsend, which naturally divide into 3-mile, 6-mile, or 12-mile loops. The 3-mile loop focuses on downtown historical sites. Each sign on the trail tells a small part of the story of historic and modern-day S’Klallam people.

Bainbridge Island Suquamish Tribe

Suquamish Museum – is located on the Port Madison Indian Reservation, preserving and displaying relics and records related to the Suquamish Tribe. Their tribal name derives from the traditional Lushootseed phrase for “People of the Clear Salt Water.” Known as expert fishermen, canoe builders and basket weavers, they’ve lived in harmony with the land and waterways for thousands of years. Chief Seattle, an Anglicized name, was a Suquamish and Duwamish chief known as Sealth or Si’ahl.

Suquamish Museum
Suquamish Museum – Photo Credit: Margarita Ibbott DownshiftingPRO.

In 2011, the Suquamish Tribe rebuilt a graveside monument honouring the important chief and promoting tribal and community knowledge of the great leader. 

Chief Seattle Days Aug. 18 – Aug. 20, 2023. Since 1911, the Suquamish people celebrate and honour Chief Seattle. As the celebration grew in size, a gravesite ceremony was added and continues to this day. During the gravesite ceremony, people are invited to tell stories and remind others of the history of Chief Seattle and the Suquamish people.

Insider’s Tip – Accommodations suggestion: The Marshall Suites – 350 High School Rd. N, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. This boutique hotel is ideally located less than a mile away from downtown Winslow with its many shops, eateries and museum attractions.

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Harbour Public House

Insider’s Tip: I promise you will eat well at the Harbour Public House for dinner and Pegasus Coffee for breakfast. Both are located by the harbour on Bainbridge Island. We ordered the Pub Famous Chowder and Belgian Mussles and were not disappointed. Note that you will likely share a table with other patrons (as is typical in a pub). We loved it and listen while a group of four young women retold their day’s adventures on Bainbridge Island.

Pegasus Coffee had one of the best cups of coffee that we had in Washington State and fresh pastries. The was a very chill vibe and food was delicious.

Another truly charming coastal town; there is a lot to do and see here. I would definitely encourage you to stay overnight here and take the ferry to Seattle the next day. You can also drive, but the 30-minute ferry ride was scenic and shortened the drive. Hop on the I5 and head to Seattle Southside, Bellevue or Seattle.

Explore more on Bainbridge Island or head south to Vancouver. The Bainbridge Island Ferry to Seattle is a fabulous way to get to I5, with a 30-minute ferry ride. Enjoy!


Disclosure: #AD – l attended TBEX Tri-Cities and was on a FAM trip courtesy of the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau. All opinions and suggestions are our own and we gave as much detail as possible. There are some affiliate links included if at no additional cost to you.

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.