After traveling around Iceland in a van earlier this year, Dave and I have officially converted to part-time #vanlifers. If we could do every vacation in a van, we would. It’s just so convenient and fun! So when we started planning for our quick Washington getaway, a Westfalia seemed like the best choice for exploring the Olympic Peninsula.
There are a handful of vanagon companies to choose from in the PNW. But we fell in love with PacWesty’s personable feel and emphasis on fostering a community of adventurers. They’re a fairly new company with a growing fleet, and we were lucky to have the opportunity to partner up with them on our travels. Our van, Lulu, was the perfect companion for our Olympic adventure.
Here’s our trip in a nutshell and some tips for planning your own Olympic Peninsula weekend!
When We Went
Late September seems to be the perfect time to visit the Olympic Peninsula since most of the summer crowds have petered out, but you still get moderate temperatures great for outdoor activities. The weather reports promised rain and fog for the entirety of our trip (which I was actually looking forward to – I needed a break from all this San Diego sun!). But we were met with sunny clear skies for the first two days, and finally some light rain and fog on our last.
What We Brought
Traveling in a van, it’s important to pack light. Since our trip was so short, this was easy – we mostly wore the same things every day: a t-shirt or sweater, jacket, jeans, and boots. We packed in soft canvas duffle bags we could easily stow under the van seats. Everything else we could ever need was provided by PacWesty – sleeping bags, pillows, extra blankets, cookware and utensils, chairs, lamps, French press, etc. Most of this fit perfectly in the back, but to make more room, PacWesty provided us with a Skybox on top of the van for extra storage.
Keep it Organized
I love traveling in a van since we don’t have to pack up our stuff and move from hotels each day. But van life can quickly turn chaotic with clothes and items strewn about. So keep it organized from the start. We hung a trash bag near the sliding door; kept snacks in a tote within reach hanging on the back of the driver seat; put toiletries and makeup in the glove box for easy access (yes, I still do my makeup every day on the road); and tidied up after ourselves at each stop.
Where We Stayed
Van camping has a lot of perks. 1) You’re in control of your schedule; no need to worry about hotel check-in times. 2) Campsites are cheap and easy to find. And 3) It’s just fun!
- Most campsites are first-come, first-served.
- Payment for campsites in the National Park is cash only, with many being self-registry (so change can’t be made for payments). The campsites we stayed at were $20. So bring a couple Jacksons.
- Showers are not available in the campgrounds. So if you’re not used to roughing it, there are other facilities you can use outside the park.
We stayed at the Heart O’ the Hills Campground near Hurricane Ridge, and the Hoh Campground in the Hoh Rainforest. Both places we had no problem finding a spot during a late September weekend. Here’s a list of official Olympic campgrounds. Feeling more free-spirited? Check out these free campgrounds around the peninsula.
What We Ate
The Olympic Peninsula is majority wilderness. So except for the occasional small town diner, there’s not many places to grab a quick bite. Take advantage of the camping atmosphere and plan to make your meals.
Again, since our trip was so short, meal planning was easy. We stopped at Central Market in Poulsbo to grab groceries before hitting the road. Random fact: Dave and I love exploring other place’s grocery stores when we travel. We about lost our minds in Central Market – it’s like Sprouts on crack. The extensive bulk section, the various tiny produces (kiwi berries and mini potatoes!), the Asian snacks. We got side-tracked and spent way more time here than intended.
Anyways… here was our meal plan:
Breakfast: breakfast burritos with soyrizo, egg, potato, and cheese
Lunch: garden herb turkey wraps
Dinner: noodles with soft boiled eggs + quesadillas
- Don’t buy more than you need. Making your own food can save you money, but not if you end up throwing it all away. It’s easy to get carried away at the store, so make a meal plan ahead of time.
- Cut down on waste by making multiple meals with the same items. Cooking bacon for breakfast? Why not make some extra for sandwiches later? Boiling water for pasta? Hard-boil some eggs while you’re at it.
- Consider how much time you want to spend cooking. I could have made way fancier meals, but we wanted to spend more time adventuring, not cooking and cleaning. So we kept our meals super simple (aint nothing wrong with eating Cup Noodles every night!).
- Take into account your van storage. Thanks to PacWesty, we had a heavy duty cooler filled with ice to keep all our food fresh in the van.
Now for the fun stuff! Most Olympic National Park itineraries will take you all the way around the peninsula. Unfortunately, due to the super short nature of our trip, we stuck to the top half only. Our itinerary changed a lot for various reasons, so instead of give you a play-by-play of what we did, I’ll outline the perfect 3 day itinerary with recommended sights in the area. (I’ll go more into detail about our own trip in separate posts.)
Day 1: PacWesty → Hurricane Ridge
If you’re starting your trip in Seattle, reaching PacWesty is just an easy ferry ride away. Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island (there’s a ferry scheduled every hour so plan accordingly). Settle in and enjoy the 35min sail across the bay.
Organize with PacWesty to have them pick you up at the terminal and head into Bainbridge for check-in. After an hour or so walkthrough, you’re ready to start your adventure!
Stop at Central Market in Poulsbo first and load up on groceries (don’t forget the ice for the cooler!), and make your way toward Port Angeles.
Pay the $25 National Park entry fee at the ranger station (save that receipt since you’ll need it to get into other parts of the park) before heading up to Hurricane Ridge. It’s a long journey up the mountain, so take it easy on your Westy. Once you’ve made it to the top, plan to stick around ’til sunset since the views are absolutely breathtaking. Journey back down the mountain and set up camp at Heart O’ the Hills.
+ Purple Haze Lavender Farm
+ Hurricane Ridge
Day 2: Hurricane Ridge → Hoh Rainforest
There’s LOTS of ground to cover on day two. Hang out by Lake Crescent, take a hike in the forest to Sol Duc Falls, and explore the driftwood covered beaches along the coast. There’s lots of adventures to be had around these parts, and I wish we personally had a couple extra days to soak it all up on our own trip. If you’re looking to do some outdoor activities – like kayaking, biking, or fishing – PacWesty can hook you up with some of their adventure partners.
When you’re ready to call it a day, you can camp among the driftlogs on Second Beach (ask PacWesty about renting camping gear), or head to the Hoh Rainforest Campground.
+ Lake Crescent
+ Sol Duc Falls
+ Rialto Beach
+ Second Beach
Day 3: Hoh Rainforest → PacWesty
Waking up in a rainforest to the sound of light rain tappig on the dense moss-covered treetops is pretty incredible. If you don’t plan to make your way all the way around the Peninsula, spend most of the day exploring the magical Hall of Mosses, then make your way back to PacWesty. We revisited a few places along the way since the fog finally rolled in and made things look much more epic. But if you’re continuing along to the bottom of the Peninsula, there’s a few for more beaches you can explore.
+ Hall of Mosses
+ Ruby Beach
+ Kalaloch Beach
All in all, our Olympic Peninsula weekend was extraordinary! Our only complaint: we wish we booked more time! We loved traveling in our PacWesty van. It added an extra level of adventure and relaxation to our trip. And we cannot wait for our next PacWesty adventure!
Disclosure: This post is in partnership with PacWesty. As always, all opinions are my own.