The foggy and majestic beaches of the Hood Canal were my very first introduction to the Pacific Northwest. I met this unique stretch of the Puget Sound before I ever even visited Seattle for the first time!
A retreat center perched on the cliffs above the canal, near Union, Washington was my first glimpse of the wild beauty of Western Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and the unique woods and waters of the Hood Canal.
Part of my Seattle day trips collection, this full-day adventure on the beaches of the Hood Canal combines some traditional Pacific Northwest hiking (I’ve included easy and moderate difficulty hiking options!) with my favorite food in the region plus a secret spot for evening relaxation. Time this day trip right, and you can even catch an oyster or shrimp festival, where you can join this region in celebrating the role of the Hood Canal as the backbone of shellfish production in the Pacific Northwest.
Adventuring to the Hood Canal (1.5 hours from Seattle):
First, hiking. This region where Western Washington blurs into the deep woods and temperate rainforests that make up the Olympic National Park offers stunning views and lush forests- often accessible year-round due to the low elevation (and minimal snowfall) where the sea-level hood canal snakes through the region.
HIKE: Hiking near the Hood Canal
After researching hiking in the Hood Canal area and trying out a few trails, here are my best picks for trails that are easy to get to and not too challenging for the casual hiker.
Hood Canal Hike option #1: Staircase Rapids
(easy difficulty): 2 miles. 200ft elevation gain (Read more on the trail guide)
Don’t worry, there appears to be no staircase. This two-mile looped trail remains clear from snow year-round – so it’s perfect for winter hiking (which often offers better views). Bring shoes suitable for mud as this trail can get muddy in the wet season.
Hood Canal Hike option #2: Elk Lake Trail (Read more on the trail guide)
Although rated as moderate, this trail has options to accommodate bodies that need an easier trail. The lower half of the trail remains fairly wide and flat, while the second half of the trail is narrower and steeper, with a sharp drop off on one edge.
EXPLORE: Exploring the Biodiversity of the Hood Canal
The hood canal offers some of the most vibrant intertidal zone life of the entire puget sound. Because the canal is protected from much of the wild weather, tides, and currents of the Puget Sound proper, it’s a breeding ground for countless fish, shellfish, and marine mammals. Low tide on a beach of the Hood Canal can reveal a rare glimpse at this wildlife. When the waters flow out of this intertidal area, the vast life below the water surface is revealed.
PLAN: Before your visit, Check the NOAA’s tide calendar and time your visit, if possible, to be on a beach at low tide.
Luckily, there are plentiful public access beaches along the Hood Canal if you know where to look. (Note that state parks may require a Discover Pass for parking, although in some cases, parking roadside and walking to the beach can circumvent the requirement for a parking pass)
The following beaches are ideal for beachcombing at low tide (On particularly low tides you may even meet other visitors digging for clams or geoducks, or harvesting oysters!): Dosewallips State Park, Quilcene Bay Tidelands, Twanoh State Park (low tide is best on the west end), Wolfe Property State Park (look for the access trail at the end of seven sisters road), and West Dewatto Beach.
UNWIND with a “Glampfire”- Sunset, Firepit, & Hot Cocoa on the Lawn of Alderbrook Lodge
FOOD – Oyster Tasting on the Hood Canal
When headed to the home base of Washington’s shellfish industry, it’s only appropriate to taste the local produce, and there’s no better spot than Hama Hama Oysters where a spot at the “oyster saloon” means getting to enjoy the freshest catch just a few feet from the oyster beds where it was harvested.
SAILING – Get out on the Water of the Hood Canal
From the enormous dock at the Alderbrook, you’ll have several options to get out on the water:
Annual Hood Canal Festivals
To check on festival dates and any other community events happening during your visit, check the Hood Canal Events & Recreation website before your day trip.
OYSTER-RAMA (Late April)
Lilliwaup, WA – “The Rama features tours with intertidal ecologists and oyster growers, u-pick oysters and clams, an oyster-sports competition we call the Shuckathalon, a beer and wine garden, kid’s activities, live music, and various delicious food options.” ($15 entry) Learn more at the official site: Oyster Rama.
Brinnon ShrimpFest (Memorial Day Weekend)
Brinnon, WA – “The Brinnon ShrimpFest is a weekend festival located just north of Brinnon…. It lures shrimpers from all over the Northwest to fish Hood Canal’s waters. We feature craft booths, food booths, belt sander races, exhibits, live music, kids activities, and more.” ($5 entry) Learn more at the official site: Brinnon Shrimp Fest.
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What is the Hood Canal
Although the name may suggest a manmade body of water, the hood canal is an enormous, naturally occurring channel where the waters of the Puget Sound flooded the lowest elevations of the Olympic Peninsula at the end of the last ice age. The Hood Canal- which is technically a fjord, snakes into western Washington- forming the division between the Kitsap Peninsula and the Olympic Peninsula. This very long, and in many portions very deep, body of water is relatively narrow – appearing at first glance much like a wide river. Unlike a river, though, the Hood Canal reverses flow with each change of the tides – filling as the tide rises and emptying as the tide goes out. Sheltered from much of the wilder currents of the Puget Sound, the canal is an oasis for marine life. Because of the rich waters and sheltered seabed many of the beaches and shores of the Hood Canal are lined with shellfish hatcheries and oyster beds. Thanks to the depth of the canal, whale sightings are not unusual.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.