Road Trips: Hood Canal

Slurp Oysters and Geoduck Along This Dramatic Puget Sound Fjord

The Hood Canal offers up Scandinavian scenery, shellfish, and small, salty towns.

By Ramona DeNies February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Duckabush River, near Brinnon

Along this 68-mile channel between Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula and the Olympics, the scenery is positively Scandinavian. Yes, the Hood Canal can be soggy in spring. Yet for Portland-based lovers of shellfish, cider, and small, salty towns, this trek up Highway 101 is year-round tasty—also temperate, and just three hours away. Test your wipers, pack a cooler, and throw on the old slicker.

Time: 2 days
Distance: 217 miles from Portland to Fort Flagler
Pack This: Discover Pass, raincoat, cooler with ice

Day 1

Sure, the route between Portland and Olympia is tame. But road-trippers approaching Shelton, on the Hood Canal’s southern elbow, can raise the stakes with a 20-minute detour to the High Steel Bridge. From 375 feet up, this circa-1929 span—built to ferry logging trains deeper into the Olympic Range—offers heart-pounding views of the Skokomish River threading the narrowest of chasms.

The High Steel Bridge

Calm your nerves at Potlatch State Park, one of five Highway 101–hugging state parks between here and Discovery Bay. In Lilliwaup, grab local oysters and silky, smoky salmon chowder at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon and Farm Store. Fortified, proceed north through madrones and tide marshes. (Worth a detour: Rocky Brook Falls, a cacophonic fantail waterfall just a short walk from the nondescript hydroelectric roadside marker.)

From Brinnon, Highway 101 gradually veers inland through lush farmland. At Quilcene, take Center Road through an agricultural area that’s quite literally storied. (See below.) In Chimacum, you’ve hit the beating heart of the Dragon Peninsula—a peninsula within a peninsula. (The winged fiend juts over the Salish Sea from the Olympic’s northeastern corner; isolated Toandos Peninsula, to the south, is the creature’s tail.)

Oysters (and directions) at Hama Hama Oyster Saloon in Lilliwaup

Toast the dragon at Finnriver Farm and Cidery, a quirky warren of lawn games and gathering spots for sampling the long tap list of botanical ciders (rosehip, saffron) and estate quaffs. Rotating on-site vendors (Fiddlehead Creamery, Dented Buoy wood-fired pizza) augment Finnriver’s new full-service kitchen, now dishing up brats and baked Mt Townsend camembert.

Rest your head at one of many B&Bs (or Airbnbs) north in Port Townsend, or spring for the waterfront Inn at Port Ludlow (rooms from $200), a Cape Cod–style grand mansion with serious grandma vibes: jigsaw puzzles in the lounge, Epsom salts beside opulent jetted tubs.

Day 2

If overnighting in Port Ludlow—a former timber town now thronged with second-home owners and retirees—you’re likely to wake to the putt-putt of fishing boats leaving the harbor. Drift north yourself, for a breakfast of local eggs and scratch pastries at Chimacum’s friendly, garden-ringed Farm’s Reach Café.

Next, hop Portage Canal Bridge to Marrowstone Island, the right arm of the Dragon Peninsula. At the creature’s claw, find Fort Flagler, one of three massive armed entrenchments that made up Puget Sound’s pre-World War I “Triangle of Fire.” Pathways web this manicured state park, from the Bluff Trail tracing decommissioned gunneries to the East Searchlight Trail to Admiralty Inlet.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cultivated fields (and geese) ring Finnriver Farm and Cidery; Finnriver’s diverse fermented apple quaffs; wildflowers along a Marrowstone Island tide marsh

Reconnect with Highway 101 southbound and grab a working stiff’s lunch at the wood-paneled Geoduck Restaurant and Lounge—equal parts salty seadog, scruffy hunting lodge, and Seahawks bar—overlooking Dabob Bay. (Bonus: spot the pub’s priapic namesake shellfish as a wooden wall mount.)

Stock up on harder stuff 25 miles south; at the tiny Hardware Distillery, where coastal cranberries, Thurston County honey, and Hama Hama cold-smoked barley blend into gins, whiskeys, and meads literally made for seafood. Procure those goods—in-shell, shucked, smoked, tinned, or flash-frozen—while slurping a cup of geoduck chowder at Taylor Shellfish’s Shelton market. It’s your last chance to leave the fjord pleasantly none the lighter.

Along the Way

A few miles south of Chimacum, a rural sign might catch your eye: Egg and I Road, a nod to the title of writer Betty MacDonald’s 1945 memoir of living here as a young bride on a chicken farm. (MacDonald later wrote the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series of children’s books; her memoir, meanwhile, inspired a 1947 movie and numerous spin-offs starring Ma and Pa Kettle.) MacDonald’s legacy also gestates elsewhere. Egg and I Farm—run by different owners but on MacDonald’s original property—supplies the porky breakfast sausage for the Farm’s Reach Café. And a few miles north, locals catch folk acts at taproom The Keg and I—perhaps while Fido is getting a flea bath up the street at The Dog and I Groom and Board.

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