Vanessa Ball | 05.18.2016

The Olympic Peninsula offers a wide array of educational activities and hands-on learning opportunities for children of all ages and interests. Exploring the many changing rivers, wandering wet mossy trails, experiencing tribal history, or biking miles of scenic coastline are just some of the fun ways a family can learn about this region.

Exploring the major rivers of the Olympics can be an adventure in itself. The Dungeness River Audubon Center offers river talks, interpretative programs, displays, and specimens, as well as an opportunity to walk along and explore the Dungeness River. Located in Sequim, Washington at a recovered train trestle, the center also offers an entry point to the North Olympic Discovery Trail, a paved bike and multi-use trail that currently runs 69 miles along the northern length of the Olympic Peninsula (with a future planned length of 126 miles).

For visitors coming from the Seattle metro area, the first encounter with Olympic National Park, which dominates the peninsula, is often at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles, a small tourist town located directly on the park boundary. Here visitors can ask about camping options, speak to a ranger, and plan their trip in greater detail. Borrowing a “Discovery Backpack,”available at visitor centers throughout the park, is a fantastic way for a family to begin learning immediately. Each backpack has field worksheets, two interactive outdoor games, and six photo field guides. A $5.00 donation is recommended, and the packs must be returned at the end of the visit. Family-friendly adventures within the park can be found here.

Once in Port Angeles, the Feiro Marine Life Center gives visitors an opportunity to learn more about the Olympic Peninsula's near shore habitats and organisms that live in them. Touch tanks give a hands-on opportunity that is hard to resist for most children, and hanging displays overhead and on the walls have detailed information about marine life in the Salish Sea. With the recent removal of dams on the Elwha River, one popular exhibit allows kids to manipulate sediment and water flows for themselves, mimicking the dam and the effects of its removal. The Feiro Marine Life Center is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day and all other months from noon to 5:00 p.m.

To see the changes resulting from the Elwah River dam removal, the world's largest, there are several choices. To visit the mouth of the river, take Highway 112 west, turn right onto Place Road, travel north on Place Road for 1.8 miles, then turn right at the "T" intersection. Park and follow the Dike Trail to the beach, where people are free to walk downstream. Upstream travel is prohibited. To visit the viewpoints overlooking the now-vacant site of the Elwha Dam, turn left onto Lower Dam Road from Highway 112, which branches off Highway 101. The parking lot provides wheelchair access to the first viewpoint. The second can be reached by a short trail walk and includes a telescope for viewing.

Continuing further west, the Makah Museum at the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay offers a unique glimpse into pre-contact life of coastal tribes. A replica of a long house as well as thousands of artifacts related to fishing, whaling, and daily life, are all on display. An ethnobotanical garden offers outdoor exhibits as well. Call ahead to schedule a craft workshop to learn native crafts from Makah Tribal members.

While there, consider purchasing a $7.00 Recreation Permit so you can walk the boardwalk out to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the continental U.S., which also offers views of the Tatoosh Island lighthouse and the area's sea caves. The extreme exposure makes this spot excellent for viewing marine wildlife, and maybe even the occasional migrating whale.

No matter where the highway takes you, circling around the wonders of Olympic National Park offers an opportunity to explore mountains and coastline with equal abandon. To plan your next trip on the peninsula, check out camping guides, wildlife viewing tips, and other adventures.


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