Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hood Canal Bridge Closure - Take the Road Less Traveled

Perhaps the best kept secret on the Olympic Peninsula is that you do NOT need the Hood Canal Bridge to get here. Faced with a 6-week closure for installation of a new span, the Washington State Department of Transportation and local Chambers of Commerce focused on alerts to area residents who use the Bridge every day to commute to Seattle to work and delivery truck drivers who make hundreds of daily runs to & fro. Unfortunately, their message inadvertently brought tourism to a screeching halt during the peak Spring travel season of May 1 to June 11, 2009.

In fact, if you’re planning a weekend getaway or spring vacation, our scenic "road less traveled" only adds about 45-minutes to one-hour to your overall travel time. Are we all in such a hurry that we can’t take time to enjoy one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the entire country? A good friend once said: It's all about enjoying life's little detours along the way. So here’s our updated Travel Advisory on the best route to get here from there.

You might enjoy “the road less traveled” so much that you'll decide to avoid the Hood Canal Bridge even after it re-opens. If you are traveling from Seattle and the Eastside suburbs, take the Bremerton Ferry. Grab your camera and go on deck as the ferry threads its way through tranquil Sinclair Inlet around the south end of Bainbridge Island—close enough to enjoy dreaming about owning one those beautiful waterfront homes.

Once off the Bremerton ferry, follow Highway 3 to Belfair. (It’s a bit industrial on this short stretch, but we promise the rest of the trip makes up for it.) If you’re traveling from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Tacoma or the south Puget Sound suburbs, you’ll want to take I-5 to Highway 16 across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. This bridge crosses the southern reaches of Puget Sound and connects the “mainland” to the Kitsap Peninsula where you link up with Highway 3 to Belfair.

In Belfair, you will turn onto Highway 106 to Union. This road meanders along the very tip of the Hood Canal which is not a man-made "canal" as its name implies. Instead, the Hood Canal is a natural saltwater fjord that is one of the longest—and deepest—in North America. In fact, the Hood Canal is actually a "dead-end" -- the tideflats at the end of the Hood Canal are separated by a narrow delta of land from the waters in south Puget Sound. In the 1940s, avid boaters talked about dredging the delta to connect Case Inlet to the Hood Canal—a plan that both environmentalists and fishermen are thankful never materialized.

The drive along Highway 106 passes right by the Bill Gates’ family summer compound, and as you take in the amazing views of snow-capped mountains and shimmering blue water, you’ll start to understand why one of the richest men in the world enjoyed spending his childhood summers in this protected inlet. If you have time for lunch, you might drop by The Oyster Bar at the Alderbrook Resort, a landmark on the Hood Canal since the 1920s. In 2004, former Microsoft- exec Jeff Raikes acquired the Resort and spent millions transforming a run-down cluster of cottages and motel units into a quintessentially Northwest lodge, Spa, golf course and corporate retreat center. Hiring world-class chef Christopher Schwarz to run the restaurant helped put Alderbrook on the culinary map. In fact, if you’re arriving from the Airport after a long flight, you might want to bed down here for the night and continue your journey the next morning so you travel the whole scenic length of the Hood Canal in daylight.

After leaving the Alderbrook Resort, Highway 106 meanders through a stretch of picturesque salt marshes known as The Great Bend because the Hood Canal makes a huge horseshoe turn around an outcrop of the Kitsap Peninsula. While the Hood Canal, San Juan Islands and Puget Sound were all carved by glaciers during the last ice age, the Olympic Mountains in the rugged interior of the Olympic Peninsula were NOT under ice--one reason several dozen species of birds, plants, mammals, and marine life are found here and nowhere else on the continent.

As you cross the Skokomish River valley, you will link up with Highway 101 North. The road hugs the coastline through the small towns of Hoodsport, Lilliwaup, Hamma Hamma, Duckabush and Dosewalips crossing bridges over rivers and creeks with the same unusual names. You’ll gaze across the narrow Canal to an opposite shore that is steep and heavily forested with few signs of civilization. We drove this route last week on a rainy, overcast day. Wisps of mist floating in the tree tops and small boats bobbing at anchor in foggy coves lent a mystical quality to our journey. On our return trip the very next day, bright pink cherry blossoms in seaside cottage gardens danced in a gentle breeze and the sun sparkled so brightly that sunglasses were required while gazing at those inspiring views.

Just past Brinnon, the highway begins its climb over Mount Walker through almost pristine stretches of the Olympic National Forest where the moss seems to have been draped on tree trunks by a Hollywood set designer. The Mount Walker Viewpoint is worth a stop to enjoy vistas that include Quilcene Bay, the snow-capped Olympics, and even the skyline of Seattle in the distance. Quilcene, of course, is world famous for its oysters (packed on ice and flown to trendy restaurants from Manhattan to Laguna Beach). As you drive along the outskirts of town, you’ll see huge mountains of oyster shells. Once past Quilcene, the road traverses fertile farmland dotted with dozens of small fishing lakes and bucolic old barns.

Finally, in Discovery Bay, you'll connect with Highway 101 West to Sequim and the Olympic National Park. This is the point where the 2-lane Highway 101 converges with the 2-lane Highway 104 and meets up with the standard route taken via the Hood Canal Bridge. Perhaps after taking the “road less traveled,” you won't feel deprived by the bridge's temporary closure.

After a few days of relaxation here at the Lodge, you can return using the same route or you might like to book passage on the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry—one the few Washington State Ferries where you can actually make a reservation 888-808-7977 or 206-464-6400 (you can also reserve a space for your car online). From Keystone, you would drive up Whidbey Island and across the Deception Pass Bridge back to the mainland. This is the route that our guests from Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., Bellingham, and north Puget Sound suburbs travel in reverse to get to our beautiful corner of the country.
All in all, the "road less traveled" makes for a scenic and unforgettable loop. If you really want to take time to stop and smell the roses along the way, we'll make suggestions for an overnight stay on Whidbey Island or in LaConner on your way back to "civilization."
SPRING is definitely one of the best times to visit the Olympic National Park—the trillium are blooming in the rain forest, the waterfalls are overflowing, and the Cape Flattery beach trails are strewn with tiny fiddlehead ferns. Since most schools in Washington State are still in session until mid-June, this is the ideal time for a quiet getaway where you’ll have 1.8 million acres of wilderness all to yourselves!

Your Travel Guide at
Lost Mountain Lodge