America’s Best Small Towns: Port Angeles, Washington

Port Angeles is an amazing small town on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. Home to just under 20,000 residents, this port city offers stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, and gives those willing to drive a few miles the chance to have the best scenery in America. Just 17 miles and 5,000 feet in elevation from this sleepy town, visitors from all over the world flock to see the stunning panoramic views from Hurricane Ridge. With the rainforest, wild coastlands, awesome views while skiing and snowboarding and some of the most remote wilderness a short trip away, Port Angeles is one of the best small towns in America. 

The view at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
The view at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

 

Views

Port Angeles is a stunningly beautiful city, giving views of the Olympic Mountains, Vancouver Island, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Mount Baker, miking it the perfect city to watch the sunrise, climb a peak for lunch, and then watch sunset from the windswept mountains around Hurricane Ridge. There aren’t many places in the world that offer the amazing vistas and views that Port Angeles offers on any given day. Add to the views being able to catch sunrise and sunset over the water, and the views from P.A. are nearly impossible to beat.

The always gorgeous Lake Crescent, just a few miles from Port Angeles
The always gorgeous Lake Crescent, just a few miles from Port Angeles

 

Weather

Despite being located less than 75 miles from the 16 feet of rain the Hoh Rainforest gets annually, Port Angeles receives an average of only 25 inches of rain each year. The lack of rain in the region makes it ideal for growing crops, including Lavender, with naturally growing cacti rumored to dot the region. In the winter, the temperature is cool, but tolerable, while feet upon feet of snow dump in the mountains on typical years. The lack of rain and dreary days compared to the

Spruce Railroad Trail along the Olympic Discovery Trail
Spruce Railroad Trail along the Olympic Discovery Trail

 

Biking

Port Angeles is one of the many awesome stops on the Olympic Discovery Trail, an 87 mile long bike path that skirts along the scenic forests, lakes, rivers and coastline of the north Olympic Peninsula. The trail, still under construction in some areas, will be 126 miles in length upon completion, stretching from the iconic town of Port Townsend on Puget Sound to LaPush, the westerly-most town in the contiguous United States. For those looking for bike races, Port Angeles is home to Ride the Ridge, a 36 mile bike race from the coastal city to the panoramic summit of Hurricane Ridge. The trek gains 4500 feet in just 18 miles, before riders come flying back down the same road they were struggling to come up. Fun fact- the descent has been known to give riders hypothermia, due to the cool air and high speeds.

Goblin's Gate along the Elwha River in Olympic National Park
Goblin’s Gate along the Elwha River in Olympic National Park

 

Lakes, Rivers, Waterfalls and Straits

Water surrounds the city of Port Angeles, be it the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, rivers to the east and west, and snowcapped peaks to the south. With a few miles of the city, residents and locals have the option to explore a myriad of waterways. Lake Crescent, Washington State’s second deepest lake, sits to the west, while the Dungeness River, America’s second steepest river, plummets to the east. Past Lake Crescent to the east, the Elwha River now runs dam free for the first time in a century, welcoming back salmon and the return of wilderness. With kayaking and canoeing incredibly popular, it is little wonder why nearly everyone in town enjoys going out on the water.

A typical day at Hurricane Ridge, just 18 miles from Port Angeles.
A typical day at Hurricane Ridge, just 18 miles from Port Angeles.

 

Wildlife

Port Angeles is a hotbed of wildlife viewing, all from just a few miles in each direction from town. In the valleys and mountains, herds of Roosevelt Elk graze the wilderness, while salmon swim up the rivers and creeks. In the Strait, whales and proposes are often seen swimming next to the ferries and boats crossing over to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. The region also has deer, black bear, marmots, mountain goats and more eagles than a football game in Philadelphia. The winter months also see flocks of migratory birds visit the region’s wildlife refuges, including snowy owls.

 

Flipping-for-joy-at-hurricane-Ridge.-Photo-Credit-goes-to-Mitch-Zenobi


 

Skiing and Snowboarding

Hurricane Ridge is one of 3 Ski and Snowboard Park in the National Parks. The other two (Yosemite National Park’s Badger and Brandywine Ski Resort, Cuyahoga Valley National Park) are lame compared to Hurricane Ridge. With epic views of the Olympic Mountains to the South and stunning sights of Vancouver Island, Dungeness Spit and Mount Baker to the North and East, coming here is an absolute no-brainer. Visiting Hurricane Ridge to ski and snowboard doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of larger ski areas, but what it lacks in infrastructure, it makes up for in views and powder. The area is also incredibly popular all winter sports, including snowshoeing and cross country skiing, all just 18 miles from downtown.

Welcome to Port Angeles, the US Capitol in an alternative universe.
Welcome to Port Angeles, the US Capitol in an alternative universe.

 

Strange History

While this is highly debated, a plaque located in Port Angeles states that President Abraham Lincoln set aside land in Port Angeles, Washington as an alternative site for the United States Capitol if the South had won the war. I know, it sounds crazy, but on March 3rd, 1862, the Federal Government set aside land in Port Angeles, with the sole purpose being that if the South won the war and took over Washington DC, a new capitol could be created. The Lake Crescent Region to the west also has some amazingly strange history, including the discovery of a preserved body in the lake.  There is obviously a ton of other great history in the area, so visiting is a must.

 

11281736_10153257237845155_981528882_o


 

Food

If you like seafood, local craft beer, and locally grown wine, Port Angeles can give you that and more. Meals of Salmon, Shrimp, Clams, and Dungeness Crabs to choose are common, as are getting meals with Hood Canal Spot Shrimp and Hama Hama Oysters can turn even the most simple meal into a succulent meal. For foodies and those looking for a hip atmosphere, the Nextdoor Gastropub offers amazing meals and excellent drinks. For this looking for amazing french fries, incredible shakes and tasty burgers, Frugals is extremely hard to beat. Port Angeles isn’t just seafood and burgers, though. There are dozens of amazing restaurants waiting to get discovered. Those looking for a ridiculously classy meals should attend a meal at the Lake Crescent Lodge.

Upper Royal Basin in Olympic National Park, a popular near Port Angeles.
Upper Royal Basin in Olympic National Park, a popular near Port Angeles.

 

Hikes

Within 50 miles of Port Angeles, you can hike four distinctly different ecosystems, each offering stunning views and experiences. On any given hiking adventure around P. A., one can hike along the beaches, through the rainforest, next to waterfalls, across windswept ridges, or over glacier to the summit of majestic mountain peaks. The hiking around Port Angeles is hands down the greatest hiking in America, and those who live in or have visit the region will agree. Don’t believe me? Hike these trails and get back to me. Better yet, buy a copy of the the Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park & Olympic Peninsula and discover even more trails.

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park, just a short drive from Port Angeles
Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park, just a short drive from Port Angeles

 

Olympic National Park Access

Port Angeles is considered to be the official entry point to Olympic National Park vacations, and it is hard to argue against that. With the main visitor center in town, and access to the Elwha, Sol Duc, Lake Crescent, and Hurricane Ridge areas just a short drive away, most who visit Port Angeles know and love all aspects of Olympic National Park. Shi Shi Beach, one of the most iconic wilderness beaches in America is just a few hours drive away, as are the rainforests of Olympic.

Click to Order!
Click to Order!

 

Discover More!

Want to Experience Port Angeles and the rest of the Olympic Peninsula? Buy your copy of The Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park & Olympic Peninsula, and fall in love with the best corner of America!

Brand New

Goods, published with love by THE OUTDOOR SOCIETY.

Made in the great Pacific Northwest

Join the expedition

By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

Got a tip? Share it with us on Signal.