Local Flavours: The Complete Guide to Riding Port Angeles, Washington

Jun 15, 2022 at 15:57
by ben haggar  
Local Flavours

THE COMPLETE RIDING GUIDE TO
PORT ANGELES, WASHINGTON
Words, photos, & video by Ben Haggar

Presented by
Visit Port Angels


June is always a funny month in British Colombia and Washington. You really never know what the elements have in store. Last year we had an insane heat dome and the trails were in rough shape for that early in the season. This year, it has been exceptionally cool and wet with a few precious sunny breaks thrown in for good measure. Juneuary, monsJune - whatever you want to call it, you can’t be picky about your riding conditions - you’ve just got to embrace the unpredictability, channel your inner swine and get ready to roll in the slop.

But on the plus side, the variability of June allows you to experience riding on so many different levels. Hot and sunny every day - where’s the fun in that? The fact that trails change drastically whether it’s wet or dry, sunny or overcast and the way you alter your own riding style in accordance to familiarity on slippery roots, puddles of unknown depth or kitty litter corners gives you the full meal deal. The fact that you can experience riding in every season over the course of a few days gives you the best overall sense of a destination - letting the true character shine through. It’s why charcuterie boards are so awesome - you get a bit of everything. And the ole adage “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes…” is complete BS up here - we waited an hour and the rain just kept getting harder.

Ben Haggar // Local Flavours
Home Town: Squamish, BC, CANADA
Instagram: @benhaggarphoto
Favorite Trail in this episode: Horse
Preferred Terrain: Fast and technical
 


Beauty day crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca


Canada on the right, America on the left

The Olympic Mountains providing the backdrop

A Bit About the Region

Port Angeles, quietly perched in the upper north west corner of Washington State on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is the largest city in Clallam County. Sheltered from the open Pacific by the Olympic Peninsula and the spectacular Jurassic Park-esque Olympic National Park, there’s just enough space between the mountains and the sea for the town of 21,000.

The timber trade exploded in 1914 and larger mills, railways and pulp production supported the local economy well into the 21st century. Tourism is also a major draw to the area with Olympic National Park geographically and culturally at the center. The nearly million-acre park is home to glacier-capped peaks, dense temperate rainforest, and a vibrant marine ecosystem.

Getting to Port Angeles

By Land - There’s really not much west of Port Angeles as far as population centers go, so chances are you’ll be arriving from the south or easy by road. Seattle is the closest major city just over 80 miles (130 km) east and depending where you are, there is a combination of ferry options or sticking to solid ground around Tacoma. Portland is 230 miles (370 km) or roughly 4:15 minutes drive south on highway 101.

By Sea - Blackball Ferry Lines run from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles three times (each way) per day and takes just 90 minutes. It’s worth it for the scenery and the 1950’s jingle they play at the start and end of the voyage.

By Air - Port Angeles lacks a commercial airport. The closest major airport is Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) which services international and domestic flights from all major carriers. It’s easy to rent a car and make your way from Seattle via ferry or by driving through Tacoma, Washington.

 
Downtown from the natural deepwater harbour
 
 
The downtown core is full of heritage buildings, restaurants and shops
 
Lots of art around town with a distinct maritime theme


Some local art by Jeff Eshom from Butt Cutt Woodworks
One of the many giant murals around town
Elwa River
Crossing the Elwa River on the 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail

Shred laps at Dry Hill

Bike park or Jurassic Park?


The Best Trails to Ride in Port Angeles

This is classic PNW riding so if you’ve ridden in coastal BC or the Cascades, you’ll feel right at home with the golden dirt and dank forests. The rock here is more volcanic in structure than further up the coast on Vancouver Island so expect more fractured terrain and chunky rock features without as much grip as granite. The dirt has a bit of clay in the mix that is perfect for making shapes, which local builders have used to create a plethora of jumps and berms.

The greater Port Angeles region holds roughly 280 trails totaling 400 miles (644 km). There is a great mix of riding within 15 minutes of town with Dry Hill taking center stage along with Kelly Peak, Colville, and Foothills areas. Slightly further afield you have Mount Pleasant, Striped Peak, Sadie Creek, Mount Muller and Cooper Ranch to the West on Highway 101, and the Dungeness and Miller Peninsula State Park before you get back towards civilization on the outskirts of Seattle across Puget Sound. Most trails are on DNR land and some require a $5 daily Discovery Pass for parking.

Velo Solutions has just finished up an impressive paved pumptrack at Civic Park beside the skatepark. In addition to the main lines, there is a dedicated adaptive accessible loop which is just the second adaptive pumptrack in North America.

Dry Hill
The network might seem ironically named - especially this time of year, but Dry Creek which runs beside the network has been around a lot longer than the trails. This network has seen the most trail development over the past few years largely due to the NW Cup - which also explains the heavy DH influence on trail building and design with berms and jumps galore. If you like to go fast, this is the spot! Uproot is a great option to take you to the top or you can pedal the road. A recommended intro lap from the top includes Yo Mama, Brazilian, Muffin Top, and One Liner.
Key trail - Waynes World: This is a trail you want to do a few times to get to know the doubles and corners - it gets more fun with each lap!
Key trail - Mitch’s Backside: A bit steeper with loads of roots and technical sections.
Key trail - Chunderdome: As the name suggests, bring you Mad Max A-game.

Kelly Peak / Zoo Loop
The radio tower at the summit of Kelly Peak is clearly visible looking west from Dry Hill. This area is steeper and more technical with some of the biggest continuous descents in the area. The area is named for the animal themed trail names, apart from Richard Simmons, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that one.
Key trail - Horse: One of the original trails - steep and technical with lots of natural drops.
Key trail - Alpaca: A mellower version of Horse, fun and fast! Easy to lap multiple times.
Key trail - Vulture Ridge: This trail will give you a great taste of the unique rock slabs along a chunky technical ridge line.

Foothills
This is a multi use network for both motorized and non motorized two wheel contraptions as well as ATVs, horses and hikers and has a different feel than the north facing riding areas. Due to it’s southerly aspect, it dries out much more quickly than Dry Hill or Kelly Peak which makes it a great wet weather option.
Key trail - Firnobyl: Fun weaving XC style trail best ridden north to south
Key trail - Westside Sunny: Fast and loose non technical descent with great views of the Elwa River Valley.

Colville
Great family friendly area or if you’re looking to bang out a few quick laps before the sun sets. Trails are fast, flowy and all have climbs close by. The network is encircled by a perimeter trail so it's pretty hard to get lost here. There’s also a picnic area with a fire pit, a pump track, drop zone, and small skills park.

Catharine Copass and son Finn shredding Colville together

The 'no dig no ride' philosophy runs deep in this family
Testing out some fresh trail work

The stoke is high

 
Catharine is one of the founders of the Top Left Trails Co-op and the Laser Kittens ladies bike club
 
What singletrack dreams are made of
 
One of the first completed sections
 
The adaptive friendly loop ready for asphalt

Juice from Velo Solutions testing out the day's shapes

Juicin' that front tire


It can't be sunny every day

Juneuary in full effect!

Weather

Rain is as synonymous with the Pacific Northwest as plaid and lumberjacks. It’s what feeds the forests that give the area its identity and character, but fortuitously Port Angeles is in one of the drier areas of the region. Low pressure systems slam into the Pacific coast and climb their way into the Olympic mountains, or spin off the Olympic Peninsula and stick to the coast of Vancouver Island creating a ‘rain shadow’ over Port Angeles and Sequim. Rain shadow is in quotation marks because the area still receives 25” (635mm) of rain per year and has the lush forest to show for it, but Forks which is only 50 miles (80 km) to the west receives well over 100” (2540+mm) of rain annually so as far as being a dry area, it’s all relative.

Expect summers to be cool with average temperatures between the high 60s (19ºC) and low 50s (9ºC) due to the maritime climate. Winters are quite mild and riding at lower elevations can take place year-round apart from a few days or weeks of wet snow generally around January.

Mt. Baker in full alpenglow

The glacial moraine of Ediz Hook is a great spot for a sunset cruise but also creates the deepest and closest port on the US Pacific coast
The land of a thousand waterfalls

Rainshadow of the Olympic mountains doing its thing

Local Clubs and Advocates

Like a lot of smaller mountain bike scenes, the trail network here is predominantly built and maintained by volunteers. There are a few more organized groups that advocate for expansion and protection of trails.

Olympic Dirt Society and the Top Left Trails Co-Op are the main advocacy groups, which look after the trail networks with Olympic Dirt Society focusing on Dry Hill. Top Left was the catalyst behind the Colville trail network and is also home to the Laser Kittens women’s mountain bike club, which has done some trail development in the Petting Zoo area (the lower south side of the Zoo Loop area directly west of Colville).

A team of dedicated volunteers and the board of directors of the non-profit Peninsula Trails Coalition work with local government to create and maintain the Olympic Discovery Trail, a network of multi-use paved and unpaved trails that span over 130 miles across the North Olympic Peninsula and connects the communities of Port Townsend, Blyn, Sequim, Port Angeles and La Push.

Nearly all of the riding here is on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land and they are one of the main trail stewards of the area looking after both motorized and non motorized networks.

Local Bike Shops, Bike Rentals and Services

Sound Bike and Kayak is the go to shop for any major repairs or specialty mountain bike items. The super friendly staff can give you suggestions for trails and loops to keep you stoked.

The Bike Garage is also a full service shop with bikes, spares and some great knowledge about the trails.

Discover E-Bike rents electric bikes from the Port Angeles’ waterfront near Hollywood Beach and the City pier. You can also opt for a one to almost three hour guided tour or rent your own bike to explore the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Elwha E-Bike Adventures offers a variety of tours further out from downtown Port Angeles, including the Olympic Adventure Trail, the Olympic Discovery Trail’s Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic Hot Springs and more. They also rent ebikes and offer shuttle service with their ebike rentals.

Scott Tucker - Co-founder of the NW Cup series also runs MicroShuttles which can organize shuttle days at Dry Hill. Enquire through the Dry Hill Facebook page for more information.

Shuttle day with MicroShuttles

Local trail builder Josh Carruthers sending gaps through the ferns

Technical roots on Mitch's Backside

Scott Tucker ripping through the deep dark woods

Bike Advice

The Olympic mountains provide the riding canvas here and are characterized by deep river valleys and steep slopes descending right to sea level. Given the topography, there’s not a lot of what you would consider classic XC riding compared to the zone's gravity trails. That being said, everything that I rode was easily handled on a mid-travel bike. Also, there’s not a lot of shuttling access which means that you have to earn that elevation, so being able to pedal your rig is a necessity. Finding that happy medium between a bike that can handle DH trails of Dry Hill while also being able to make it to the top for multiple laps is the key here.

Sara and Tammi on the slip and slide


 
Lush forests of the PNW
 
The chainsaw per capita ratio is quite high in Port Angeles and makes for some great trail signs
  ]
Enjoyable climb up the Foothills riding area with views of the Elwa Valley
 
The view of the Olympic mountains from the top of Kelly Peak

Ancient Cedars

They don't mess around growing trees in this part of the world. Firs the size of a large Nomad frame

The ever present Olympic Range

Perfect oceanfront post-ride beer spot at the Red Lion Hotel

The historic PA Wharf


Accommodations and Food:

Port Angeles has a large range of accommodations with hotels centered around downtown, bed and breakfasts scattered throughout town and some camping options further afield.

Red Lion Hotel - conveniently located downtown, there are waterfront rooms, a pool and hot tub, and cruiser bikes to get around town or take on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Maitland Manor B&B - This quaintly restored heritage house is known for its Strait of Juan de Fuca and mountain views and five-star breakfasts to fuel you up for a big day of riding. Guests can easily walk downtown from here and they offer a secure rack for bike parking. They also provide guests with their delicious house-made Protein Balls to keep you out on the trails longer!

Salt Creek Camping - Salt Creek is a beautiful beach and less than a 10 min drive from the Colville and Zoo Loop riding areas. Options are the Crescent Beach Campground, which has tent or RV sites and cabins directly across from Crescent Bay beach (which is private land) or the Rec Site on the headland.

For a more extensive list of accommodations, Visit Port Angeles has a complete list.

Dining options abound downtown with loads of international and domestic cuisine to choose from.

Breakfast:
Great Northern Coffee - Nice specialty coffees and some seriously massive breakfast burritos to get you through the biggest days of riding.
Fogtown Coffee Bar - Trendy little place to start your day and they support the trails and the new pumptrack!
First Street Haven - A cozy diner-style spot in downtown serving breakfast and lunch until close. They get creative with their brunch, sandwich and burger selections and are popular for their home-made cinnamon rolls, pastries and pies.

Lunch:
New Day Eatery - Sandwiches, juice bar, and I’d be surprised if you can walk past the pastry window and not buy something. Also highly recommended for breakfast.
Devils Lunchbox - Quality Tex Mex with tacos, burritos and a large selection of sandwiches made to order.
Toga's Soup House - Known for their made-from-scratch daily soup and sandwich specials, you can find yourself enjoying a bowl of Creamy Beer Cheese Soup with Pretzel Bites, but only during the week – they are closed on weekends.

Dinner:
Next Door Gastropub - The local favourite with upscale pub fare and a solid beer selection.
Jasmine Bistro - Large plates of traditional Thai cuisine with nice ocean views from the patio.
Spruce - Known for having some of the best cocktails in town, their mixologist never disappoints. Pair it with their elevated comfort food like a famous Fried Chicken Plate or The Grilled Cheese which is anything but a standard grilled cheese sandwich.
Bella Italia - If you’re a fan of upscale Italian, fine wine and the Twilight movie and book series, you’ll want to reserve a table here.

Breweries / Wineries:
Barhop Brewing - The local brewery has a solid IPA selection and more traditional offerings like lagers and ales. They also do a mean pizza.
Angeles Brewing Supplies & Taproom - This isn’t a brewery, but a cool place to hang out in downtown and sample an extensive craft beer selection with rotating seasonals and a well stocked take away fridge.
Hangar 19 - Another beer tasting room and brewery owned and operated by Bar Hop Brewing located at Port Angeles’ William R. Fairchild International Airport.
Harbinger Winery - An award-winning artisan winery where the locals hang and the Washington wine is made with “out of the ordinary” varietals.
Camraderie Cellars - The relaxing atmosphere of the tasting room is a great spot to sample the traditionally made wines that are meant to be paired with a good meal.

Port Angeles is known for having the best restaurants on the Olympic Peninsula. For a complete list of all restaurants, breweries, bars and wineries, click here.

The five-star breakfast at Maitland Manor

Morning ritual at the Great Northern
Jasmine Bistro

Calorie pre and post loading
Pizza and beer? What a combo!
Angeles Brewing Supplies and Taproom has some great beer on tap and in the fridge to go
Harbinger Winery is a must-do Apres after riding Dry Hill

Other Tips

Olympic National Park - The nearly one million acre park has some of the most spectacular coastal temperate rainforest in the lower 48 with tons of hiking and climbing opportunities. Highlights include Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Hot Springs, and Mount Olympus. To get more intimate with the park's diverse ecosystems, take a tour from Carolyn Wilcox at Experience Olympic. She can provide custom tours and is a wealth of knowledge about the edible and medicinal plants of the region and works with the local Native American tribes.

Sea Kayaking - The strait of Juan de Fuca has some incredible paddling opportunities. Adventures Through Kayaking can get you set up with boats and guides who know the best spots to look for whales and other marine life. They also offer bike tours and are attached to Harbinger Winery which is a must do apres spot after paddling or riding (it’s right near the base of Dry Hill). And being a Washington establishment - they’ve got beer on tap if that’s more to your taste.

Downtown Port Angeles - From dozens of restaurants, bars and breweries to fashion-forward boutiques, art galleries, antique stores and gift shops, you’ll want to spend some time exploring downtown Port Angeles’ waterfront wharf, City Pier, beaches and attractions. Keep an eye on their event calendar for annual sporting, cycling and mountain bike events, art and music festivals, and even one of the most acclaimed Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festivals in the country happening every October.

Ediz Hook - Bike, walk or drive out to this natural three-mile long sand spit for some of the best views of the Olympic mountains, the Port Angeles Harbor and even Victoria B.C. Canada.

Whale Watching - Daily half-day whale watching tours are available from May - October at the Port Angeles Wharf with Puget Sound Express.

Lake Crescent - For flat water fun, Lake Crescent offers opportunities for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, swimming and floating. You can rent kayaks and SUP boards from either the historic Lake Crescent Lodge or the Log Cabin Resort. There are numerous trails for hiking as well as biking, including the Olympic Discovery Trail’s Spruce Railroad Trail.

The Pathway to the Pacific - The Olympic Discovery Trail is an impressive 130 mile (210 km) long multi-user trail that is mostly paved connects the communities of Port Townsend, Blyn, Sequim, Port Angeles and La Push. Grab your bike and pedal along the scenic Salish Sea, or up to Lake Crescent and beyond to the Pacific Ocean beaches in La Push. The Olympic Adventure Route is a 25 mile (40 km) singletrack section of mountain biking trails.

Beaches - Explore several sandy and rocky beaches along the Port Angeles waterfront. It isn’t uncommon to see seals, sea otters and even Orca whales from the shores along Port Angeles. Hollywood Beach provides a sweet spot to launch a kayak or paddle a standup paddleboard – the Port Angeles Harbour area is usually quite calm for paddling. Head to Elwha River Beach for epic birding and to see where the Elwha River meets the Salish Sea. Freshwater Bay and Salt Creek Recreation Area offer some of the best tidepooling, kayaking and scuba diving spots on the Olympic Peninsula.

Surfing - Port Angeles itself rarely gets open ocean swells, but larger swells from the NW do make it to the local beaches to produce ridable waves - more consistently in winter. A better option is to drive 70 miles to the coast and stay in La Push for a few days. The tiny coastal community gets consistent waves year-round with peaks along picturesque First Beach.

Some of the intertidal wildlife on the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Picturesque Crescent Beach

Solid rainforest vibes

Port Angeles mountain biking trails

Dry Hill mountain biking trails

Zoo Loop mountain biking trails

Foothills mountain biking trails

Presented by
Visit Port Angels



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