One Tank Trips:
Destination Hood Canal
By Jennifer Coleman
The Western Washington Honda Dealers “One Tank Trips” Sweepstakes provided the perfect opportunity for me to explore the north shore of Hood Canal and catch up with a friend, Rachel Hansen, who lives in the area. Rachel has been relentlessly sending me photos of adventures her family takes each weekend—it was high time I saw what the buzz was about.
As part of their one tank challenge, I was to test the off-road handling and comfort of Honda’s all-wheel drive mid-size truck, the Ridgeline—all on a single tank of gas. A two-night stay at the historic Mike’s Beach Resort in Lilliwaup is one of the prizes offered in Western Washington Honda Dealers “One Tank Trip” Sweepstakes – I couldn’t wait to check it out!
With visions of diving in waterfalls, hiking alpine meadows, and kayaking secret coves – I was prepared to experience what is locally marketed as the “Wildside of Washington.”
My day started at Lynnwood Honda in Edmonds picking up the 2019 Ridgeline RTL-E AWD in their spacious modern facility. Since 1972 the dealership has been a staple in the community, renown for a spectacular reputation in customer service, value and low pressure sales.
Pulling the Honda Ridgeline onto the ferry I knew my adventure had begun. A sparkling display of blue with muted shades of green and gold marked the distant shores and the jutting range of the Olympics. I was tempted to view the crossing from my new favorite seat complete with a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay, and an 8-inch infotainment touch screen. The Ridgeline RTL-E AWD is Honda’s top model with leather interior and an in-bed audio system for tailgate parties. All models of the Ridgeline are known for spacious crew cab interiors, seating five with support and leg room.
The short and beautiful drive to Quilcene follows Hwy 104 across the Hood Canal Bridge. Built in 1961, this floating bridge connects the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas. At just shy of 1.5 miles in length, it is the longest saltwater floating bridge in the world, and the third longest floating bridge overall. Traffic was pretty light when I crossed over so my glimpses of the fjord below were fleeting. It was enough to realize that in less than an hour I had left the city far behind and was in a spectacular natural area.
Quilcene: Pearl of the Hood Canal
Built in 1892, the Worthington Manor is truly a labor of love. Mansion and grounds have been transformed with countless volunteer hours into a multi-use park complete with museum, the Linger Longer Outdoor Theatre, and scenic walking trails along the Little Quilcene River and through the heritage orchards and gardens.
Perched right on the edge of the Olympic National Forest with its feet in the Canal, Quilcene offers a little slice of rural village life. Rachel and I met at a popular local brewery for lunch. As full logging trucks rumbled by displaying this little town’s living logging heritage, we sampled the 101 Brewery at Twana Roadhouse’s line-up of fresh micro-brews that celebrate forestry in their names – like "Pecker Pole Ale," named for a logger’s spar pole. The Twana Roadhouse also offers a delicious gourmet burger and fabulous salads.
The View from the Top
Head over to Mount Walker’s north viewing point for views of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier with Hood Canal and South Puget Sound in the foreground.
Our first stop was Mount Walker summit, just south of the historic Quilcene National Fish Hatchery. Leaving Hwy 101, the gravel road ascending Mount Walker viewpoint is the ideal spot to test the Honda Ridgeline’s AWD handing capabilities. Like a page from Dr. Seuss, the steep incline follows the natural curves of the mountain with tantalizing peeks over the heavily forested banks of the valleys and inlets below. With an impressive cloud of dust in its path, the Ridgeline gripped the loose gravel, confidently navigating each twist in the ascent.
The change in altitude allows for an impressive display of late season blooming alpine flowers and the native rhododendrons that rise above the underbrush in a dramatic show of pink and red. At the summit the road forks to allow two vantage points. South faces the Olympic Range with farming valleys and hillsides of timber at its base. Here you catch a glimpse the town of Brinnon and the curves of glacial formed Hood Canal. The North viewpoint allows for a dramatic view of Seattle’s skyline all the way to the hook of Hood Canal. Mount Rainier and Puget Sound complete the landscape. Lucky us, it was a clear day and the view was breathtaking!
Dip a Paddle in the Fjord
In the shadow of Mount Walker sits Hood Canal Adventures and their impressive fleet of kayak rentals. Don’t worry, they don’t just send you out on the Canal in a tippy kayak. Owner Christina Maloney prides herself on ensuring her guests have a safety briefing before heading out. A marine biologist herself, Christina ensures HCA staff teach not just how to navigate safely but also about the area. Our guide, Chance quickly displayed his passion for the local flora and fauna. He described how the Moonlit Bioluminescence and kayak crabbing tours were their most popular programs.
After our paddle the drive along Hood Canal from Brinnon to Mike’s Beach Resort in Lilliwaup flew by! Popular with motorcycle groups, the scenic stretch following Hood Canal’s north shore is simply put – fun to drive. Especially in the Honda Ridgeline RTL-E AWD with its super responsive handling of the curves.
Mike's Beach Resort
Mike’s entrance, hidden in a stand of evergreens, comes up unexpected – so keep your eyes peeled. The first thing you notice passing the beautifully carved colorful sign is the landscaping. Mike’s entrance winds down the hill past cabins and lodging and every nook is filled with a bright exuberance of perennial blooms and native greenery. A gentle brook follows the entry road with paths to driftwood benches marking vantage points overlooking the Canal and oyster shell strewn beach.
Mike’s reception is located on the lower level near the beach. Here we were warmly greeted by Iliana Schultz. For 65 years, the Shultz family has owned and operated this rustic and welcoming Canal getaway. Mike and Iliana have recently passed on some duties to daughter, Sara, and her husband, Matt, who are also serious about raising some of the best oysters on the Resort’s tidelands. Their oyster farm is open during low tide for harvest and guests can grill ”fresh from the beach” right at their private cabins.
Along with fully equipped cabins the resort features a full service campground, family rooms, glamping tents, and even a 1969 Airstream trailer with outdoor hot tub. Many of the units are pet-friendly and, along with the beach providing hours of distraction, there is a playground for the kids. The resort also features a boat launch, moorage, kayaks and paddle boards for rent as well as air for scuba visitors. Mike’s is very popular with dive groups and many guests return each year to enjoy the shrimp, crab, and salmon seasons on the Canal. After getting a full tour and spending a little time relaxing on a patio overlooking the Canal, it didn’t take us long to realize why Mike’s Beach Resort is the perfect home base to explore the fjord!
Hamma Hamma Falls
To reach Hamma Hamma Falls, turn off Hwy 101 to the Hamma Hamma Road until the road crosses the Hamma Hamma River via a concrete bridge – below this you will find a breathtaking top view of the falls.
Located literally in Mike’s backyard is the spectacular Hamma Hamma Falls in the Mount Skokomish Wilderness. In the spring and fall when the water is racing down its two-tiered falls - dropping a stunning twenty and fifty feet at a 90-degree angle - daredevil river paddling enthusiasts cart their kayaks to the top and ride the falls down. Not quite so energetic, we simply enjoyed the opportunity to stretch our legs and explore the trails that start at the road terminus. Hamma Hamma Falls is a great year round destination with an AWD vehicle like the Ridgeline.
Hama Hama Oyster Farm & Saloon
Giant piles of oyster shells at Hama Hama Oyster Farm form a makeshift stage and “grotto” where weekly live music is performed all summer and occasional weddings or farm-to-table dinner parties are hosted amidst the bivalves.
Back on the shoreline, at the mouth of the Hamma Hamma River is the much celebrated 5th generation family run farm, Hama Hama Oyster Co. Rachel’s family produces the “Sea Cow” oyster available though Hama Hama, so understandably this was the next stop on our journey. Since I’m not really a raw oyster fan, she assured me there was plenty more on the menu and a great selection of beer and wine.
However, if you are into the freshest oysters this is the place to go. This high energy destination serves cooked and raw oysters pulled from the last tide and prepared to order with an ever-changing menu of seasonal local ingredients. We cozied up under one of their canopies near a shell-lined fire pit and enjoyed fresh Dungeness crab cakes with ginger and sesame slaw. In the retail shop you can purchase these delicacies frozen to prepare at home or in your cabin. They also have a great selection of picnic food at their store. We picked up a slab of smoked sockeye and crackers well as a rhubarb ginger beer from Timber City.
Lake Cushman and Olympic National Park's Staircase Entrance
Refreshed and refueled with picnic bags on ice and safely stowed in the Ridgeline’s lockable in-bed trunk, we headed up the mountain again. This time to visit Olympic National Park via the Staircase entrance. Staircase sits along the North Fork of the Skokomish River just past Lake Cushman.
Lesser known and a little quieter than the other park entrances – but not lesser in any other way – this access point features day and backcountry trails, lush forests, alpine lakes and the much loved and very accessible, Lake Cushman. Eight miles long and 115 feet deep, Cushman is perfect for kayaking, hiking, and swimming as well as features some great camping areas.
Hiking around Lake Cushman and Staircase is varied and limitless. No matter what the skill or energy level, there are trails to suit every need. Mount Ellinor and Mount Washington offer spectacular alpine climbs with wildflower meadows and panoramic views. We chose the gentler Staircase Loop Trail. Beginning at the Ranger Station, this 2.5 mile hike passes through ancient mossy forests following the Skokomish River. We climbed a huge rock overlooking some swimming pools below to enjoy our picnic. The path continued over a cable bridge and then followed the opposite side of the river back to the Ranger Station.
Hoodsport is recently gaining an identity as a mural town as local artist, Harro Scharbau, has begun the trend this season with a giant octopus and now a colorful turtle.
After our hike we headed back down to the Canal to check out the shops in Hoodsport. I loved the newly opened Sunshine Creations NW with the huge mural of a sea turtle on the side of their building. Here, owners Brian & Coleen McLees have created a haven for local artists to share and sell their art. Rachel’s favorite stop is the Octopus Gallery. This tiny gallery is stuffed with artwork as well as silver and gold jewelry handcrafted on site using original wax mold methods. The detail on a starfish pendant I had my eyes on was exquisite!
We stopped in at The Hardware Distillery. where distillers Chuck and Jan have gained national attention for their spirits. We had a great time hearing their story and sampling the strong aquavit. The Bee’s Knees, a distilled mead made from Washington wildflower honey, was amazing too. Prefer wine? Near the Distillery is Stottle Winery’s tasting room and Hoodsport Winery is south of town.
According to Rachel a day exploring Hood Canal is not complete without a stop for Olympic Mountain Ice Cream at Hoodsport Coffee. Just down the road the Black family has been handcrafting their artisan ice cream and gelato in small batches for over 30 years with innovative flavors made from the best ingredients. With each bite, you can easily imagine the coconut toasted on site and the peaches picked ripe from a nearby farm on the Skokomish River. Yes, a truly a divine way to end a perfect day exploring the Wild Side of Washington!
Throughout the day we really enjoyed the comfort and amenities of the 2019 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E AWD. It handled great on the different road surfaces and we were impressed with the dual-action tailgate that could either be lowered like a conventional tailgate or swung open like a door, allowing access to the locking in-bed trunk that can act as a ice chest as well!
I could have easily spent a week exploring Hood Canal – from the estuary in Belfair, the artist colony in historic Union, High Steel Bridge, or catch a feature at one of Washington’s few remaining drive-in’s in Shelton. For now I was content to enjoy the calmer side of the Wild Side and relax with good company and spectacular views. For more information about what you can do on Hood Canal, visit explorehoodcanal.com.
Enter the Honda “One Tank Trips” Challenge today for your chance to win a 3-year lease on a 2019 Honda HR-V, one of four fabulous 2-day getaways to great Washington destinations or one of 10 weekly prizes. Enter today!