Beachcombers' byway

Linger along Washington's Strait of Juan de Fuca
Jim Gullo
Juan de Fuca Strait travel planner


Most travelers to Washington's northwestern boundary take U.S. 101, which skirts the mountainous Olympic National Park to the north, but a little-known strip of nearby asphalt deserves a closer look. Last year, the Federal Highway Administration named State 112 a National Scenic Byway. The two-lane road hugs the coastline near Port Angeles and continues almost to Neah Bay. Called the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway, the road derives its name from its proximity to and views of the chilly, strong-current strip of water that constitutes the aquatic border between Canada and the United States.

The 61-mile highway begins just west of Port Angeles off U.S. 101 and immediately plunges into forests of thick maple, cedar, and pine trees interspersed with areas that have been commercially logged and replanted for generations. Side roads lead to rocky beaches where you can see across the roiling waters of the strait to Vancouver Island.

Food and services along the highway are sparse. Before you set out, consider stocking up on snacks at the Joyce General Store, which dates back to the early 1900s. (Alternatively, stop at the Joyce Cafe, which serves basic diner fare.)

Just northeast of Joyce is Salt Creek County Park, where you'll find interesting tidepools, a pebbly beach, campsites, hiking trails, and nice spots for enjoying that picnic you packed. Farther west, Pillar Point, at the mouth of the Pysht River, is an imposing, rocky cliff that stands sentry in the cold channel waters; its driftwood-studded beach is fun to explore. Nearby, the Merrill & Ring Pysht Tree Farm dates back to the 1880s and has a self-guided tour that explains forestry management.

Next, you'll pass through Clallam Bay, home of the Breakwater Inn, which serves prime rib and seafood. Continuing north, you'll come to Neah Bay. Look for offshore sea stacks called Sail and Sea Rocks; they're feeding grounds for gray whales. The road extends all the way to Cape Flattery at the northwesternmost tip of the continental U.S.