Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Forks, Washington. Between the Rain Forest and the Sea

I have traveled to a lot of places in the United States. After visiting forty-three states, I had yet to find a place like Forks, Washington. It is a unique mix of isolated small town and tourist destination. It sits on the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula, about sixty miles west of Port Angeles and one hundred miles north of Aberdeen, the two biggest cities there. With a population of about 3700 it is a destination for nature enthusiast and vampire lovers alike. 

logger memorial

Logging was the foundation

Forks started out as a logging town, in fact it still calls itself The Logging Capital of the World. It served as the base for much of the industry in on the peninsula. Today, its largest employers are the local government, the hospital and two nearby prisons. That is not to say that logging is not going on, but that life here has expanded. Tourism has become a key part of Forks’ economy. People come to hike in the rain forest, to fish for salmon and trout in the nearby rivers, or who just want to explore the peninsula.

Logger's bunk

This is a working steam locomotive

The first place to stop is the Forks Timber Museum. Although small, it houses an extensive collection of household and industrial items from Forks’ history. The items date back to the early 1900’s. There are also many photos of the town and of the logging industry. Don’t forget to visit the “treehouse” which has a recreation of a fire watch station. Next to the museum is the Forks Visitor’s Center. Stop in for local information, especially if you are a fan of the Twilight series. The books and movies take place in the Forks area, and there are several self-guided tours available.

Friday Night Lights

I arrived in Forks on a Friday in September. This gave me the opportunity to attend an event that I rarely get to see in New York – High School Football on a Friday night. High school football is not a big deal in New York City, but small-town football is a big deal, so I made sure to get to the field that evening. The band was in the stands, the cheerleaders were on the field and the team played its heart out, even in a losing effort against the best team in the conference.

Barely a seat available

Cheerleaders on the field

The past and the future

Neah Bay

When you visit Forks, I suggest two short road trips. The first is to Neah Bay, about 50 miles north of Forks. This town, on the Makah Reservation, sits in the very north-west corner of the Olympic Peninsula. During the summer it is a destination for people who want to hike or camp along the ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There is a $10 access fee charged by the tribal council. 

On the road to Neah Bay

While in Neah Bay visit the Makah Tribal Museum. It presents an excellent exploration of life on the peninsula before Europeans settled there. The museum’s collection mostly consists of artifacts found at the Ozette Archeological Site. This is the site of a Makah village that was buried in by a mud slide in 1750. It was rediscovered in 1970 and the materials found there had been preserved in excellent condition. The museum is organized into sections by the day-to-day life of the town’s residents – clothing, cooking, games, hunting and fishing are just some of the categories.
While in Neah Bay, I had lunch at Pat’s Place. Their menu includes American, Mexican, and Native dishes, and it sits on the bay with lovely views out of its windows.

Rialto Beach


The other trip I would suggest is to Rialto Beach. Located 15 miles west of Forks, Rialto Beach sits at the mouth of the Quillayute River. The beach’s position and the ocean currents make it a place where the trunks of trees that have fallen in the Olympic National Forest wash up. Bleached white by salt and sun, hundreds of logs, too large for me to call driftwood, line two miles of beach. Like the bones of whales, they offer an amazing display of shapes only seen in nature. Across the river is the native town of La Push. Here, The River’s Edge restaurant offers lunch with beautiful views of mouth of the Quillayute. Rialto Beach is a State Park and has a $10 access fee.

Visiting Forks is a trip to small town America. Luckily this small town sits among some of the most beautiful land you can visit. From the rain forest to the ocean, all within an hour’s drive.



Olympic Suites Inn – All the rooms here are full suites, bedroom, living room and kitchen. For an extra $10/night they will provide a full set up for cooking your meals. The Inn sits along the Quillayute river, nestled among the trees.

Pacific Pizza – This small restaurant makes excellent hero sandwiches and has a small salad bar. It is not fancy, and it is not expensive, which is a key point in Forks. All of the restaurants that I visited have a 1.5-3% surcharge on credit card purchases. The one owner I spoke with blamed the state-wide minimum wage. But Forks is the only place in Washington that I visited where this surcharge was imposed. To me it was a tourist tax. So, I enjoyed the good food at Pacific Pizza, where I could better afford to pay cash.

Getting There:

Forks is on US-101 about 50 miles west of Port Angeles and 100 miles north of Aberdeen Washington

Neah Bay - From Forks, take US-101 north for 12 miles, turn left onto WA-113. After 10 miles continue straight onto WA-112 west. Take 112 west for 27 miles into Neah Bay.

Rialto Beach - From Forks, take US-101 1 mile north to WA-110. Turn right onto WA-110 west. Travel 8 miles and turn right onto Mora Road. Travel 5 miles west on Mora Road and you will arrive at the Rialto Beach parking lot.

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