Hood Canal is a long eel of a waterway with miles of shoreline dotted with interesting little towns, local food, a posh resort and ample opportunities for water recreation.
State Route 106 (from near Belfair to Skokomish) and U.S. Highway 101 (from Skokomish to Dabob Bay) offer the longest stretches of access. Those are the routes I took last week for a one-tank day trip.
First things first: It might be called a canal, but it’s not. This is nature’s work, and nature is still in abundance. The watery channel that separates the Kitsap Peninsula from the Olympic Peninsula is actually a fjord, breaking off from the main part of Puget Sound and ending in Belfair.
Starting from Tacoma, I made a slight side trip to Allyn. It’s actually on the northern tip of Case Inlet, but it’s just a few minutes from the canal.
There I found George Kenny and his School of Chainsaw Carving. It’s hard to miss unless you’re the sort of person who refuses to believe in Bigfoot.
A 10-foot statue of the mythological creature holds court over a cedar menagerie of sea captains, howling wolves, eagles and, of course, bears.
“It’s our bread and butter,” Kenny said of the bears. Nine out of 10 carvings he sells are ursine-themed.
But is it art?
“We don’t teach art, we teach method,” Kenny said.
He’s been carving for 17 years but started the school seven years ago. “People come in from all over the world to learn this.”
Information: George Kenny’s School of Chainsaw Carving at Bear in a Box, 18351 state Route 103, Allyn; 360-275-9570, www.bearinabox.com. Open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
LAP OF LUXURY
Union is home to Alderbrook Resort and Spa – a theme park of sorts where attractions are outdoor massages, fine dining and golf.
I bypassed the resort’s main restaurant for the waterside outdoor café – you needn’t be a guest to dine at either. The lunch I had was forgettable, but I didn’t mind. This has to be one of the most pleasant places to dine on the canal. A creek burbles nearby, the Olympics shine in the distance.
On the resort’s marina, kayaks were neatly stacked, waiting for renters. On the beach, Spencer Readel, 10, and sister Annika, 8, were running from tide pool to tide pool collecting miniature shellfish.
“They will keep their noses to the ground for the next two days,” said their father, Michael Readel. His wife, Susan, nodded and added that the frequent bickering between the kids came to a halt as soon as the Spokane family hit the beach.
Information: Alderbrook Resort and Spa, 10 E. Alderbrook Drive, Union; 360-898-2200, www.alderbrookresort.com.
ICE CREAM FARM
The pumpkins are just coming up at Hunter Farms, built on the rich soils of the Skokomish delta. They won’t be ready until October, but this time of year, it’s the ice cream that keeps a steady stream of cars pulling in.
The farm store has a huge selection of Olympic Mountain Ice Cream that’s made nearby. Two dozen varieties are offered in cones and cups, while a cooler is stocked with quart-sized cartons. Friday is delivery day, said employee Alivea Binder. On my Thursday arrival, there were only three left.
“Even if when it’s pouring down rain outside and freezing cold, I have a line for ice cream,” Binder said.
I tried the most popular flavor: Jack Daniel’s fudge praline. And yes, I could taste the whiskey.
Information: Hunter Farms, E. 1921 Hwy. 106, Union; 360-898-2222, www.hunter-farms.com.
The Skokomish (People of the River) Nation has a small reservation on the delta of its namesake river.
Lest you think the tribe is solely represented by Lucky Dog Casino and boarded-up fireworks stands, stop in at the tribe’s museum.
Displays fill the reception area of the tribe’s administration building just a few seconds off state Route 106. Two large carved welcoming figures dominate the space inside. Behind them is a carved orca. Lining the walls are displays of baskets, arrowheads, bentwood boxes and other artifacts.
Some of the items were dug up on the reservation, and others were donated after many years of use. Cooking baskets show the dark patina of age and fire.
Information: Skokomish Tribal Center and Museum, 80 North Tribal Center Road, Skokomish; 360-426-4232, www.skokomish.org. Open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
As I got out of my car at Hoodsport Winery, a bald eagle flew over. It seems everyone has heard about the wine made here.
For 33 years, this small winery has been turning out grape and other fruit wine. But don’t expect Napa Valley. The building looks more suited as a gift store or a chalet-themed motel than a winery.
You can taste wine from cranberry to pear to raspberry (their No. 1 seller) as well as Island Belle – a tart rose-colored wine made from grapes grown just a few miles away.
Information: Hoodsport Winery, 23501 U.S. 101, Hoodsport; 360-877-9894; www.hoodsport.com. Open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
Nearby: The Port of Hoodsport nicely maintains two miles of nature trails three miles up state Route 119 just beyond the RV park. It’s free, and dogs are permitted. Open daylight hours.
“Do you ever find pearls?” a delivery man asked an employee at the Hama Hama Co. store in Lilliwaup as I was walking in. She handed him a jar filled with gray misshapen examples.
The real gems at the shellfish grower’s retail store are the oysters, clams and smoked salmon.
A large stainless steel tank usually is filled with cooked crab. Add some lemon and wine (and maybe an oyster knife), and you’ll have all the fixings for a beach picnic.
Information: Hama Hama Co. store, 35846 U.S. 101, Lilliwaup; 360-877-5811, www.hamahama oysters.com. Open from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily.
The Olympic Mountains are home to countless waterfalls and cascades, but most require long drives and often long hikes.
Not Rocky Brook Falls. Though it’s on private land, it’s accessible to the public. The falls drop more than 100 feet into a blue pool surrounded by a leafy forest.
Turn inland on Dosewallips Road off 101, just north of Brinnon. Just past the 3-mile marker and a guardrail bridge is a cinderblock building. Park on the road, then walk past the building and upstream about 100 yards. Beware of slippery rocks.
Several state parks on Hood Canal offer camping, picnic areas, swimming and that special Washington feature: shellfish harvesting. Check www.parks.wa.gov/parks for details on camping, shellfish and hours. $10 day or $30 annual Discover Pass required.
Here are three best bets for day trippers.
Twanoh State Park: Located between Belfair and Union, this 182-acre park has 3,100 feet of shoreline and one of the warmest saltwater beaches in the state. The highway splits the beach and camping sections of the park.
Potlatch State Park: This 57-acre park offers views up and down the canal with 5,700 feet of shoreline. Near the big bend of the canal, it features picnic areas in sun and shade.
Dosewallips State Park: This 425-acre park near Brinnon has 5,500 feet of saltwater shoreline and 5,400 feet of freshwater shoreline on both sides of the Dosewallips River.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 email@example.com