The Hood Canal, a naturally formed fjord that separates the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas, is long and quite narrow, generally about a mile and a half in width.
Most of the canal shoreline is occupied with private homes and small towns. Twanoh is one of the few parks making the shoreline available to the public.
Located past the “bend” in the canal, on the shorter 15 miles long section, Twanoh State Park may be small in acreage, but has spectacular views.
It also boasts a boat launch, a well-organized camping area, swimming, picnicking, and even a short, steep hike through the forest.
Directions to the Park
Twanoh State Park is not “on the way” to other major locations, so getting there is generally a choice. The two-lane Highway 106 hugs the southern side of the Hood Canal, so visitors arrive by driving first south on Highway 3 out of Belfair or north out of Shelton.
Others come from Highway 101 to the west. Highway 106 serves as both an access point for those who live along the canal and as a cutoff between Belfair and Shelton, so the road is quite busy in the summers, with no passing areas or turn offs.
In the months of July and August, a little patience is required. I prefer to visit in the late Spring, April – May, or in the fall and winter. If I do want to swim or harvest clams, I am sure to arrive early in the morning so that the drive is less hectic and to ensure a parking spot.
The Park is popular for day use, as well as overnight camping, so there are two parking areas available. One is next to the boat launch, and the other is closer to the beach and picnicking area.
They are connected by a wooden bridge over Twanoh Creek just before it enters the Hood Canal. Twanoh Creek has a redd just before entering the canal.
Redds are coarse gravel beds with cool water flow in the winter where salmon lay eggs, so be sure to use the bridge and not to disturb that area.
There is a wide swimming area, and it has the added benefit of being the warmest saltwater in the state. It is much warmer than the Pacific beaches, where surfers must wear wet suits.
The Hood Canal has a central channel with depths of around 500 feet, but outside the channel, the water is generally only about 150 feet deep, which quickly rises near the shoreline.
Though the canal is filled with saltwater and is tidal, the circulation is poor, especially in the southern end, so the water is warm enough for cool, but pleasant swimming in the summers.
This beach does not have a lifeguard, so I am always sure to swim with other people, and generally, those who are swimming keep an eye out for each other. Parents need to be mindful of their children when they are in the water.
There is day moorage for boats just beyond the swimming area, so watching to see which boats are visiting for the day can be fun, too.
Oysters are most plentiful near the boat dock on the western side of the park, and clams are most abundant along the eastern shoreline. When safely in season and permit in hand, oysters, and three species of clams, Manila, native little neck, and cockles can be harvested.
Oyster season is year-round, but clam season is only from August 1 to September 31 most years. The season is set by the State of Washington, and there may be changes due to weather and water conditions, so it is important to check the Washington State Shellfish Harvesting Safety information website before gathering.
Those who harvest the up to 18 allowed oysters are asked to shuck the them on the beach and leave the shells at the tide line. The empty shells act as “setting” surfaces for the new oysters to get their start.
There is an especially lovely Madrona tree on the waterfront here. Madrona, (also known as arbutus, madrone, or madron) are native to the Pacific Coast from northern California to British Columbia.
Madrona do not thrive with long freezes, so the dry summers and moist, warmer winters along the coast make this tree a special treat in temperate areas. It also requires a dry summer season to thrive, and it is especially sensitive to the soil conditions, so well-established trees are important to leave in place and undisturbed.
The Madrona has an unusual branch pattern, clusters of white flowers that precede the bright red fruit later in the summer. Most strikingly, the cinnamon-red bark peels away, revealing the light green under pattern.
Civilian Conservation Corp
During the Great Depression in the 1930’s, a federal program called the Civilian Conversation Corp, or CCC, provided work for young men completing infrastructure and conservation projects on public lands.
In the winter of 1936, the 4728th CCC Company came from North Dakota, where they were engaged in soil conservation across the state to Twanoh State Park.
They spend the dark and rainy season improving the park with picnic tables, trail work, outdoor fireplaces, and built stone structures in the distinctive style that would come to be called National Park Rustic.
The largest of the structures they built at the park has a community kitchen, complete with three wood fired ovens connected to a shared chimney.
The shelters have seen been maintained in the original style and can be reserved for use by the public. With their fireplaces warming the interior in winter, these are idyllic gathering places for family and friends.
The 4728th CCC Company stayed until June of 1937, when they were sent to Camp Narada at Mt. Rainier National Park before coming back to Twanoh in October of 1937 to complete projects here.
A display explains the CCC’s role in the creation of current park features and includes this photo of the young CCC men.
There is a camping area with 24 campsites nestled into the forest at Twanoh. The sites are level, and provide spaces for pull behind campers, tents, and there is even a group campsite two tenths of a mile up the hiking trail that accommodates several small tents.
It is best to make a reservation through the State Park online reservation system to ensure a space is available.
Hiking the Loop Trail
At the back side of the camping area, there is a clearly marked entrance to the loop trail. The Park Service posts information for visitors to enhance their visit, and to alert them to programs, seasonal trail work, and points of interest.
Only two and a half miles long, the loop trail begins quite gently for the first two tenths of a mile. It follows the creek through the trees, meandering along past high canopy and wide expanses of ferns.
Once it passes the group tent-site, it rises quickly, climbing up out of the ravine, giving a hiker the chance to experience multiple levels of forest.
As the trail rises, there are frequent resting benches made for taking some time to experience the forest. I like this hike in all weather, even winter. Snow is rare at this low altitude, but rains begin in earnest in September / October.
Water is directed quickly away by small culverts while bridges travers the areas where creeks appear during the heavier rainy season. Even in the rainiest part of the winter, this hike has good footing.
Stopping, even briefly on one of the benches reveals light filtered views of Twanoh Creek below, disappearing in the heavy forest. On a bright, sunny day beams break through.
The area was last logged in the 1890’s, so the giant trees are long gone, but there are several big trees that were spared. The trail passes near enough to several to stop and touch them before continuing on.
From the trail, I can see tall stumps with the cut from “spring boards” still visible. Long ago loggers using hand tools used to cut a small notch in the largest tress and hammer in a flat piece of lumber using the back side of their axes to create a platform just above the forest floor from which they could manage their long saws.
The top of the trail loop connects with an old logging road. Initially straight, flat and just a bit wider than the uphill section. It transitions into a still used portion of maintenance road, wider and winding and it drops more steeply back to the canal.
Once back down, I can safely cross the road back to the parking area for a little more beach time, or to watch the boats sail past, or perhaps a little picnic as the sun sets before hopping back in the car for the drive home.