How Did Port Gamble Stay Off The Radar?

Looking for a new adventure? Try taking a right instead of left sometime. In our case, we found a close, quaint little community that for practical purposes have been doing their best to hide from us.

Kitsap Memorial State Park

The story for finally finding Port Gamble actually starts with another hidden secret, Kitsap Memorial State Park. This is another case of having driven by this place countless times. The real irony is that on each occasion I can remember thinking, “One of these days I need to check this park out.”

I’m not sure what has kept me from turning in. Perhaps it’s the close proximity to home. It just feels like you need to travel some amount, at least in the hours’ range, not minutes, before it qualifies as an adventure. Or maybe it’s the lack of visibility and it’s neighbors. You can’t see the park from the main road, only the usual dull dirt brown state park signage pointing westward. And the double crossroads that border the entrance are home to some old tired businesses that have seen better days and are in need of some paint.

Whatever the reason it’s a disservice to the park. Once you pull in the park, which has a border shared with Hood Canal, you greeted with lush well-kept campsites, large open grassed areas, and a handful of historic facilities that are available for rent.

For us, the go, no-go making point is the actual campsites. These are well wooded and afford a large degree of privacy. Perfect.

While we were there someone had rented the large log house for their wedding reception, but I was more interested in the vista’s of Hood Canal and the Olympics. With its large and modern playground for kids, I’d say this part has something to offer everyone.

Hood Canal Sunset
The sun seting over the Olympic Mountain Range with Hood Canal in the foreground.
Hood Canal with the Olympic Mountains in the background
Looking across Hood Canal at the peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range.

Port Gamble

Our first morning in the park, we decided to head north into Port Gamble and see what it had to offer. Felt a little weird actually passing the Hood Canal Bridge. But once we starting seeing the historic buildings of Port Gamble and immediately started asking myself why had it taken me so long to check out this place?

The first known residents of Port Gamble were members of the Nooksclime, Clallam, or S’Klallam tribe who fished and gathered food along Hood Canal. The S’Klallams belonged to the linguistic group, South Coast Salish, which populated Puget Sound. Tribes traded and intermarried and generally experienced little conflict except for raids from outside the region.

In 1841, a U.S. Navy expedition led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) named the two-mile-long bay at the mouth of Hood Canal after Navy Lieutenant Robert Gamble, who was wounded in the War of 1812.

Looking for a new adventure? Try taking a right instead of left sometime. In our case, we found a close, quaint little community that for practical purposes have been doing their best to hide from us.

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Port Gamble Cistern
The old water cistern for the historic mill town of Port Gamble.

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In the summer of 1853, San Francisco lumber merchant and sea captain William Talbot spotted the sand spit at the mouth of the bay as a likely place for a lumber mill. Talbot was a partner of Josiah Keller, Andrew Pope, and Charles Foster in the Puget Mill Company. They planned to cut the abundant trees of Oregon Territory into lumber for sale in California and across the Pacific. The sand spit sheltered ships and was close to stands of timber.

For 142 years, the community existed to support sawmills that produced lumber for the world market. The mill closed in 1995, but as a National Historic Site, the townsite has been preserved to reflect an authentic company mill town.

Now, most of the homes host little boutique shops filled with crafts. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the Scratch Kitchen and I’d recommend a stop. For me, the highlight was a stop at the Port Gamble General Store. The first floor is full of your usual stables for sale as well as some local crafts, but the upper levels are what really interested me.

Glass cases full on natural history items are on display from the local area. What a treat for the curious minded. Be sure to give yourself ample time to marvel at all the curiosities.

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