Hike Through History Along the Elwha River

Rate this Adventure 6 miles 600 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Nick Lake

Hike through a beautiful forested valley with historic homesteader cabins, and a mountain river to swim in.

The Elwha River Trail cuts south into the heart of Olympic National Park along a densely forested valley, following the same route taken by some of the earliest explorers of the Olympic Peninsula at the end of the 19th century.

Past Port Angeles, at a hard curve in US-101, take Olympic Hot Springs Road, bearing left past the drained basin of Lake Mills to the end of the road at Whiskey Bend Trailhead. Enter the lowland forest at the far end of the parking lot and enjoy a gentle walk through the forest for about 2.5 miles until you approach the abandoned homestead called Humes Ranch. You can explore two decrepit cabins inhabited by hearty settlers well into the 1900s and pick apples in the orchard in the fall.

If you’d like to extend your stay and make it a two-day backpack, backcountry sites are available beneath two huge Douglas Firs in the middle of a cleared field adjacent to the ranch. Otherwise, take a left onto a spur trail that descends to the Elwha River below. The trail hugs the river shore providing open views of a verdant valley and glacier-blue waters, perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day.

Just before the trail bends back uphill, be sure to stop and get a view of the Goblin Gates. Jagged rocks funnel the river’s cerulean waters into a narrow, vicious whitewater, no doubt a formidable obstacle for early pioneers trying to gain access to the valley.

A steep set of switchbacks brings you back to the trail where a left turn leads you back to the trailhead.

This hike has a lot of history. Robert L. Wood’s Across the Olympic Mountains, The press Expedition, 1889-90 details the earliest chronicled exploration of this valley while Jonathan Evison’s West of Here is a fantastic piece of historical fiction that I suggest hikers browse before hiking along the Elwha.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

  • Bears are common along the Elwha in spring and summer. If backpacking at Humes Ranch, be sure to use a bear canister or hang food appropriately.
  • If camping overnight in the backcountry, be sure to obtain a permit at the Port Angeles or Quinault Ranger Stations.
  • The current in the Elwha can be really fast in the spring and the water frigid. Be safe when jumping in.
  • Fishing is prohibited on the Elwha River for the forseeable future due to the removal of the Elwha Dam and subsequent attempts at rehabilitating the ecosystem.
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Tags

Camping
Photography
Swimming
Backpacking
Hiking
Bathrooms
Family Friendly
Forest
River
Scenic
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

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