The Elwha River: Free at Last

Where Lake Mills used to be

The removal of the Elwha Dams drained Lake Mills. One of the concerns was with the huge amount of sediment that had been trapped behind the dams and the impact that would have on the ecology downstream. A lot of careful planning has resulted in a rapid recovery … salmon and steelhead trout have already returned to the river. Not in the huge numbers that once were present … but quicker than many thought likely.

From the photos below (less than a mile below the upper dam), you can see that the river is now running clean and clear.

Downriver from the bridge on the Olympic Hot Springs Road.
Upriver from the bridge on the Olympic Hot Springs Road.

Olympic Hot Springs Road Bike Trip

Elwha River Bridge on Olympic Hot Springs Rd.

My friend Gary and I rode our bikes up the Olympic Hot Springs Road (also known as the Elwha River Road) … these days this entails a .7 mile bypass trail around a washed out section of the road. After the bypass, there is about 6 miles of road to get to the trailhead … the hot springs are another 2.2 miles of hiking … which we didn’t hike that day.

I have hiked through this area numbers of times over the last 40 years … but this was the first visit up the road since the washout happened several years ago. It brought back memories. The additional distance has had a dramatic impact on the number of people using the area.

The next post will concentrate on the river.

Pushing the bike along the bypass trail
Happy Biker
After the Ride

The Lillian River Trail

The Lillian River Trail
Madrone on the Lillian River Trail

The Lillian River trail is one of the most seldom hiked trails in the Olympic National Park. Starting about the 4 mile point on the Elwha River Trail, the route follows the Lillian River for several miles until it just peters in the brush along the bank. It was originally used for fishing and might be again some day, now that the dams have been removed from the Elwha River.

It was quite brushy … and I expect the route is increasingly difficult to find, given the light usage. The lower photo of the madrone is difficult to scale appropriately to show the size of this specimen. It was a beautiful tree. I would like to go back and visit to see how it has weathered the years.

Wandering around the Elwha Valley

The Elwha Trail above Geyser Valley
Crossing a Side Branch of the Elwha

These are old images from before the Elwha River dams were removed. The Elwha River is in the Olympic National Park and the two dams were blocking passage of salmon into some of the most pristine forest in the lower 48.

The top photo shows Jeff looking for remnants of the Press Party blazes left over from the 1890’s. We were unable to locate any on this trip, but later I found some of the distinctive markings cut into the side of old doug firs.

The lower image shows one of the side channels and using a stick to keep your feet dry. Currently, this whole area has been changed, since this was between the two dams and now subject to the whims of the river and its reworking of the stream bed and channels.

Elwha Valley Rain Clouds

Elwha Valley Rain Clouds

Being a ridge or two away from the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, the Elwha Valley still gets its fair share of rain. Not anywhere near what the westside valleys get, but still enough that there’s plenty of water. Going for a day hike, it’s always prudent to carry some raingear, regardless of the forecast.

This photo is taken at the point the road is closed due to the washout. The building in the distance is where stock is kept during the summer months. In the old days, this was the location of the Elwha store and gas station.

  • Camera: Hasselblad 500 C/M with 80mm lens
  • Scanned with an Epson V600

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