A little-used trail winds through a lush, green forest and meanders down to a legendary river that has only recently been allowed to run free, inviting salmon and steelhead to return to their native spawning grounds for the first time in 91 years.
With Olympic Hot Springs Road washed out and no projected date for a new road to be built, the West Elwha Trail is a wonderful option to access the magical Elwha Valley in Olympic National Park. The highest point on this trail is 650 feet in elevation, making it accessible year-round. This area of the park is not one of the temperate rain forests, but provides a similar experience with many of the same plants, trees, and wildlife-watching opportunities without as much rain.
The first part of the trail is an easement across private property, and it is important to stay on the trail. After about half a mile, you’ll enter Olympic National Park, where a sign marks the Camp Fire Girls Memorial Forest, planted in 1938. In the springtime, wildflowers grace the edge of the trail, and in the late summer, ripe berries can be found.
Once you reach Altair, enjoy a leisurely riverside lunch at one of the picnic tables while admiring the power and beauty of the river, which now runs free after the removal of the Glines Canyon Dam in 2014. The river washed the campsites away in 2015, but Altair remains a day-use area with a vault toilet and picnic shelter with a cooking area and hearth. A short trail leads up to the bridge overlooking the river. You may see the occasional bicycle on the road, but there is no vehicle traffic.
This is a good turnaround point for a day hike, or you can continue on the road to access many other trails in the area, such as the Olympic Hot Springs Trail, if you are planning a longer trip. The Glines Canyon Overlook is an additional 3/4-mile down the paved road and provides an opportunity to view the reclamation of the old dam site and lakebed.
The Elwha River ecosystem is ever-changing as the river finds and reclaims its historic path to the Straight of Juan De Fuca and Pacific Ocean. It is a place to experience the power, majesty, and serenity of nature as well as its resilience.
Good to know:
How to get there: From Port Angeles, drive west on Highway 101. From the junction of highways 101 and 112, continue west on 101 for 3.9 miles, and turn left on Herrick Road. The trailhead is at the end of this road just before a private driveway. There is room for three vehicles at the trailhead.
Pets and bicycles are not permitted on trails in Olympic National Park.
Map: Green Trails Elwha North-Hurricane Ridge 1345
Round-trip mileage to Altair-day use area: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Parking pass: America the Beautiful or Olympic National Park Pass