The Elwha River originates slightly southeast of Mt. Olympus and flows southeast and then makes a large bend and eventually runs north and empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca that connects Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean. When I searched for information on fishing in Olympic National Park, I found a comprehensive article on the Fly Fisherman web site from 2012. I read with keen interest the section that described the Elwha River as this seemed to be an option that would enable me to fish to resident trout during the summer unlike the western rivers that were primarily productive in the fall and winter when salmon and steelhead make their appearance.
The Elwha River was also once home to rich runs of salmon and steelhead until two dams were constructed in the early 1900’s. This halted the salmon runs, and the steelhead became landlocked rainbows. The article described decent fishing for 12-15 inch rainbows in the water above Lake Mills, so I was excited to give this a try, although I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get to the Elwha River given our location in Forks, WA on the western edge of Olympic National Park. This all became a moot point when we arrived at the main visitor center on Saturday August 9 and discovered that the Elwha River was closed to fishing while it was restored after the two dams were removed.
Joe was feeling somewhat better on Friday morning, but Amy wanted to get him home as soon as possible, as he was feeling weak and needed the rest and comfort of his home, so they departed on their six hour drive to Portland, OR. This left Jane, Dan and I with one more day to explore Olympic National Park before returning to Seattle and Denver on Saturday. We decided we would like to do a hike of moderate length that had a destination. We scanned the official Olympic National Park map and spotted a nice loop along the Elwha River that began at Whiskey Bend, and we decided to do it. I was not going to have the opportunity to fish the Elwha, but now I would at least be able to undertake an up close scouting trip.
We made sandwiches and packed our remaining lunch food since what we did not eat would go in the trash, and we departed for the Elwha River valley. The drive to the turn off was ten miles beyond Lake Crescent, but then we traveled another sixteen miles further south to the trailhead including a narrow single lane gravel road for the last six miles. Eventually we reached Whiskey Bend and found a nice parking spot and began our hike. We elected to hike the Elwha River Trail until we reached a footbridge that crossed the river on the way to Dodge Point. The footbridge over the Elwha River was our destination.
The bridge was my favorite spot on the hike as we peered over the railing and gazed into the clear aqua water to the north and south. All I could think about was being on the river fishing on the day that it reopened after being closed for four years. On the return loop we hiked Rica Canyon, and that took us along the river although on a high bank quite a distance from the water. At the point where we could turn right to climb back to the Elwha River Trail we chose to take a short spur to Goblins Gate. Here we stood high above a place where the river morphed into whitewater and churned through a narrow chasm for thirty yards before veering to the right and then emptying into a deep pool. The point where the river dropped into the pool was Goblins Gate.
The half mile leg from Goblins Gate back to the Elwha River Trail was pure uphill, and we did it with only a few stops. I was rather thankful for my mile high training as my breathing was fine, but my muscles felt the strain.
We had exhausted the adequate and worse than adequate food establishments in Forks, so we decided to drive to Port Angeles on Friday night to sample a restaurant there. Once we were in cell range, I used my phone and Yelp to identify a Thai restaurant called Sabai Thai. This was our choice, and we were all quite impressed with the quality of the food and drink in this establishment. As one would expect, the place was quite crowded, and we endured a 30 minute wait by sipping some tasty beers at the bar.
We had a long drive back to Forks, but it was another wonderful day with beautiful scenery and capped off with a tasty meal. It was a fine ending to our week in Olympic National Park.