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Elwha River and Lillian River

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A hike along the mighty Elwha River is a trip into the very heart of the Olympic Peninsula. From its remote point of origin on the rugged southern slopes of Mount Barnes, practically at the exact center of the national park, the Elwha flows 45 miles to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, draining over 300 square miles of surrounding wilderness and passing through one of the largest tracts of old growth left in America. But you don't need to travel far to experience this historic and wildlife-rich river valley. The hike to Lillian River, one of the Elwha's major tributaries, will suffice.

If you're itching for a small taste of the Olympic interior, or looking for a good long winter hike, the Elwha River Trail should satisfy your restlessness. Following the route of the famed 1889-90 Press Expedition, this well-maintained trail will deliver you with ease to the same points that the Press Party struggled to get to.

From the trailhead, the trail bypasses the narrow gorge known as the Grand Canyon of the Elwha, traversing slopes high above it. At 1.2 miles you'll come to a junction with the Rica Canyon Trail, which drops steeply to Geyser Valley. After another 0.5 mile reach the Krause Bottom Trail, which also drops to Geyser Valley. Continue on the main trail, and after another 0.6 mile arrive at Michaels Cabin, a 1906 homestead once occupied by predator hunter "Cougar Mike."The resident wildcats have rebounded nicely since Michael's departure.

The Long Ridge Trail veers right at the cabin, but continue left on the Elwha River Trail. Climb a little, leaving the sound of the Elwha well in the distance. Between Antelope and Idaho Creeks, look for a handful of old trees bearing original ax blazes from the Press Expedition. Through stands of second-growth forest teeming with an understory of salal (fires swept the region in the early 1900s), the trail reaches an elevation of 1600 feet.

At 4.3 miles reach a junction with the Lillian River Trail. Stay on the Elwha River Trail and come to Lillian River in another 0.5 mile and after the trail steeply drops 300 feet. Here, amid good campsites, find yourself a nice picnic site by the pristine tributary. Contemplate how long it took the Press Expedition to get to this spot (two months), and then, avoiding smugness, pat yourself on the back for your rapid passage.
Driving Directions:

From Port Angeles follow US 101 west for 9 miles. At milepost 240, before the Elwha River Bridge, turn left onto Olympic Hot Springs Road (signed "Elwha Valley"). Follow this good paved road, and in 2 miles enter Olympic National Park. In a hair over 2 more miles, just past the Elwha Ranger Station, turn left onto Whiskey Bend Road. Follow this narrow gravel road 4.5 miles to its end at the trailhead. Privy available.

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 48 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Elwha River and Lillian River — Nov 28, 2013 — Sabin
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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Missed hiking with my dog. This is definitely a trail that needs a friend. It is a great stroll, and...
Missed hiking with my dog. This is definitely a trail that needs a friend. It is a great stroll, and easy walk, a friendly hike. Moments of Grandeur, and a nice winter run, but have no plans to go back unless it is a back pack- the camp sites look great.
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Elwha River and Lillian River, Humes Ranch — Nov 24, 2013 — Jason
Day hike
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My nine year old daughter and visited the Elwah River Valley for the first time. Bottom line: It’s...
My nine year old daughter and visited the Elwah River Valley for the first time. Bottom line: It’s amazing, beautiful, and a manageable day hike with kids.

We started at the Whiskey Bend Trailhead around 12:15pm. The weather was clear and cool (around 40 degree F). The trail is incredibly well maintained and sets a manageable pace. You can take a quick loop at the Outlook sign. It’s short and the trail down is steep, and the return loop is a scramble up.

At the first fork, we went to the right for the Rica Canyon (.5 m) trail <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054681115/>. This is a decently steep trail that leads almost to the river. I was worried that we were missing something, but I stayed the course until we came to the Goblin’s Gate turnoff <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054684585/>. It’s well worth the side trip. You get a real sense of the power of the river and the majesty of the rock formations as you stand above and listen to the roar and marvel at the aquamarine color of the river. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054795646/>

We headed back and followed the trail to Humes Ranch that snakes along the river. The path is spongy and peaceful with plenty of interesting mosses and mushrooms. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054827364/> <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054832124/> After 1.0m, you’ll reach the turnout for Krause Canyon. I didn’t want to push us too hard so we took the left path back up to the Elwha trail (.3 m). <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054840944/>

Before we got started, I noticed that a pair of hikers before us had stopped to look at something. Two young deer were casually feeding about 50 feet away. They were healthy, happy, and not worried about us. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054886573/>

The path back up is short, but steep. It wasn’t really that hard, but my nine year old was starting to get tuckered out. Fortunately she soldiered on and was able to enjoy to marvel at how far she climbed as she enjoyed a banana break. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054724715/>

We headed back at around 3:20pm. The trail back to the trailhead was easy and manageable at 1.6m, and gave us plenty of time to talk about what we saw and pose for a photo at our self-named Cougar Point. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054849954/> We made it back to the car at 4:00pm/

We had a fantastic time. Definitely one of my favorite Olympic hikes for a family- not too hard, glimpses of wildlife’s, and spectacular views. I’ll be back with the full family crew. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonc/11054984654/>


Resources:
http://exotichikes.com/[…]/
http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/humes-ranch-loop.htm
http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/humes-ranch
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Elwha River and Lillian River, Elwha River — Nov 11, 2013 — Sir-Hikes-A-Lot
Overnight
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail
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Looking for a snow free back-country experience, I decided to head out to the Elwha. I prefer the El...
Looking for a snow free back-country experience, I decided to head out to the Elwha. I prefer the Elwha in either late or early season, as solitude is almost guaranteed (if there is to be others, most stop at Elkhorn or earlier). Plus, the 'off-season' presents increased chances for wildlife viewing, although, more so in spring.

The most relevant thing to report from this trip is that the Hayes River and Godkin Creek bridges have been replaced...stock animals rejoice! There is no longer a need to follow the flagged route to the foot-log over Hayes River.

I was truly amazed at how good the current trail conditions are along the Elwha...it's like mid-season out there! From the TH to Chicago Camp there are only 15 blow-downs across the trail, with half of those being south of the 24 mile foot-log. Sure, there's water on the trail, but it's November, so what else would one expect?

Plenty of snow free backpacking to be had in ONP!

Ciao!

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Elwha River and Lillian River — Jul 12, 2013 — Papa Pete
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail
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This is a level,well maintained trail. Only significant elevation gain is about a half mile stretch ...
This is a level,well maintained trail. Only significant elevation gain is about a half mile stretch right after Michael's Cabin. However, there is a horse camp before the trailhead and their recent presence is frequently apparent.
Lillian Camp is in excellent condition, and well worth the hike down (and back up) the last 1/2 mile.
There is a some water and mud on the trail just prior to Idaho Creek and a narrow spot just after Anderson Creek that may be difficult for horses, but no problem for hikers.
Views of surrounding mountains are limited, but the canopy of trees and level ground make this an excellent hike for a hot summer day.
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Elwha River and Lillian River — Jun 15, 2013 — Alpine Art
Day hike
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This was a multi-day outing with family from the Port Angeles area. On June 14th we did a 10 mile...
This was a multi-day outing with family from the Port Angeles area.

On June 14th we did a 10 mile (RT) bike ride on the discover trail from Mike's Bikes where we rented one bike to the Railroad Trestle over the Dungeness River. This was my first time on this trail which wanders thru Sequim and farmers fields out to the railroad trestle and by a bald eagle perch where a bald eagle was perching for us.

It is a nice ride and the trail extends all the way to Port Angeles - not our goal on this day since it had been well over a year since our last bike ride.

On June 15 we did a short walk to the Elwha Dam overlook. Foxglove and other flowers were out and deer with fawn came to see what were were looking at. Nice to see the Elwha running free after so many years of two dams on the river.
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elwha river.jpg
Elwha River. Photo by Andrew Engelson.
Location
Elwha River (#61)
Olympics -- North
Olymic National Park, Wilderness Information Center
Statistics
Roundtrip 9.6 miles
Elevation Gain 700 ft
Highest Point 1600 ft
Features
Rivers
Wildlife
User info
Dogs not allowed
National Park/Refuge entry fee required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Elwha North-Hurricane Ridge No. 134S
Custom Correct Elwha Valley

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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