When you hike the West Elwha trail you can almost, if you listen very closely, hear the clip-clops of horses and mules and voices of the past. This was one of the two main pack train routes for getting people and supplies up to the historic Olympic Hot Springs Resort before the days of the automobile.
Up the trail came the sawmill in sections, cast iron cooking stoves, mattresses, furniture and everything else necessary to stock the popular resort. Bert Herrick charged 2 cents per pound, and did this business for 10 years before the road finally went in. Today, hiking the West Elwha Trail is a delightful way to spend an afternoon. It is also one of the ways to get yourself into the Elwha Valley with the Olympic Hot Springs road closed until an undetermined date. The Elwha River has reclaimed the road. Until the Park Service gets a section of the road moved up, we will need to hike farther to get into the valley. This is a lovely way to go.
It is rather unusual how this trail starts out off of Herrick Road, as you are walking along the edge of private property. Soon enough though, you’ll pass the national park boundary sign and immediately settle into all this trail has to offer. Like all of the west-side Olympics, it is lush and deeply green. Occasionally you get sweeping views of the newly freed Elwha River, and the quintessential side creeks pouring over moss-covered boulders await your admiration.
At the end of the trail is the site of the former Altair Campground. Taken by the meandering river several years ago, one can still easily imagine the campfires of the past. It’s a nice spot for lunch before you head on into the valley, or return the way you came.