The Elwha is the Olympic Peninsula's largest watershed and, prior to the construction of two dams in the early 1900s, was known for its impressive salmon returns. Today, both dams are gone, the Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell reservoirs have drained, and Elwha River flows freely from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Sediment once trapped behind the dams is rebuilding critical river and nearshore habitats, vegetation is being restored in the once barren landscapes of the drained reservoirs, and anadromous salmon and trout are naturally migrating past the former dam sites for the first time in over 100 years.
The Elwha River Trail (ERT) spans the entire Elwha Valley, which is located in the central northern area of Olympic National Park. Today, the Elwha River is the site of one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in National Park Service history. With its sparkling river surrounded by mountains, the Elwha Valley is a popular destination for all.
From the Whiskey Bend Trailhead, the ERT extends further than a marathon, following the Elwha River the entire way. The trail begins quite moderately, contouring along the Elwha River's eastern wall as it goes.
The trail passes multiple feeder streams, tributaries, and intersecting trails through thick old-growth forest hosting stands of Fir, Hemlock, and Spruce. The trail's final push is a tough challenge, and will have most hikers out of breath. Additionally, the Elwha River must be forded at Chicago Camp en route to Low Divide. Always check conditions prior to your trip. With all of this in mind, the views from Low Divide and Margaret/Mary Lakes are stunning and well worth the slog.
Snow can persist during winter and early spring months and can obscure the trail. River crossings can be hazardous. Always check trail conditions