APRIL 2000 HIKE O' THE MONTH
Loosen creaky knees at Elwha trail
Seabury Blair Jr.
One of the best springtime hikes around this neck of the woods especially for family outings is the first few miles of the Elwha River Trail.
Several factors make this a great trail when the time of daylight savings has begun. First off, it's a lowland walk, which means you won't find any of that cold white stuff lingering on the trail at least on the lower sections.
Second, I once believed that it never rained on the Elwha. I have since found that is not true but it doesn't rain nearly as much as it does, say, on the Quinault or Queets Rivers.
Third, there are no long, steep grades on the lower part of the trail. If, like me, you spent way too much time in front of the tube this winter, the Elwha Trail is a good one to begin the long fight back to good physical condition.
Fourth, you'll have a good chance of seeing some of Olympic National Park's wildlife. Elk often browse in meadows below an overlook only three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead; deer and bear can sometimes be seen in the meadows at the Michaels Cabin, a good picnic spot for families with young children, 1.8 miles from the trailhead.
The Elwha Trail was the first white man's trail to be blazed across the Olympic Mountains. It was first marked by explorers of the Seattle Press Expedition, only 110 years ago, and their distinctive three-slash blaze can still be found on some trees along the route.
The path follows the river almost to its source at the Elwha Snowfinger, more than 25 miles upstream, then crosses Low Divide to link with the North Fork of the Quinault River Trail. The entire 44.5 miles was hiked in a single day by more than 40 hardbodies several years ago.
But you'll probably not want to work that hard, especially if the children are herding you along the trail. If the 3.6-mile round trip to the Michaels Cabin is a bit short, you can extend your journey by almost 3 miles by hiking past the cabin, descending to the Elwha River Bridge, then following a river trail past Humes Ranch to return.
Either way, you'll start your hike at Whiskey Bend. Here is the spot where road crews working from Hurricane Ridge and the Elwha River met to christen their new road with a bottle of booze.
At 0.8 miles, a spur trail leads to Elk Overlook, a spot above steep hillside overlooking the old Anderson Ranch across the river, below. The spot is well-named and in the spring, look for the creamy rumps of elk in the meadows below.
Rejoin the main trail as it descends through a part of the forest burned by a wildfire 23 years ago. Near the bottom of the quarter-mile hill is a junction with the Krause Bottom Trail, which drops to the river.
Stay left for another 0.3 miles to the Michaels Cabin, named for E. O. Michaels. The old cabin is a historic site and the story of the cabin is posted on the covered porch.
Families with older children or looking for a longer hike can take the right fork of the trail just past the cabin and descend to the Elwha River Bridge, 1.3 miles farther. Just before the bridge, you'll find a trail branching to the right which leads to Humes Ranch and connects with the Krause Bottom Trail for the return trip.
From Hood Canal Bridge, follow Highway 104 west to Highway 101 at Discovery Bay, then take Highway 101 north through Sequim and Port Angeles. If you wish to bypass the downtown section of Port Angeles, turn left on Race Street and follow it to Lauridsen Boulevard.
Turn right on Lauridsen and follow it to its junction with Highway 101 at the West end of town. Follow Highway 101 west about 9 miles to the Elwha River Road, turn left and follow the River Road about 8 miles to the Whiskey Bend Road.
You'll be asked to pay a $10 per carload entrance fee at the Elwha Entrance Station to Olympic National Park.
Turn left on the Whiskey Bend Road just past the Elwha Ranger Station. This is a single-lane, winding gravel road that ends in a wide parking lot loop, 5 miles from the ranger station.