Hiking up the Elwha River

Autumn is definitely coming here in the Pacific Northwest, after a late but glorious summer. There’s still no rain in the forecast, but the temperatures are dropping and the leaves have begun to turn colors. The other day I (LKS) wanted to take a long but easy hike to gently keep my muscles working during the time between the Rogue Run half marathon on 9/23 and the upcoming Victoria half marathon on 10/7. The complex of trails in the Elwha River watershed provided the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us in this place and time.

The trails are mostly level except for sections that lead down to and back up from the river’s edge. For a good part of the way, the trail we chose meanders through flat, open forest and mossy glades.

The maples were still in the early stages of their autumn glory, but everything was highlighted beautifully under the azure sky.


CFL had suggested that we hike as far as “the bridge,” which he’d seen once before, but I really had no idea what to expect. I soon learned that the bridge in question is a suspension bridge that crosses the Elwha at a point where the canyon becomes too deep for hikers to continue directly alongside the river. The first glimpse of it through the trees is not all that impressive.

Even the signs acknowledge that it’s quite human-scale as suspension bridges go.

It may not be the tallest or longest suspension bridge, but it fits its location perfectly. It gracefully and efficiently spans the river. We spent some time studying it, and CFL explained the structural engineering details to this non-architect. I’m still bemused at what it must have taken to build it here. All that steel had to be hauled three and a half miles up a narrow trail, from a trailhead that is five miles up a steep, narrow dirt road that branches off a small road that is at least five miles off the highway, many miles out of town. Now here it sits on a lightly-traveled trail that most people will never see. This bridge is now one of my favorite places.

From this angle, it’s clear why hikers are forced to cross the river at this point — there is nowhere else to go!

In a couple of weeks, once my last half marathon of 2012 is behind me, I’d like to go back — get an earlier start and continue up the trail beyond this bridge. The other side beckons.

The big news about the Elwha is the ongoing removal of the two dams downstream, but up here the Elwha has always run free and the bridges are humble. What an extraordinary privilege it is to be in this place!

6 responses to “Hiking up the Elwha River

  1. I grew up hiking in the woods of Upstate New York. I used to hate hiking to the top of a mountain, looking around, and seeing nothing but tree trunks.

    After all these years in the SoCal desert, I’m envious of your opportunity to hike ‘where the waters flow’.

    • Bruce,

      Around here we occasionally hear about people (usually newcomers from California) who want to cut down trees to “improve” their view. It can take people a while to grasp that the trees ARE the view. A clear-cut forest is truly a sad sight to see. I have hiked trails that lead outward to the National Park boundary. No sign is needed — the sight of the blight is quite enough to know that I’ve crossed that invisible line.

      As for the flowing waters… The trails are actually quite dry now at the end of our summer, but I’ll be lacing up my new waterproof boots very soon!

  2. Beautiful! It feels to me that in ever direction the view is just breathtaking. I’d probably be more inclined to develop hiking patterns in such serene splendor. The bridge is really special. Great shots! I read the comment about Californians clearing trees to improve the view. I believe it, sadly. I won’t start my rant here, but even with ordinances in place to prevent tree removal on private property, homeowners find ways to cut down trees, sometimes just because of the “the mess” of falling leaves. Sometimes I despair! Ahhh! Debra

  3. Pingback: Up the Elwha! « Slow Happy Living

  4. Pingback: Running to the Elwha « Slow Happy Living

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