The Elwha River

Salmon on the Elwha River
Due to obstructions in the river from dam removal, all Elwha River trips have been postponed until further notice.  If you have made a reservation please check your email for further information.

5/27/16 NEWS RELEASE - ELWHA RIVER

OLYMPIC National Park News Release
May 27, 2016
For Immediate Release
Contact: Barb Maynes 360-565-3005

Park Cautions Elwha River
Boaters to Avoid Former
Elwha Dam Site
Olympic National Park staff urges all boaters to stay away from the section of river that flows through the former Elwha dam site. This site is located between U.S Highway 101 and State Highway 112, outside of the Olympic National Park boundary. A map of the area will follow within minutes.
Remnants of the dam’s foundation remain in that area of the river and include long pieces of rebar and other metal shards that extend close to the water’s surface. Boulders and swift currents in the area compound the risks and boaters are urged to avoid this section of river.
“The risk of snagging a boat on the remaining metal is high and presents a very real danger to boaters and swimmers,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “Until we are able to correct this problem later this year, we urge everyone to portage around the old Elwha Dam site.”
The park is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for removing the metal during this summer’s low river flows. Until then, boaters, tubers and swimmers are urged to avoid the section of river through the old Elwha dam site.
The Elwha River is closed to boating from the Smokey Hill Trail (formerly Upper Lake Mills Trail) downstream to the Altair Campground. The river is open to boating from the Altair Campground downstream, but boating through the former Elwha site is strongly discouraged.
The Olympic Hot Springs Road, which provides access into the upper Elwha Valley, remains closed to motor vehicles at the park boundary due to a major road washout. National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration engineers have completed plans for repairing and reopening the road. These plans are currently under review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. These agencies oversee management and protection of threatened and endangered anadromous fish and fish habitat, and are reviewing plans to ensure that threatened Chinook and bulltrout populations are not adversely effected. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and Washington State Department of Ecology are also reviewing the park’s plans. Once plans are approved, construction will begin immediately and is expected to take approximately eight weeks to complete.
The road is open to pedestrians, bicyclists, horses and leashed pets. Trails remain closed to pets and bicycles, as normal. Hikers planning day or overnight hikes into the Elwha Valley will need to begin their hikes at the park boundary. From the closure, it is a seven-mile walk to the Whiskey Bend Trailhead and an eight-mile walk to the Boulder Creek trailhead.
For more information about visiting Olympic National Park, including current road, campground and trail conditions, people should visit http://www.nps.gov/olym.
-NPS-

Barb Maynes

Public Information Officer
Olympic National Park
360-565-3005 (office)
360-477-5326 (cell)

Facebook @OlympicNPS
Twitter @OlympicNP
Instagram @olympicnationalpark

 
PRICING
Elwha RIVER Adventure
Class I/II+ – 6 miles
Adult:  $60
Child (ages 8-12):  $50
Elwha CANYON Adventure
Class II/IV(+) – 9 miles
Adult (ages 13+):  $75
SCHEDULE
April-May – 10am and 2pm
June-Sept – 9am, 12:30pm, 4pm
CLOTHING
Splash Gear – Included
Booties – $3.00
Gloves – $3.00
Wet Suit – $5
Cozy Combo – ALL – $9.00

Elwha CANYON Adventure

Elwha CANYON Adventure
Photo by John Gussman
Class II/IV(+) – Scenic Whitewater
9 miles (approx. 2.5 hrs. on the water, depending on water levels)
6 person raft (min. age 13) –Guests must have the ability to swim.
You will meet us at our office location, from there we will transport you to our EXCLUSIVE Commercial launch site INSIDE Olympic National Park (national park entrance pass required). Start the trip off with the ‘classic’ Class I/II+ Elwha River experience then continue on to raft through former Lake Aldwell and the Elwha Dam Site.
The Elwha CANYON Adventure is the perfect raft trip for those seeking more adventure on a newly freed Elwha River, these additional 3 miles will not disappoint.  Travel through former Lake Aldwell as the river winds to find its new path, enter into the former Elwha Dam Site and the Elwha Canyon that was under water for nearly 100 years. The beauty alone will capture all our guests attention. This also includes paddling through the Class IV ‘That Dam Rapid’.
We will raft through the site of Former Lake Aldwell, as the river is finding its NEW path through the former lake bed we will pass 100 year old stumps where an enchanted forest once stood and will grow once again.
As we approach the Elwha Canyon, paddlers will start to notice the river becoming narrower, canyon walls begin to surround us as we enter the former Elwha Dam Site and descend the Class IV+ ‘That Dam Rapid’!  The river takes a hard left and starts to drop creating the BEST OLYMPIC PENINSULA WHITEWATER EXPERIENCE!
What’s included?:
Transportation to and from the river
9 mile scenic whitewater trip through the Elwha Valley, former Lake Aldwell, former Elwha Dam Site ‘That DAM Rapid’ Class II/IV(+)
Safety and paddling instruction
Splash gear
What to bring:
Olympic National Park entrance pass required (you may purchase the pass at our office prior to your trip if you do not already have one)
Synthetic clothing(fleece, wool, etc.)
Bathing suit or light clothing that you don’t mind getting wet, try to avoid cotton
Appropriate footwear that you don’t mind getting wet. Sneakers, or sandals that will stay on your feet. Please no flip-flops!
Notes:
You will have an opportunity to change clothes before the river trip
Wetsuits/Booties/Gloves are available for rent at our office.]

Elwha RIVER Adventure

Elwha RIVER Adventure
Elwha River, Olympic National Park
Class I/II+(III) – Scenic Whitewater
6 miles (approx. 1.5 hrs. on the water, depending on water levels)
6 person raft (min. age 8) –Guests must have the ability to swim.
You will meet us at our office location, from there we will transport you to our EXCLUSIVE Commercial launch site INSIDE Olympic National Park (national park entrance pass required).Start the trip off traveling through the dense forest & side channel of ‘Altair Alley’, enjoy scenic class II river with sights & sounds from within Olympic National Park. Look for Elk, Deer, River Otter, and possibly even Black Bear! At mile 2 we descend upon ‘Boulder Garden Graveyard’ and make a left to head into ‘Fern Gulley Wave Train’ this is the best rapid and consists of Class III wave trains in higher water
What’s included?:
Transportation to and from the river
6  mile scenic whitewater trip through the Elwha Valley, class I/II+(III)
Safety and paddling instruction
Splash gear
What to bring:
Olympic National Park entrance pass required (you may purchase the pass at our office prior to your trip if you do not already have one)
Synthetic clothing(fleece, wool, etc.)
Bathing suit or light clothing that you don’t mind getting wet, try to avoid cotton
Appropriate footwear that you don’t mind getting wet. Sneakers, or sandals that will stay on your feet. Please no flip-flops!
Notes:
You will have an opportunity to change clothes before the river trip
Wetsuits/Booties/Gloves are available for rent at our office.
elkAs the Salmon return to the river, Bald Eagles, River Otters, Black Bear, are a few among the critters that may feast on the returning fish.  The spawning Salmon also feed the plant life that surrounds the river, animals such as deer, raccoon and beaver, to name a few, will reap the rewards of healthy forest. The elusive Roosevelt Elk also call the area home, the Elwha Valley Elk Herd have been seen in various locations along the river.

How has Dam Removal affected Elwha River recreation?

The Ever Changing Elwha River


The Elwha River has experienced drastic changes, the release of millions of cubic yards of sediment, 100 years worth of woody debris, man made objects, etc… During higher flows the river is in a constant state of change (sediment and woody debris shift as flows fluctuate).
Safety is our number one priority and although we take every precaution to maintain a safe trip, the Elwha River is a river that is being reborn, a river that is shifting & shaping its way through new landscape and former lake beds, causing sediment and woody debris to become hazardous throughout its course. During this time, the river can be very unpredictable, guests should be of good health and competent swimmers. Guests should listen to any and all safety talks, read/sign the waiver, and make sure to ask any questions prior to going on any river trip.

Although there is a universal rating system for rivers, the Elwha is experiencing something completely unique. During this period of restoration the difficulty in navigating the Elwha changes as flows fluctuate, sediment moves down river, and woody debris shift.
We call the Elwha River Adventure a Class I/II+(III), which means there are a number of rapids of moderate difficulty. Paddlers will find irregular rocks; eddies; woody debris; etc…natural and caused by dam removal.  Passages can be narrow or blocked, scout/portages may be required.  We also believe the classification for ‘That DAM Rapid’ is Class IV(+) which means this rapid demands respect and commitment.  With the constant state of change that the Elwha is experiencing, navigation of river requires proper training and experience, we do our best to maintain a safe and fun experience through training on and off the river.  Although Safety is our #1 Priority, like any outdoor activity, safety cannot be guaranteed.   The Elwha River provides a true wilderness experience.

Class I: Easy Waves small; passages clear; no serious obstacles.
Class II: Medium Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear. Requires experience plus suitable outfit and boat.
Class III: Difficult Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering; usually needed. Requires good operator and boat.
Class IV: Very difficult Long rapids; waves high, irregular; dangerous rocks; boiling eddies; best passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required. Demands expert boatman and excellent boat and good quality equipment.
Class V: Extremely difficult Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close study essential but often difficult. Requires best person, boat, and outfit suited to the situation. All possible precautions must be taken.
Class VI: Class U Formerly classified as unrunnable by any craft. This classification has now been redefined as “unraftable” due to people having recently kayaked multiple Class VI around the world.(Some consider rafting on a class VI river suicidal, and only extreme luck or skill will allow you through)

Is the River Trip safe?

Safety is our upmost priority but like every activity in a Wilderness Environment, SAFETY CANNOT BE GUARANTEED.

The Elwha is experiencing something that no other river has experienced before. ‘The Grand Experiment’ as scientist are calling it, the largest dam removal in United States history. The river is finding a new path, bringing down sediment, woody debris, and other objects trapped behind the dams for nearly 100 years. Due to the dynamic nature of the river, we advise all guests to listen to all safety talks, read/sign all waivers, ask questions regarding safety prior to river trip, and make their own judgements. All guests should be of good health and be able to endure 2 hours of easy/moderate exercise. Participants who choose the Elwha Canyon Adventure must be in good physical condition and be competent swimmers.

To ensure we are providing the safest trip possible to our guests, our guide training consists of extensive swift water rescue, 1st aid, emergency communication, guide oarsmanship, and boat handling training in Class III/IV+ whitewater.

Recent History on the Elwha River

HISTORY OF THE ELWHA

Year of the Law
The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act, or “The Elwha Act” was signed on January 3rd, 1992 by the 102nd Congress of the United States of America. Public Law 102-495 authorized the Secretary of the Interior to acquire the two hydroelectric dam projects and implement the actions necessary to achieve full restoration of the Elwha River and the native anadromous fisheries therein.
The Fish
Before construction of the dams, native fish used the Elwha River and its diverse habitats for spawning. The inaccessibility created by the dams has seriously diminished all 10 native Elwha River anadromous fish runs, including all five types of Pacific salmon, as well as native char (bull trout and dolly varden), winter and summer-run steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat trout. In addition, sediment has been caught behind the dams, preventing gravel and debris from entering the lower 5 miles of the river, and thus rendering the available reaches practically unsuitable for the spawning of particular populations of native fish.
Dam Construction
Thomas Aldwell may be seen as the man behind the dam. Arriving from Canada, Aldwell saw the river and marveled at its beauty. His appreciation of the natural power and force extended beyond a mere appreciation. What he saw was an opportunity for economic gain in the taming of the river, making plans to harness the power of the Elwha River to generate electricity. With the financial backing of Chicago investors and that of Canadian financier George Glines, he bought land along the river and began construction of the Elwha Dam in 1910. A Washington State law established in 1890 required fish passage devices on dams “wherever food fish are wont to ascend,” but Aldwell ignored the requirement. Fish Commissioner Leslie Darwin offered to waive that requirement if Aldwell built a fish hatchery adjoining the dam, so the dam could then be considered necessary for egg collection (Brown 1982). Although Aldwell initially balked at this proposal, a fish hatchery was built and began operation in 1915. It was abandoned by the State in 1922. Elwha Dam is a concrete, gravity structure. Because the dam was secured to the walls of the bedrock canyon, but not the bedrock underlying the river substrate, the foundation blew out in 1912 shortly after the reservoir (Lake Aldwell) filled. This new void under the dam was essentially plugged by adding fill material to the river below and upstream of the dam. Elwha Dam became operational in 1913. At a time when little electricity was available to the peninsula, the hydroelectric dam contributed to local economic prosperity. A demand for more power resulted in the installation of two additional turbines in a second powerhouse at Elwha Dam in 1922. Increasing power demands led to the construction of another dam just eight miles upstream of the Elwha Dam. The location of Glines Canyon with its narrow passage and high bedrock walls promised the yield of large amounts of energy. Glines Canyon Dam became operational in 1927.
The Watershed
With 321 square miles of drainage and 70 miles of river and tributaries, the Elwha River is the largest watershed in the peninsula. A large amount, 83%, is located within Olympic National Park, sheltering it and making it a particularly pristine river habitat.

Information provided by Olympic National Park Website 

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