Whiskey Loop Hike and a Dam Removal

Port Angeles, WA

Our first hike in Olympic National Park was a 6.3 mile lollipop loop trail beginning at the Whiskey Bend Trailhead.  To get to the trailhead we drove west on US 101 a few miles from our site at Elwha RV Park and turned south on to the Olympic Hot Springs Road just before the highway crossed the Elwha River.  After four miles on this paved road we again turned left on to Whiskey Bend Road, a narrow, dirt road that goes sharply uphill for another five miles ending in a loop that is the trailhead.


The main trail for this hike is the Elwha River Trail.   We hiked the Elwha River Trail across the hillside through dense forest for about .9 of a mile until we came to a junction with the Rica Canyon Trail, clearly marked with a small sign. Turning off on the Rica Canyon Trail we began a very steep descent on this narrow, sometimes overgrown, path to the river.  After a half mile the Rica Canyon Trail ends at the start of the misnamed Geyser Valley Trail but, before taking it, we hiked out the short Goblin’s Gate Trail to see this narrow rock gorge that constricts the churning Elwah River.  At Goblin’s Gate there was a nice rocky overlook where we sat eating lunch with a great view of the water rushing through the narrow channel.

Lunch with a view

We returned to the Geyser Valley Trail and continued upstream along the river to Humes Ranch, set atop a grassy field.

Two hikers we met sitting outside the Humes Cabin

Grant and Will Humes built a cabin and barn on the site in 1900.  They made their living hunting cougar and guiding camping parties into the Olympic Mountains.  Grant returned to their native New England in 1914, but Will continued to live in the cabin until his death in 1934.  The barn is gone but the cabin has been restored by the park service.

The cabin is at the end of the loop so we began the hike back on the Humes Ranch/Long Ridge Trail going uphill across a forested hillside that had many streams flowing sharply down the steep embankment.

Before long we came to the recently restored Michael’s Cabin. The story goes that Michael’s Cabin was named for “Cougar Mike,” who kept the local mountain lion population under control.  We were a bit disappointed to find that Cougar Mike never lived in the cabin. In fact, the cabin was built in 1937 on land formerly owned by Mike.  The two men who built the cabin used it as they traveled the area maintaining trails and keeping the phone lines intact.

Michael’s Cabin

We continued on the Humes Ranch/Long Ridge Trail until it re-joined the Elwha River Trail leading back to the Whiskey Bend Trailhead.

As we drove up the Whiskey Bend Road, we stopped briefly at an overlook for the former site of the Glines Canyon Dam.  We say “former site” as the dam was removed between 2011 and 2014.  From our vantage point we could see across the river to the remains of the dam’s spillway on the other side.  There was no information where we were standing (on the east side), but we could see information displays on the other (west) side of the river.  So after our hike we drove around to the other side to visit that part of the remains of the dam.

View from the east side (Whiskey Bend Road)

Looking down from the east side

View back across from the west side

Below is a photo of the dam before removal.  The “You Are Here” point is the viewing area on the west side of the river.  The dam is just to the left of that in the photo.

OK, you want a little history of the whole dam thing, so you’re going to get it!

Glines Canyon Dam, built in 1927, was a 210-foot  high concrete arch dam built on the Elwha River.  The dam, as well as the Elwha Dam eight miles up river, was built privately to generate electricity for industries and major military installations on the Olympic Peninsula, including lumber and paper mills in Port Angeles.

But while providing electricity to the nearby communities, the Glines Canyon Dam blocked access by migrating salmon to the upper 38 miles of mainstream habitat and more than 30 miles of tributary habitat.  The Elwha River watershed once supported salmon runs of more than 400,000 adult spawning returns on more than 70 miles of river habitat.  By the early 21st century, fewer than 4,000 adult salmon returned each year.

Numerous groups lobbied Congress to remove the two dams on the river and restore the habitat of the river and its valley. The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act of 1992 authorized the Federal Government to acquire both dams for decommissioning and demolition for habitat restoration.

The Elwha Ecosystem Restoration project began removal of the dam, along with nearby Elwha Dam, in September 2011 and concluded in August 2014.  Now that the dam has been removed, the area that was under Lake Mills is being re-vegetated and its banks secured to prevent erosion and to speed up ecological restoration.

Area previously covered by Lake Mills

Numerous display panels on the west side observation point explain the removal process.  The photos below show the progression of the project.

If you’re interested in a neat animated video of the removal of the dam click here.

We’ll be in the Port Angeles area for the next couple of weeks and have a number of exciting hikes planned.  More on that later . . .

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19 Responses to Whiskey Loop Hike and a Dam Removal

  1. Laurel says:

    This looks like a great hike. There must have been a LOT of cougars back in the day! It’s so awesome that those two dams were removed. We stopped by the little Elwha Klallam Heritage Center in Port Angeles today — they have an excellent display on the removal of the Elwha dam. I learned that the salmon kept trying to return upriver for 100 years! And now they can. Now you guys need to find where that darned Elwha dam was and take pics for us since the four of us couldn’t find it together. :-))

  2. Jeff Pierce says:

    Nice post on the Elwha Dam removal. The gorge made a perfect spot for your lunch with a view.

  3. Love your lunch with a view shot! Interesting read!

  4. We didn’t hike that trail but did read about the dam when we were there. Always nice to see something good being done for the environment!

  5. Ingrid says:

    Quite interesting. You’ve also piqued our interest in spending next summer up in that area. Our only concern is strong internet since we need that for work. The lush landscape and long sleeves look inviting!

  6. regularguyadventures says:

    I’m a member of Trout Unlimited. One of their objectives is to restore streams and rivers to their natural state so trout and salmon can follow their original migratory paths. Great to hear this dam came down.

  7. Jodee Gravel says:

    I’m so glad you got out there to see the old dam site. Such a wonderful story of recovery – can’t believe it took another 20 years after approval to start the removal 😦 Love the old cabins and their stories. Always so strange when something is named for someone who was never there – like John Day, Oregon :-)))

  8. I so love that they actually REMOVED a dam! Sometimes man does correct his mistakes!

  9. Susan Bank says:

    Great post guys. The dam story was interesting as were the pictures, and it’s great to see people actually correcting their mistakes for mother nature’s benefit. The trail in your second picture really beckons. Nice lunch with a view.

  10. Sherry says:

    You had me at “dam removal”. But first, that is my kind of lunch with a view. What gorgeous water. Nice that the park restored the Humes cabin. Reminds me of Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. Really beautiful green area. So glad you did the history of the whole dam thing. Love love the removal pictures. How wonderful for the salmon to win this one. So sorry it took this long though. I love when my government spends my money doing the right thing. Thanks for this post. Happy happy!

  11. pmbweaver says:

    Humes cabin looks great, but hunting cougar for a living isn’t my cup of tea.
    Kind of a bummer about Michael’s Cabin.
    Thank you for that damn history lesson. hehe
    Whatever that thing is called that that big steam shovel is on scares me to death. I would have been so afraid it would have gone over the falls.

  12. Thanks for the history of the Glines Canyon Dam and the hike you did for we missed this one. Now Im sure you have already seen the left over of the Elwha dam, and it is a bit a challenge to see the viewpoint but the trail is just right off the parking lot. Also you can walk down to where it used to be.

  13. Gay says:

    Awesome post! Love the hike with all the green and gorgeous water! Nice history lesson too!

  14. Larry says:

    The dam removal was really interesting – thanks for sharing

  15. TW says:

    I saw a documentary on the removal of the dam several years ago at a film festival. Quite good. http://www.elwhafilm.com/

  16. geogypsy2u says:

    Haven’t been in that area since before the dams were removed, and that was a really big deal. Not any easy thing to do, but proved it could be done.

  17. Debbie L says:

    Great post! Always the educators! We love salmon so glad to see this. Amazing views-as usual.

  18. whatastreel says:

    Wayne would love this stuff about the decommissioned dam! Great find.

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