A handful of weeks ago one of my coworkers talked about a recent hike she had done, and it was a place I had never heard of. The photos she shared were beautiful, and I knew it was a trail I wanted to experience for myself. What I didn’t know was the backstory of this trail, and how I would find myself in some type of post apocalyptic looking landscape that fueled my spirit for adventure in more ways than one.
Get ready for a brief history lesson. Just a few paragraphs, bear with me.
The Glines Canyon Overlook provides a modern view of what used to be one of two dams providing energy for the Olympic Power Company – which in turn helped to provide energy for a pulp mill based out of Port Angeles, Washington. The dam was supplied by The Elwha River, which happened to be home to some of the richest runs of salmon outside of Alaska. This second dam was finished in 1927, and business was booming, but without a fish passage within the walls of the dam the salmon were left with just five miles of accessible habitat from the mouth of the river.
That doesn’t leave much room for baby making spawning grounds.
It took decades to make any kind of change, but by 1980 the salmon population was threatened all across the PNW, and by 1992 the issue was settled by passing The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act. This allowed full control over both the Glines Canyon Dam and The Elwha Dam (the other of the two) to be granted to the US Department of Interior. They could then enact the necessary actions for restoration of The Elwha River fisheries.
The Elwha Dam was removed in 2011, and the Glines Canyon Dam in 2014. The previous lake like body of water held back by the dam is now a rushing river through an old concrete slab. The dam’s have been removed, but the restoration process is still ongoing. The National Park Service is continually working with a local tribe and other partners to ensure The Elwha River is fully restored. OK, history lesson over…
SO. What does all this dam salmon talk have to do with my hike? What was once a fully functioning and drivable road to view the overlook of the old Glines Canyon Dam – is now a skeleton of its former self. In 2015 a section of this road was washed out due to a storm, and while restoration attempts were made, this section of the road is completely inaccessible by car to this day.
If you want to see the overlook, you are going to have to walk (or bike.)
While I knew we would be walking on a road to get to the overlook, I had no idea it was because the road had been washed out. The hike starts at the Madison Falls parking area, and a short, moderately steep bypass trail took us around the washed out section. This is the only area of the hike within the woods adjacent to the road, but I enjoyed walking on the old road significantly more. Strictly for the abandoned buildings and overgrown brush.
Hence the apocalyptic vibes.
We spent some time wandering around the old abandoned camp ground and NPS buildings before continuing on towards the overlook. This felt like a minor step back in time, and while the washout and the dam deconstruction were relatively recent, this was a unique walk through some historical spaces. The river was beautiful shades of blue and green and the road went on for miles.
The road continues on past the overlook, most notably to the Olympic Hot Springs, but my old lady body was having terrible back pain on this hike, so we called it at the overlook.
Once we made it to the overlook we pulled out our camp chairs to sit and savor the view. There are still multiple interactive signs to read up there, as well as an old speaker box that plays the remnants of a womans voice giving historical information. The audio is chopped, and seems to repeat the same words, adding to the slightly creepy yet fascinating vibe.
This is an adventure that will stick with me for a while. The hike which could technically be more of a walk only covers around 800 feet of elevation and we walked 8 miles total, but the background and unexpected ghost town we were able to discover made this one of the most unique experiences I have had in a while. Either I need to get out more, or this was truly one for the books.
Next time, I want to bring my bike. I can only imagine what other discoveries I can uncover with two wheels. Getting it through the bypass trail will be my only hurdle. A challenge I will happily accept.
I am thankful spring has sprung, and I am hopeful with the warmer days I can embark on more of these new to me adventures in my home state. I wonder if and when the washed out road will be fixed, or if The Elwha Ranger Station will be used again in the future. I’m stoked I was able to see it in its current state, anything inaccessible by car is all the more worth seeing when you arrive.
Q: What’s your most recent unique adventure?