NOTE - The Elwha area is closed to motorized traffic. The Elwha River is now running free. It has destroyed Olympic Hot Springs Road north of Madison Falls. The old trails out of Whiskey Bend and to Olympic Hot Springs still exist, but they are much less accessible. Madison Falls is still open, and there is still a bit of the road open as a hiking trail. It is about a 20-25 minute walk to the old Elwha Campground where the river has cut through it. There are also detours that follow the high ground east of the old campground and provide access to Altair Bridge, the old Elwha Dam site and the trails beyond. It's a long way to Olympic Hot Springs or Whiskey Bend, but, if you are up to it, you can take a bicycle along the detour and continue onward along the old roads no longer in use.


The Elwha River is a newly wild river not far west of Port Angeles. From the 1920s until 2012, the river was dammed for power generation and for the city's water supply, but it now flows freely. Already the salmon are returning. The water turns a milky glacial blue in flood as it shifts its channels and carries massive trees down to the strait.

Time: The Elwha area is 0:30 or less from Port Angeles. In fact, route 101 crosses it maybe 0:15 west, but the more interesting places to see involve a bit more driving.


Madison Falls - A small, but charming waterfall not far from the road, about 0:20 from Port Angeles. This is as far as you can go by car. You can continue along the road by foot for another 20 minutes or so and get some wonderful river views and see where the Elwha River tore through the road and campground.

The Gap - It is a 15 or 20 minute walk along Olympic Hot Springs Road to where it was washed out by the river. It's a pretty walk with some river views and a dramatic ending at a rushing branch of the Elwha. It's a good walk for young children. It even passes the mule camp where the park service keeps the mules who help maintain the back country trails.

Getting Beyond the Gap

There are two ways to get past where the Elwha River washed out Olympic Hot Springs Road, the high detour and the low detour. The high detour starts on the left about a half mile past the Madison Falls. That detour climbs over 200', past the water tank, and offers glimpses of the river before descending to the river itself where it joins the low detour. The low detour starts at The Gap, on the left, and follows the river before meeting the high detour. This is the easier detour, but there are warning signs that it may not be passable when the river is high. The two detours meet and continue before one emerges onto Olympic Hot Springs Road past The Gap. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the road from the parking lot, so it is a worthwhile hike in and of itself, but the road goes on.

Altair Bridge - Continue about mile or so, about 25 minutes, on Olympic Hot Springs Road, past the ranger station, to the Altair Bridge for a great view of the Elwha River. 

Elwha Dam Overlook - If you continue another mile or so, about 25 minutes, past the Altair Bridge, the road takes you to the Elwha Dam Overlook. There are the remains of the dam and a spectacular view of the river valley. You can continue along the river on the Smokey Bottom Trail, but this is an excellent stopping point.

Olympic Hot Springs - Wild hot springs a long ways past the Elwha Dam Overlook. It is possible to hike there from the Madison Falls parking lot and return in a single day hike, but most people camp and spend the night. Others take a bicycle. While most of the route is on the old road, we recommend a bicycle that can be used off road because of the off road detours.

Out of Whiskey Bend - Whiskey Bend Road is on the left shortly after the ranger station, so it is still possible to get to the other side of the remains of the Elwha Dam and even onward to Whiskey Bend, Michael's Cabin, Hume's Ranch and points beyond. It's just takes a lot more walking. Our guess is that it is at least a three hour hike from Madison Falls to Whiskey Bend, so if you are serious, plan accordingly and bring camping gear.

© Kaleberg Symbionts 2015, 2018, 2023