For most of the twentieth century, this stretch of the Elwha flowed between two reservoirs. In 2011, construction crews began work on what has been the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. A final blast in August of 2014 removed the last remnants of the Glines Canyon dam and left the entire forty-five miles of the Elwha River free flowing for the first time since 1911.

Glines Canyon Dam

Former Glines Canyon Dam | Photo by Nate Wilson Photography

For anyone curious about the scale of this dam removal project, you can get an excellent view of the former Mills Reservoir by heading up Whiskey Bend Road to a viewing platform constructed on the remnants of the Glines Canyon Dam. Another platform across the river and accessed by Olympic Hot Springs Road is scheduled to open in Spring of 2015.

The former Mills Reservoir on the Elwha River

The former Mills Reservoir on the Elwha River | Photo by Nate Wilson

Boating on this part of the Elwha has changed significantly over the last few years as a century’s worth of sediment and logs stored in the former Mills Reservoir has begun making its way downstream. Whether starting at Altair Campground, or the former powerhouse, paddlers will want to keep an eye out for wood, and may want to take a look at some channels before proceeding down them.

Trip Highlights

Mile 0: Follow Olympic Hot Springs Road 1 mile past Altair Campground and look for a gated road on the left leading down to the site of the old powerhouse. Park outside the gate and follow the road down to the river.

Mile 0.5: A series of rapids and ledges create an exciting Class III-IV rapid near the Elwha's exit from Glines Canyon.

Mile 0.8: Alternate Put-in at Altair Campground for anyone wanting to avoid the more difficult rapid upstream.

Mile 1:T his section of the Elwha contains numerous Class II - III rapids and generally gets wider and loses gradient the further downstream you go. Keep an eye out for wood as log jams can easily collect in the shallow braided channels here.

Elwha River Paddlers

Elwha River Paddlers | Photo by Nate Wilson Photography

Mile 3.5 : Take out at any convenient pull out within the National Park boundary, or continue on down to Highway 101 and take out at the bridge there (be sure and get out of the river on the same side as your car to avoid walking across a busy bridge with no shoulder).

Written by
Nate Wilson