Elwha River Trail to Marys Falls, Elwha Valley - Whiskey Bend Trailhead, Olympic National Park, Washington
Elwha River Trail to Marys Falls - 17.7 miles
Elwha Valley - Whiskey Bend Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||17.7 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||1,190' - 1,282' (2,065' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+92' net elevation gain (+3,010' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Elwha River Trail to Marys Falls - 17.7 Miles Round-Trip
The Elwha River Trail leads deep into the lowland forests and lush bottomlands of Olympic National Park. It runs 28.4 miles south from Whiskey Bend Road to Low Divide (3,602'), and continues another 16.4 miles as the North Fork Quinault River Trail to form one of the longest thru-hikes in the Park.
While few tackle the entire route, there are many compelling destinations of varying length along the way. Mary's Falls is located 8.9 miles from Whiskey Bend at Mary's Falls Camp, the first of nine backcountry sites on the Elwha River leading to Low Divide.
Those who value the journey and destination equally will enjoy this long day hike or moderate overnight into the Elwha Valley. Highlights include diverse lowland forests, the bridge over Lillian River and lux bottomlands of the Elwha River:
The trail rises to the Rica Canyon Trail (1.2 miles : 1,247') and dips past the Krause Bottom Trail (1.6 miles : 1,127') to Michaels' Cabin at the Humes Meadow Trail split (1.9 miles : 1,118').
Fir and hemlock form the canopy, while Oregon grape, elderberry, huckleberry and a variety of ferns, mosses and liverworts comprise the variously thick and open understory. The trail climbs steadily past the cabin in a younger forest that burned near the turn of the century.
A few creek corridors lined with old growth cedar and hemlock were spared, highlighting this otherwise mundane stretch. The trail crests near the Lillian River Trail split (4.15 miles : 1,665') and drops steeply in a changing forest to the Lillian River at Lillian Camp (4.75 miles : 1,353').
Here the comparatively dry lowland forest transitions to lush rainforest on the damp river bottom. Large cedar, fir, big leaf maple, hemlock and vine maple emerge as you follow the river.
A scenic bridge over the Lillian River (4.8 miles : 1,353') is an ideal turnaround point for day hikes. Backpackers will find some of the Elwha Valley's nicest campsites just over the bridge along the river. The trail climbs steeply above Lillian Camp, where you'll notice a sharp ecological contrast between rain and lowland forest on the rapid elevation change.
It climbs over 700' in 1.4 miles to a crest high along the east valley wall (6.2 miles : 2,065'). Look for the smooth red bark of madrone trees on this segment. The trail tilts down at 6.2 miles on a long, gradual descent that reintroduces large fir, cedar and maple near the river.
It crosses a stream at 8.3 miles (1,342'), this time turning down it before leveling beside the Elwha River (8.4 miles : 1,300'). Scale a small hill and drop to Mary's Falls Group Site (8.7 miles : 1,307').
A few steps ahead is the spur to Mary's Falls Camp (8.8 miles : 1,296'), which you'll follow through a small meadow to the river's edge. Mary's Falls is located across the river, about 25' downstream past the last campsite. A small tributary reveals the falls' location high up the west valley wall.
- N47 58.069 W123 34.945 — 0.0 miles : Whiskey Bend Trailhead
- N47 57.395 W123 34.051 — 1.2 miles : Rica Canyon Trail split
- N47 57.276 W123 33.615 — 1.6 miles : Krause Bottom Trail split
- N47 57.204 W123 33.240 — 1.9 miles : Humes Ranch Trail split
- N47 57.159 W123 32.457 — 2.5 miles : Steady climb up east valley wall
- N47 57.052 W123 32.023 — 3.0 miles : Crest before drop to creek crossing
- N47 56.925 W123 31.707 — 3.4 miles : Cross small creek
- N47 56.430 W123 31.199 — 4.15 miles : Lillian River Trail split
- N47 56.313 W123 30.889 — 4.75 miles : Lillian River Camp and Bridge
- N47 56.094 W123 31.302 — 5.4 miles : Steep climb above Lillian Camp
- N47 55.831 W123 30.922 — 5.9 miles : Grade moderates near highpoint
- N47 55.387 W123 29.912 — 6.9 miles : Begin descent to Elwha River
- N47 54.864 W123 29.440 — 7.75 miles : Cross small creek
- N47 54.474 W123 29.509 — 8.3 miles : Cross small creek
- N47 54.164 W123 29.393 — 8.7 miles : Marys Camp Group Site
- N47 54.119 W123 29.371 — 8.8 miles : Marys Camp spur
- N47 54.102 W123 29.450 — 8.85 miles : Marys Falls viewpoint
- N47 53.646 W123 28.845 — Travel continues along the river
- Despite its impressive height and volume, Mary's Falls are difficult to fully appreciate from such a far distance. Binoculars are recommended to view the falls.
- Those with time should explore the bottomlands between the river and trail. These are excellent places to find wildlife.
- The Elwha River is the Olympic Peninsula's largest watershed, scene to one of its most robust native salmon runs. This changed with the construction of the Elwha Dam (1913) and Glines Canyon Dam (1927), which blocked access to natal waters just five miles from the river mouth.
- In 1992 Congress passed a law requiring restoration of this watershed - and its fish. The federal government purchased the dams and, after much legal wrangling, began removal in 2011. Opening the river in 2013 will restore over 70 miles of salmon habitat, which biologists believe will return populations to historic numbers in 20-30 years.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Permits are required for all overnight stays in Olympic National Park. Contact the Wilderness Information Center (360.565.3100) for backcountry camping reservations, permits, and trail conditions. Visit the WIC: 600 East Park Avenue, Port Angeles, WA 98362.
- There's a $5 registration fee per group, plus $2 per person (children under 15 excluded). If you don't have access to a WIC, or plan to arrive early or late, call the WIC to arrange your permit ahead of time.
- You may self-register at the Elwha Ranger Station, located just before the turnoff to Whiskey Bend Road. Permits are not available at the trailhead. The station is staffed intermittently throughout the summer.
- There are no quotas or required reservations for Elwha Valley. Campsites are not individually assigned, but available to permit holders on a first come, first served basis.
- Camp only in established sites, which are clearly marked along the trail and on most maps.
- Food Storage: Bear canisters are not required but, are recommended. Established sites have bear wires.
- Fires: Campfires are permitted up to 3,500'.
- Fishing is not permitted on the Elwha River, or any of its tributaries.
Rules and Regulations
- There's a $15 fee to enter Olympic National Park ($30 annual pass).
- Pets are not permitted on trails. Pets are permitted in campgrounds and must be leashed at all times.
Directions to Trailhead
Whiskey Bend Trailhead is located within Elwha Valley, 8.4 miles from US 101 in Olympic National Park. From Port Angeles, drive 7.3 miles west on US 101 to Elwha Valley - Olympic Hot Springs Road (south side of highway). Turn left and drive 4 miles to Whiskey Bend Road.
Turn left and follow Whiskey Bend Road 4.4 miles to the trailhead.
Whiskey Bend Road is a graded gravel road suitable for all vehicles, however it's subject to washouts and closures. The road is narrow and winding. Call ahead for road conditions, and arrive early to avoid backups.
Olympic National Park
600 East Park Avenue
Port Angeles, WA 98362-6798
Visitor Information: 360.565.3130
Road & Weather Hotline: 360.565.3131
Wilderness Information Center and Backcountry Permit Office (WIC)
Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center
Forks Information Station
360.374.7566 or 360.374.5877
Quinault Wilderness Information Office