Forum Index > Trip Reports > Madison Falls to Glines Canyon Overlook (ONP) 02-26-2019
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Ancient Ambler
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PostSun Mar 03, 2019 11:05 am 
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Anticipating a snowy walk up the Elwha valley, DaveB and I took off early on February 26 for the northern Olympics under sunny skies and sub-freezing temperatures.   Very little snow was left on the ground between Kitsap and Port Angeles, but as we headed west from Port Angeles, the roadside snow got deeper and deeper.

A week earlier, DaveB had been up to the Elwha ranger station and had found snowshoes necessary due to deep snow all the way.  Now, a week later, the snow had subsided and frozen sufficiently that we left the snowshoes in the truck and started out booting it, carrying microspikes just in case.

For those who don’t know, the Olympic Hot Springs Road is gated shut at Madison Falls parking lot due to road washouts about a mile south up the Elwha River at Sanders Creek and near the south end of the flood-destroyed Elwha Campground.   ONP is currenly considering alternatives for restoring vehicle access via Olympic Hot Springs Road to miles of road leading to the Elwha’s Whiskey Bend trailhead, to Olympic Hot Spring’s Boulder/Hot Springs trailhead, multiple other trails, the Altair picnic area, and to overlooks at the west and east abutments of the removed Glines Canyon Dam.

Gated Olympic Hot Springs Road at Madison Falls parking area
Gated Olympic Hot Springs Road at Madison Falls parking area

One alternative being considered is to take no action to restore vehicle access south of Madison Falls.   If you're interested, for more on the alternatives and how to submit your comments to ONP before the March 13, 2019 deadline, click  here.   

With the exception of a few south-facing bare spots, we found rock-hard snow all the way out to the west Glines Canyon overlook.  From the Madison gate there’s a straight shot south of about 0.5 miles, where the road begins turning eastward.  Be on the lookout for a metal fence post on each side of the road with a placard arrow pointing left (north).  This marks the beginning of the washout bypass trail.

Olympic Hot Springs Road nearing trailhead for washout bypass trail
Olympic Hot Springs Road nearing trailhead for washout bypass trail

The bypass trail ascends about 180 vertical feet and runs about 0.8 mile around the east side of the washout and south of the flood-destroyed Elwha campground to connect back to the Olympic Hot Springs Road. The bypass trail traverses some steep hillsides, so you may want to have traction (microspikes) with you if the trail is icy or hard snow.

We wanted to get a look first at the washout site at Sanders Creek, so we continued on the road 0.3 mile past the bypass trailhead to Sanders Creek where the Olympic Hot Springs road washed out in 2016.

Olympic Hot Springs Road nearing Sanders Creek washout from NW - 1
Olympic Hot Springs Road nearing Sanders Creek washout from NW - 1
Olympic Hot Springs Road nearing Sanders Creek washout from NW 2
Olympic Hot Springs Road nearing Sanders Creek washout from NW 2
The new east branch of the Elwha River is on the left and the main west branch of the Elwha is on the right side of the image.  The currently closed-to-vehicles Olympic Hot Springs Road extends south in the middle of this image.
The new east branch of the Elwha River is on the left and the main west branch of the Elwha is on the right side of the image.  The currently closed-to-vehicles Olympic Hot Springs Road extends south in the middle of this image.

ONP had a temporary bridge here but it was removed in 2018 to protect it from winter floods.   Back on route, we traversed the hillside east of the new eastern branch of the Elwha and took the bypass trail to the Olympic Hot Springs Road.

Hillside east of new east branch of Elwha near Sanders Creek
Hillside east of new east branch of Elwha near Sanders Creek

Note that there is a boot path alongside the new east branch of the Elwha, but ONP warns against using it due to path instability and strong river current right next to the path.   Viewed from the former temporary bridge location, it appears that some of the boot path has indeed been undercut by river erosion, which could make for a nasty and dangerous surprise if it caved in while someone was on it.

From where the bypass trail makes its southern connection back to the Olympic Hot Springs Road, it was an easy 0.4 mile walk to the snowed-in Elwha Ranger station.

Elwha Ranger Station, 02-26-2019
Elwha Ranger Station, 02-26-2019

Another few tenths of a mile brought us to the intersection with the Whiskey Bend Road.  While a sign says it's 5 miles from the intersection to the Whiskey Bend trailhead, a more recent map by ONP gives the distance as 4.5 miles.  Note that a mile or so on the Whiskey Bend Road from the intersection, you will reach a parking lot with easy access to a great viewpoint from the eastern abutment of the Glines Canyon Dam.

Olympic Hot Springs Road at intersection with Whiskey Bend Road
Olympic Hot Springs Road at intersection with Whiskey Bend Road

Continuing south on the Olympic Hot Springs Road, we reached the bridge across the Elwha, with great views down the river.   The flood-destroyed Altair Campground has been converted into a picnic area, which is located to the left of the river in the following photograph.

Photo taken from the bridge, looking northwest.
Photo taken from the bridge, looking northwest.

From Altair, the Olympic Hot Springs Road trends uphill toward the Glines Canyon Overlook, which is 3.4 miles and around 300 feet of vertical gain from our starting point at Madison Falls.  When the Glines Canyon Dam was removed, freeing the Elwha River, the west and east abutments of the dam were not removed in order to save money because they did not restrict river flow.  They provide great viewpoints.   The west Glines Canyon Overlook has a spacious parking area and a number of beautifully illustrated signs providing information about the dam removal and habitat restoration along the river and in the formerly submerged land under the now-departed Lake Mills.

West Glines Dam overlook parking lot
West Glines Dam overlook parking lot
view southeast from Glines dam west parking lot
view southeast from Glines dam west parking lot
Glines overlook sign #1
Glines overlook sign #1
Glines overlook sign #2
Glines overlook sign #2
Glines overlook sign #4
Glines overlook sign #4
Glines overlook sign #3
Glines overlook sign #3
Glines overlook sign #5
Glines overlook sign #5
Glines overlook sign #6
Glines overlook sign #6

After you browse the signs and make your way out to the end of the walkway, you can check out the river 200 feet below you, or take in the views to the north or south.

view north over Glines Canyon from dam's west abutment
view north over Glines Canyon from dam's west abutment
view south over former Lake Mills from Glines west abutment
view south over former Lake Mills from Glines west abutment

Note that the illustrated and informative signs are found only on the west Glines Canyon overlook accessed by Olympic Hot Springs Road, not on the east abutment accessed via the Whiskey Bend Road.

On the way back to Madison Falls, the afternoon sun was just beginning to soften the hard snow on the road.  Hard to know if any snow remains on the route at this point.
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meck
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PostSun Mar 03, 2019 2:35 pm 
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Thanks for the status update AA!  I'd been considering heading out there the last three weeks but didn't want to commit w/o knowing what the snow was like!  I love that area for winter jaunts (especially neat go down to the river in the former lake bed).  I really like the south facing washed out road shot and the one across the old lake bed.

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Anne Elk
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PostSun Mar 03, 2019 2:38 pm 
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Thanks for documenting the route, AA.  Great to have some images of current conditions in the area we've been commenting on for the re-route. ONP set up a nice interpretive display. I submitted a 2nd comment with the extension, respectfully asking them to quit procrastinating and get going!  biggrin.gif
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mdk
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PostMon Mar 04, 2019 1:16 pm 
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If you have road hiked as far as the Glines Canyon Dam site, consider hiking the Smokey Bottom trail while you are there.   This used to be the West Lake Mills trail.  It starts at the end of a tenth-mile gravel spur road, leaving southerly from the outside of the bend at Glines.  There is a connector trail from the Glines parking lot to the trailhead as well.  It is a very pleasant 1.9 mile hike along and just above the former lake shore.  Lots of views and easy hiking.  A very fun loop can be had by coming back north to Glines out in the open lake bottom terraces, to the east of the trail.  It is easy to access the (former) lake bottom from the south end of the trail.

As of Saturday March 2nd, there was very little snow on the trail, with long stretches bare and dry.  The lake bottom was similar, with dense snow a few inches deep to bare ground.  We used neither spikes nor snowshoes on any part of the loop south of the dam site.  There were perhaps a dozen trees down across the trail but none were a significant obstacle.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Madison Falls to Glines Canyon Overlook (ONP) 02-26-2019
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