PNW MTB Explorations & More: Celebrating the Elwha River ecosystem restoration, getting in the Coleville flow & sunset at the beach

I was on (and off) a mountain bike for this wondrous single-track traverse through low-land forest and low-land river ecosystems. I’m not a very technical rider so I had to get off for the roots and rocks. Would love to come back to hike it sometime. Can’t provide much guidance about the trail as there was a major washout that I had to navigate with some detours. While the Elwha River Trail (ERT) spans the entire Elwha Valley, I was only able to make it up to the Glines Canyon Overlook before sunset.

elwah river mtb trail

History

Back in the day, the Elwha River ran wild from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and its valley supported many plants and animal species. As far back as ~ 2700 years ago (per radiocarbon dating), the Klallam people lived off the land, largely relying on fishing in the Elwha River. But that all changed 1913, when the Elwha Dam was built in 1913 to address demand for the lumber. To add insult to injury, the Glines Canyon Dam was built upstream in 1927.

Despite a state law that required accommodating for fish passage, neither dam did and fish runs were blocked. The consequences were devastating—impacting thousands of salmon per year and irrevocably changing the Klallam way of life.

Finally in 1992, Congress passed a law that required the removal of both dams and restoration of the Elwah River watershed. At 210 feet The Glines Canyon Dam is the tallest dam removed to date. It took 15 tons of explosives and 12,000 cubic feet of concrete were removed, Within months of the removal of the 2 dams, salmon were spawning and trout were returning for the first time in 100 years!

The Elwha River is one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in National Park Service history.

Elwah River vertical

Glines Canyon Bridge
Glines Canyon Bridge

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scene from the trailhead
Meanwhile back at the trail head, it’s feeding time

 

 
Note: As of 12/4/2018 Elwha Road was closed to vehicles beyond Madison Falls parking lot due to washout.
Side trip: Madison Falls
This lovely 60-foot waterfall is wheelchair accessible via a .01 mile paved trail.

Madison Creek Falls Elwah River

Side trip: Colville MTB Trails
Sneaked in a quickie mountain bike right before dark at the Coleville bike park on the way back to Port Angeles. Currently under construction, the completed trails include a flowy, fun perimeter trail, a pump track, drop zone and several jump lines (whatever the last 3 are – nontechnical me, just enjoyed the 1st).
Coleville mtb

Side Trip: West Elwah Beach

West Elwha Beacj Sign

little wave elwah beachLogs and moon elwah beachsunset 3 elwah beach

So ends a gloriously full day that included a hike on Hurricane Ridge, 2 mountain bike rides, and a sunset stroll on the beach. Yes, I like to pack as much adventure and exploration into my days.

For views that rock you like a hurricane, visit Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park is so named because a prospector back in 1897 stood up there on a very windy day (100 mile an hour winds) and declared that it must be a hurricane. (It wasn’t, but the name stuck.) I lucked out with lovely weather the day I visited.

Hurricane Ridge is about 17 miles from Port Angeles and it’s a direct route to fun times. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s a must do.Whether you are just taking in the fantastic views, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, or perhaps biking up. Yes, I said “biking up”. And yes, it’s a thing, if you’re into that kind of thing that is. With a challenging 5,242 ft ascent over 17 miles, the ride is known as one of Washington’s toughest and most scenic bike routes and what many say is one of the top cycling climbs in the U.S.. The climb averages a 5.3% grade with the steepest ½ mile at a 9.4% grade. Any takers?

It does sound intriguing though doesn’t it? I’d like to give it a go one day if my knees allow. It’s the downhill that really gives me the heebie-jeebies… I’d feel more secure on a mountain bile than road bike.  A car shuttle might be an option…

In any case, whatever your activity pleasure, you’ll find the Olympic National Park a perfect playground. Get more scoop at Visitor Center at mile one and pay to play when you reach the park’s toll booth at mile 6.

ONP fees

I pulled off at the first opportunity for a hike and did a pleasant out and back on the Switchback Trail. As the sign indicates, there are a few options available to string together longer hikes.

sign on hurricain ridgeswitchback trail scoop

switchback trailswitchback trail looking backL on the switchback trail

hurricaine road and beyond

I’m keeping my escapades short so I can cover more ground on my “PNW adventure sampler” tour. After driving up to the ridge to enjoy the panoramic views, I headed back down to plot my next excursion.

Evidence of “The Inconvenient Truth” – pictures are worth a thousand words…

L on Hurricaine ridge

 

My PNW Explorations: Looking promising, Port Angeles!

 

Driving over the crest of a hill, I caught my first glimpse of downtown Port Angeles, the shimmering water and port in the distance. My first impressions? Wow! Clean, wide roads, nice sidewalks, historic buildings, art installations everywhere you look and great views. From what I’d heard from the Port Townsend and Sequim “ambassadors”, I expected to see a smaller version of skid row—homeless people and druggies panhandling on every corner, litter in the streets and on the sidewalks, dilapidated buildings and overt grime, crime and grit. Not so—quite the opposite. In many ways, Port Angeles has more character, art and scenic appeal than either Port Townsend or Sequim. And my taste tests attest to the fact that Port A has much better restaurants too.

 

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Over the course of my PNW adventure, I spent a total of 3 nights in Port Angeles and thoroughly explored the town and its neighborhoods. Yes, eventually, I saw some homeless people. I have no doubt there are “issues”, but every community has issues and more and more have issues of this type. (For the record, Sequim is not immune – recall the panhandler at the Village Marketplace. No doubt they would say he was just on his way to Port Angeles.)

My first stop, and an easy one as its right on the main drag as you come into town, was Sound Bikes & Kayaks, 120 E. Front Street. My last chance for mountain bike rentals before I headed up the coast. I was so relieved when I opened the door and saw plenty of quality mountain bikes to rent. (And they even have an in-store rock climbing wall there too.) The friendly team at Sound Bikes & kayaks gave me the local scoop on the top mountain bike rides and hikes in the area. I shared my encounters with the Port Angeles and Sequim gloom and doomers and they just shrugged their shoulders. (Tourist dollars are hard to come by, especially in the off-season, perhaps that was what it was all about.)

Lodging was easy to find, I just walked across the street and rented a room in the historic Downtown Hotel. Now it was time to grab a bite with a view at Downriggers at the Landing and plan my active adventures.

Its close proximity to Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge / Olympic National Park and its gateway position to adventures farther afield made Port Angeles a great basecamp for my PNW explorations coming and going.  Here’s my sampler for ya:

Port Angeles Lodging

Downtown Hotel – great rates, views and old-school charm

Built in 1916 and renovated in 2003 after a fire, the Downtown Hotel has lots of character. This place made me nostalgic for the old hotel from my childhood. (My family was in the hotel and restaurant business in New Hampshire.) The Downtown Hotel is historic, quaint and clean—and full of old-school charm. You can choose from kitchenette suites, apartment suites, private baths or “European style with a shared hallway bathroom. I picked a suite with a view of the harbor. The bed was a bit small for a queen and the wifi was a bit spotty in the room so I had to take my work conference call in the lobby. Other than that, I loved it. The reading material in the lobby was great. They subscribe to the New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines – another feather to put in the artsy / cultural hat of Port Angeles. It’s a cool, centrally located spot within the heart of Port Angeles. I would stay here again and consider it for a long-term stay. The general manager, Tim, is a bit of a vintage bike nut. If you are too, you might ask him to show you his extensive collection. Notes: no pets allowed and no wheelchair access. The entrance staircase leads from street level to the lobby and rooms are on the second and third floors.

The Red Lion Hotel  221 N. Lincoln St.

red lion hotel
The waterfront Red Lion with its Olympic Mountain backdrop

Treat yourself to a great night’s sleep and a spectacular sunrise with a water view room. Extremely comfy bed with a room large enough for a happy dance. (I think it was an ADA room, not sure if they are all like that or If I just got lucky.)

Super 8 by Wyndham, 2104 E 1st St

Clean, comfy, convenient and budget friendly. This place has been renovated recently and is downright decent. Wifi and free breakfast are included. Be sure to pay your respects to the resident feline, Douglas. Drop into the locals’ bar, Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge, next door for a quick bite or nightcap if you’re so inclined. This is where I got the insider tip from locals Kristin and Chef Matt Colony to visit them at First Street Haven for breakfast (see review below).

The Landing & Downriggers

The Landing mall and the restaurant Downriggers is right on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It features spectacular water, city and Olympic Mountain views and and is home to galleries, restaurants, offices, a co-working space, a rowing club and more.  I ate a salmon salad at Downriggers my first night. Perhaps not as good as the view, but  as good or better than Sirens in Port Townsend. Not that it’s a contest or anything, but if you read my previous post, you’ll understand why I’m making all the comparisons.

 

Great Restaurants

Next Door Gastropub—Not to be missed!

The line out the door is a good indication that this is the “go to” spot in Port Angeles for great grub. In general, I avoid meat. Once I caught sight of the burgers here, I caved. Delicious! For those with stronger willpower than mine, there are delectable vegetarian options as well. Whether you’re a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore, you can’t go wrong here. The outdoor seating is limited, but always my happy preference so I’m glad they have some.

 

First Street Haven, Heaven for foodies 107 E 1st St

Had some drinks and great conversation with the chef and a waitress from First Street Haven at Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge the night before. The chef was from Oceanside, CA – small world. (My home base is next door to Oside, Carlsbad.) They said their establishment had the best breakfast in town. After sampling it, I’m inclined to believe them. Crazy delish cinnamon rolls, banging eggs Benedict, and so on…We even scored some local mushrooms. (No, not that kind, come on now!) Excellent cuisine (Chef Matt Colony) and service (Kristin).  They are at the top of my list for a return trip.

Coffee

BADA NW is gooda 118 W 1st St, Port Angeles, WA 98362

This is one of the coolest coffee shops with a great PNW vibe. It’s up there with Woody’s in Hakone, Japan for great atmosphere and quality coffee. They serve food and beer and wine too. (As did Woody’s, coincidentally.) Bold, Ambitious, Dedicated and Authentic (BADA) is gooda.

 

So Port Angeles, you won me over, 3 days – not only did you not disappoint, you exceeded all expectations. All the locals here I talked to were super friendly and helpful.

Stay tuned for my active adventures in the epic PNW, including Hurricane Ridge, and points beyond.

Washington’s Beacon Rock Trail: a shortie with sweet views

Geological origins

According to some experts, Beacon Rock or  Che-Che-op-tin, which means the navel of the world, is the second largest, free-standing monolith in North America.  (Supposedly approaching the ranks of El Capitan, Devils Tower, Uluru/Ayers Rock, and other notables.) Composed of Basalt, it is the core of an ancient volcano. Through the ages, massive floods carved their way through the Columbia River Gorge and through the volcano, leaving only the core of Beacon Rock in their wake.

The trail

The Beacon Rock Trail was built directly onto the side of the rock, and ascends to the top of the rock (850’ elevation) by way of 52 switchbacks. Along the way there are sparkling panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge, the Bonneville Dam, and the Pierce Wildlife Refuge. The “peak” area is small and doesn’t offer much in the way of scenery. It’s a short and relatively easy ~1.6 mile out and back with a 680 foot elevation gain. There’s  a fair amount of traffic as it’s right off Highway 14, perfect for a quick run up and down. (Of course, I happened to hit it at high noon on Washington’s hottest day in a record-breaking heat wave. Dangerous for pets or anyone not up to extreme temps.)

The story behind the trail

The story goes that the United States Army Corps was going to cannibalize the rock for material to build a jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. In 1915, philanthropist, Henry Biddle, bought the rock for $1, and together with Charles Johnson, built the trail over the next 3 years. After Biddle’s death, the family offered to make it a state park. Washington initially declined, but accepted the offer after Oregon expressed interest.

 

Details

Located near Stevenson, WA off of Highway 14

Discover Pass must be purchased and displayed in your car.

 

Spokane Quickie

First impressions: Fantastic fall foliage, clean, bike-friendly city, easy to navigate, nice parks, incredible vistas, great centennial trail, rainy.

Arrived at the small airport at noon, rented a car, and headed directly to Spoke ‘N Sport. Pete set us up on a couple hybrids for our quick tour of Spokane. Just a half hour after landing, we’re pedaling through Riverfront Park, meandering by Gonzaga University where the fall’s display was in its full glory.

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Despite the brisk, wet weather, there were many runners (one stud without a shirt), bikers, and skateboarders about. In addition to nature’s displays, the city also features many outdoor art sculptures.

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Monroe Street Bridge, built in 1911

A little history:

Built in 1911, the 896 foot Monroe Street Bridge spans the Spokane River, which flows at 7,946 cubic feet per second here. The Spokane River is a tributary of the Columbia River, approximately 111 miles long, in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. At one time, Spokane was internationally known for its fishing, including Chinook, steelhead and coho salmon and, above the falls, a huge population of cutthroat trout. Sadly, those days are long gone.The Little Falls Dam, built in 1911 had only had a rudimentary fish ladder and the Long Lake Dam built in 1915 didn’t have one at all. In 1939, the Grand Coulee Dam blocked the Columbia, which sealed the salmon off from the entire Spokane River and thus destroyed a dietary staple and way of life of the Spokane Indians and many other tribe’s.

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Another lovely view of the Spokane River from the Riverfront Park bike trail

We managed to get in some great views of Spokane Falls, Riverfront Park and cruise an upscale neighborhood on Summit Road before the rain became more insistent.

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Moose sighting along Spokane’s Riverfront Park Bike Trail

Very enjoyable afternoon spent in Spokane. Would like to return and explore some more and do the Centennial bike trail to Coeur d’alene and back.

Coeur d’alene was next on the agenda, but the overly-manicured waterfront park, upscale shops and restaurants didn’t appeal in the pouring rain. We kept driving and happened upon the charming gem of Sandpoint, Idaho, where we spent the night.