This blog covers trips from the book and other favorites. Contact Rob in Seattle: rob@robcasey.net or 206-465-7167

12/16/11

Discover Paddling Freshwater Bay to the Elwha River, Trip #40

Freshwater Bay going west.
A new trip in the book, I've been paddling from Freshwater Bay (aka FWB) to the Elwha River for a few years.  Located along the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles, this trip offers on calm days a beautiful paddle through several miles of kelp beds and undeveloped shoreline.  We rated the trip Exposed, as it can also get quite rough mostly towards the Elwha end, so strong paddling experience is required to do the whole trip. The one way distance Freshwater Bay boat ramp to the Elwha River mouth is 4 miles.

Launching at the Freshwater Bay boat ramp, a Clallam County Park, there's plenty of parking for day use only.  Paddle east either along the shoreline or 'Bee' line it to the Elwha straight across the bay. If you choose not to go to the Elwha, the bay provides lots of exploring and can be done so with less experience on mellow days. You'll experience different conditions there - either super mellow or huge seas requiring expert paddling skills. The bay can get rough on northerly winds, and I've actually surfed waist high waves at the FWB boat ramp.  Friends who guide kayakers through there for Adventures Through Kayaking in Port Angeles, talk of a bay wide gyro or eddy formed off Observatory Point on the west end of the bay from westerly swell or westerly winds. If you feel you're 'bucking' or going against current - adjust your strategy or course direction to get out of the current.

Jory paddling the Elwha.
The Elwha River's two dams are currently being removed as part of the largest dam removal project in North America.  Many hope the sediment built up behind the dams will flow to the mouth rebuilding it's now rocky beaches. Watch the dam removal process in real time from web cams, Here.

The river's mouth can like FWB be either glassy or quite rough.  Surfers who love big hollow fast waves surf here.  Waves break in very shallow water as little as 3'.  If you wipe out, you're falling on knee high rocks.  I've seen 6' faces come out of completely flat water off the mouth - scary!  The surfing vibe here can be quite 'local' and rather aggressive, so make sure you know surfer's etiquette and can negotiate large surf in whatever craft you're paddling.  A rip can occur off the mouth on the ebb - remember to paddle perpendicular to the current to escape the pull out to the Strait.

On small or now swell days surfers usually aren't present and you can paddle right up the mouth with ease.  About an eighth of a mile up stream, you'll encounter a small class 2 rapid which be surfed at higher water levels.  Stay off the shore on the east side of the river as it's Lower Klallam Tribal land and is often enforced.

In May, the Da Fuca Downwinder, a 13 mile paddling race goes from the boat ramp at FWB to Port Angeles. Click HERE for race info.
(Pre-dam removal) Mouth of the Elwha on a calm day.

Prior to launching for this trip, check the ocean swell size and direction.  Also check wind direction and tides.  The Strait winds goes most often East or West, and in winter North or Northwesterly.  Large ocean swell can seriously affect your paddle, particularly closer to the Elwha.  Summer low tides at the FWB boat ramp can mean a long haul to the water.  Low tides at the Elwha are great for exploring the gravel river channels at the mouth.

Alternative Trip: #41 FWB to the Salt Creek Rec Area.  Exposed.

A few sites to look at to help prepare for your trip:
Surf WA
NOAA La Perouse Buoy at the mouth of the Strait.  Check for swell size.
NOAA Marine Forecast for WA State.  Check for 'Central Strait' wind conditions.
Surf Etiquette - There's several sites available, here's one to get acquainted with.
Adventures Through Kayaking - This Port Angeles kayaking shop offers tours of FWB.

Getting There:  Drive west from Port Angeles on Hwy 101. Take the Hwy 112 junction (at the Junction Roadhouse) right and follow for approx 10 miles. Look for FWB boat ramp signs on your right. Follow Freshwater Bay road to the shore.

(Pre-dam removal) Elwha River mouth on a stormy day, looking east.

Learn more about my book Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips. I also offer SUP and Kayak lessons available throughout the year at Salmon Bay Paddle. Questions about paddling on the Salish Sea, give me a holler anytime at salmonbaypaddle@gmail.com or 206-465-7167

Support the Washington Water Trails Association and the Cascadia Marine Trail. The wwta works to create and protect access for paddlers on Puget Sound as well as provide an extensive network of over 60 paddle-in camping sites - www.wwta.org



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