In the Footsteps of Homesteaders and Whalers:
Hiking the Cape Alava Trail

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 9 miles – Time out: 8 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Highest Elevation: Sea Level

Pet Friendly: No

February 18-19, 2015.

Cape Alava map - Per Berg

Cape Alava map – Per Berg

Here in this quiet corner of Olympic National Park, the Cape Alava Trail starts at Ozette Lake and ends at Cape Alava on the Pacific Coast. Hiking the trail is like following two parallel threads of European and Native American history. Ozette Lake was once ringed with Scandinavian homesteaders, and Cape Alava was once home to a large Makah fishing village. Today, where these two communities once thrived, there are only whispering forests and crashing waves. Recently, I had an opportunity to hike the scenic Cape Alava Trail with Donovan and Bruce, friends and park rangers who know the trail’s secrets.

The Cape Alava Trail begins at the Ozette Lake Campground. Today, big trees grow all the way to the lake’s edge, but in the early 1890’s Scandinavian families hacked 130 homesteads out of the dense forest. The homesteads surrounded the lake, one-half to one mile apart. Their Ozette Lake community was vibrant but isolated; travel to the outside world was either down the Ozette River by canoe and rendezvous with a ship off the Pacific Coast or via a muddy, twenty-five mile trail along the Hoko River to the settlement at Clallam Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Their isolation led to self-sufficiency. The Scandinavian homesteaders were a tough bunch. Out of the wilderness, they built stores, schools, a church and three post offices. The land was cleared, livestock raised, and their surplus cream, butter, beef and pork was shipped to Seattle. There was a community band and frequent celebrations as these hardy folk strove to acquire title on the land they lived upon by “proving-up.” The Scandinavian homesteaders turned this inaccessible frontier into a remarkably lively and cohesive settlement.

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The Enchanted Valley

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Roundtrip Distance: 27 miles – Time out: Three days

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Elevation Gain: 1472 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

April 24th 2013

My friend Donovan had been touting the Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park to me for a couple of years. Donovan is a former park ranger and we serve together on the board of the Washington’s National Parks Fund. Finally we agreed on a date, which luckily, was during an unusually warm and sunny spell of early spring weather. I found the Enchanted Valley a combination of improbable beauty and interesting history. My favorite type of adventure!

The trailhead began at Graves Creek about 15 miles northeast of Lake Quinault. For the first couple of miles we backpacked along an abandoned roadbed. The trail was wide and firm. At the top of the hill, a brush-filled parking lot and a rotting picnic table hinted that this was the end of the old road. A half mile of downhill brought us to Pony Bridge and the East Fork of the Quinault River. After we crossed the bridge, we stopped in the sunshine next to a deep blue pool. Fir scented breezes blew gently up the valley. I worked my shoulder out of my straps, sat down and rested against my pack on the soft moss.

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Return of the River

Photos from John Gussman

Blasting the Elwha River dam

Blasting the Elwha River dam

Olympic Peninsula photographer John Gussman says "Dam removal began on the Elwha River in mid-September 2011. Originally anticipated to be a two to three year process, removal proceeded quickly and by late spring 2012, the Elwha Dam was completely gone. Work on lowering the Glines Canyon dam is expected to be complete by summer 2013."

John is creating a documentary film that includes these wonderful photos and more. This is what John has to say about the project:

"Return of the River is a film about the largest dam removal project in the history of the United States. It is the story of a river unleashed after a century of impoundment, and the extraordinary community effort to set it free. What if you could wave a magic wand and restore an ecosystem? What if you could revive a dying river? In a world of grim news about the environment, the return of the Elwha River is a story to celebrate. If only it had been as easy as waving a wand."

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Sleepy Hollow – Poor little Cinderella of a trail

Sleepy Hollow

Daniel Collins



It was a solid 8AM downpour and my hooded and hard-hat-ed hiking companions with shadowy faces showed the look of a long winter but I wasn’t about to scuttle the planning behind this trip – after all we’re on a scouting mission!

We drove the recently re-graveled FS 28 – careful on the corners – it’s very soft. The drive was approx. 45 minutes to Bon Jon Pass where the rain stopped than 5 minutes to the Mt Zion Trail Head. We made off down trail scouting trail work for youth crews – the Quilcene Ranger Corps and the SKY crew of Jefferson County. The timing couldn’t have been better, just after heavy rain, trails reveal their drainage issues.

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Backpacking the Dungeness

June 1, 2012

Heather Grev

Upper Dungeness to Boulder

Upper Dungeness to Boulder

Brian and I used the Memorial Day weekend to take a wee little backpacking adventure. I know usually when we go on outings like this, I just post pictures, but I’m going to try an be better about documenting the fun.

This time of year, it’s really hard for us to find suitable trails. Most the great stuff is still under snow. We also have to avoid the National Park areas, because we want to bring our big ole mutts along and that’s a big no-no in the National Parks. Add to all of that the personal mission for both of us to keep on discovering new places to go hiking and avoid repeating trails…

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Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent Lodge

Story by Cara Patten

Photos by Emily Deering and Bret Wirta, Video by Emily Deering

Hike Distance: 1.5 miles – Time out: 1 hour

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: No

May 22nd 2012

Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent Lodge

We drove to Lake Crescent and pulled up to the Marymere trail parking lot, slightly tired from rising early and ready for a leisurely hike and lunch at Lake Crescent Lodge. This was the perfect road trip for me and my friends Becca and Emily. College classes had just ended and the summer just beginning.

The Marymere Falls trail is about 1.5 miles, beginning at the Storm King Ranger Station and ending up at the beautifully flowing Marymere Falls, with a trail branching off to the Lake Crescent Lodge. Its easy pace and location just off the highway makes the hike a great break.
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Hiking to Lillian Camp

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 10 mile round-trip – Time out: 5 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: No

May 16th 2012

Lillian Camp with the Klahhane Club 2012

Lillian Camp is a lush camping area along a tumbling river. It’s a perfect day-hike in the spring when the high mountain passes are still choked with snow. The trail begins at the Whiskey Bend Trailhead in the Elwha River Valley. This is a wide corridor, one of the most well-traveled trails in Olympic National Park.

I was hiking with my favorite group of Olympic Peninsula hikers, The Klahhane Club. It was tee-shirt weather, pleasant especially after many cold and wet winter hikes. The dry trail wound though stands of young fir trees. Below, the mighty Elwha River roared, strong with snow-melt. Soon the Elwha will be free of the last of the two dams that shackled its wild journey to the sea for a century. When the cement roots of the Glines Canyon Dam are finally broken and yanked out of the ground, the Elwha will run unimpeded once more from its birth on the glaciers of Mt. Olympus to its union with the Strait of Juan de Fucca. May the huge salmon return as they once did to spawn along the river’s frothy reaches.

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Protection Island Wildlife Cruise

Story by Patrick Wu

Photos by Bret Wirta

June 12th 2012

Capt Charles's ship Living the Dream

Capt Charles's ship Living the Dream

We awoke around nine in the morning, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then made the short drive down the road to the John Wayne Marina in Sequim. It was my pleasure to be a guest of the Wirtas on one of their many adventures into nature, for which Bret seems to have quite the eye. My girlfriend Becca and I, yawning from the aberration in our typical college student sleep schedules, benefited greatly from the fresh ocean air of the Peninsula as we, along with Bret and “Nanny,” Becca’s grandmother, were greeted by Captain Charles Martin on the docks at ten o’clock sharp. The captain is the proud owner of The Water Limousine, a beautiful 26-foot Glacier Bay catamaran by the name of “Livin’ the Dream”—a title that, by the tone of the captain’s voice as he speaks it, indeed seems to have its personal significance. “Livin’ the Dream” is used primarily for private cruises, such as this one, and the multi-hulled yacht provides a very smooth, stable ride for up to six people.

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Hiking Gold Creek with the Klahhane Hiking Club

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 10 mile round-trip – Time out: 5 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: Yes

April 25th 2012.

Mossy rocks

Mossy rocks

Gold Creek isn’t a destination hike. Most of the beauty occurred during the first half hour of the hike along the Dungeness River and Gold Creek. But the trail provides some nice views of the ridges and mountain peaks as it leaves the valley floor. The problem is that Gold Creek didn’t start out as its own trail. The Gold Creek trail used to be the beginning of the trail to the Tubal Cain Mine, but when the National Forest Service built road #2870 it cut the trail in half. The interesting half of the trail, the Tubal Cain Mine Trail, now begins on the other side of the road where the Gold Creek trail ends. It’s kind of like taking a nice four-course meal and serving two courses one night and then two the other. The appetizer and salad will be tasty, but it won’t be as hearty a meal as the main course and dessert and certainly not as nice as if you ate them all together.

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Barefooting the Ozette

Barefoot Jake

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Barefooting the Ozette

Barefooting the Ozette

I was born to be Outside. So when a friend wanted to plan an Adventure to the Coast and looked at the Weather Forecast. I got really excited and day dreamed for days about a much needed relaxing time on the Beach. I will admit I don’t much like the Coast in the Summer for the high numbers of Backpackers. I also have never stayed 2 nights in one Camp since the 90’s. The chance to play in a Photographers Playground.

I for sure couldn’t pass up the chance. Seems like every square inch there is some form of Life happening.

Trail in is over 90% Board Walk made up of new, old and really old planks that have been in place for probably longer than I have been born. Figured this would be a perfect opportunity to to break in my Luna ATS Huaraches further.

Felt great to let the feet air out, perfect Sole Pattern and the Thickness still gave me ground feel. The lacing system is a great idea, but i feel that they can be tweaked just a bit to make an Epic Backpacking Tool.

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