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.

A broad well traveled trail

A broad well traveled trail

Time moves quickly. I walked the same trail with my son on a three day hiking trip back in 2006. Now Garrett is a tall, handsome man about to graduate high school, but back then he was a twelve year-old boy who, though he had a bad cold, still wanted to hike with his Dad.

Back then as today, we stopped at the picturesque Michael’s Cabin. The appearance of the cabin hadn’t changed at all in six years. It was still well maintained and solid. The cabin was the home of the famous Elwha Valley outdoorsman, “Cougar Mike.”

Michael's Cabin

Michael's Cabin

We continued on the trail where it entered an old growth forest. The trail treaded its way between monster fir trees. It crossed a couple of pretty creeks and after a stretch of open scrub, descended into the Lillian River Valley.

We arrived at Lillian Camp around noon and sat among gigantic cedars trees in the shady valley on the banks of the rushing Lillian River. On the other side of the river’s edge was a vertical cliff of riotous growth where ferns, mosses, cedar trees, salmonberry bushes and an unnamable mixture of greenery were fighting for bits of sunlight, reaching toward the sky. It was as if the fertile forest floor had been set on its edge.

View across the Elwha Valley

View across the Elwha Valley

I walked over to the bridge where the Elwha Trail crossed the Lillian River. The Press Expedition of 1890 named many of the features of the interior of the Olympic Peninsula including the Lillian River. They camped here on April 1st 1890. The wild forest terrain has been tamed since their journey, for it took the Press Expedition months to reach this spot from Port Angeles. On this same spot two wolves attacked a Ranger in 1915. Today the wolves are gone from the Olympics.

I camped here with my son who is now all grown-up. Time meant changes, but what surprised me was how little this exact spot on Lillian River had changed in six years. This particular view seemed timeless.

>Camp Lillian July 2006 – Not much change with Camp Lillian in 2012″ title=”Camp Lillian July 2006 – Not much change with Camp Lillian in 2012″/></p>
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A wonderful old poem by Benjamin F. Taylor called “The Isle of Long Ago” begins;

Oh, a wonderful stream is the River Time,
As it flows through the realm of Tears,
With a faultless rhythm and a musical rhyme,
And a broader sweep and a surge sublime
As it blends with the ocean of Years.

We change, but the river keeps tumbling along. Perhaps there is comfort in that.

Garrett and Bret hiking the same trail in 2006

Garrett and Bret hiking the same trail in 2006

To get to the Whiskey Bend Trail Head of Olympic National Park from the Quality Inn and Suites, Sequim:

  • Head west on Highway 101 past Port Angeles – drive 24 miles.
  • Turn left at Elwha River Entrance to Olympic National Park – drive around 4 miles
  • Bear left on Whiskey Bend Road – drive about 4.5 miles to the trailhead.
  • Don’t forget that the entrance Fee to the Olympic National Park is $15.00 but a year-long pass is only $30.00.

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