Thrifty Thurston Explores 7 Rivers along the Olympic Peninsula’s Hood Canal


It is hard to put your finger on just what makes Washington State’s Hood Canal so perfect. Here on this majestic fjord, along the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the region holds indescribable beauty, prompting the imagination to run wild with natural wonder. What makes this area of the country so unique isn’t just the glaciated mountains, world class fishing, delicious oysters, spot shrimp or even the breathtaking lodging and camping. Instead, it is something much more powerful; acting as veins, the rivers of the Hood Canal pump life and energy into the region.

glen ayr lucky dog casinoThe seven rivers that drain into the Hood Canal are steep, beautiful, full of animals and are awaiting your family’s exploration. From the Little Quilcene River in the north, to the South Fork of the Skokomish River in the south, the seven rivers of the Olympic Peninsula’s Hood Canal region are full of adventure. Running into the Hood Canal, all the rivers are beautiful and each need to be seen. By using the information below, find your favorite and fall further in love with the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula.

1. South Fork Skokomish

A salmon jumps in the Skokomish River. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

The South Fork of the Skokomish River is best known, outside of the area, as the river that floods so often, salmon are seen swimming down the roads. However, this river has more than just a history of flooding. Dropping 3,658 feet in little over 36 miles, the South Fork of the Skokomish has iconic tourist destinations, as well as primitive camping and hiking. Best known for the High Steel Bridge, the South Fork of the Skokomish also has two stunning hikes everyone needs to experience, the Lower Fork and Upper South Fork Skokomish River Trails. The South Fork of the Skokomish is close to Shelton, Hoodsport and Union, making it a great getaway while you are in the region.

Best Hike: Upper Fork Skokomish
Best Camping: Browns Creek

2. North Fork Skokomish

The North Fork of the Skokomish River is pictured during a storm. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

The North Fork of the Skokomish is the longest, and one of the most-visited river along Hood Canal, as most of it rests in Olympic National Park’s Staircase Region. Falling 5,051 over 41 extremely pretty miles, the North Fork is home to camping, hiking, mountain climbing and backpacking opportunities. The best way to experience the North Fork of the Skokomish is to take the Staircase Loop Trail, which gives incredible views of the river, and marches through old forests. The North Fork of the Skokomish is best seen after heavy rains, when the Staircase Rapids turn into raging torrents of water. The North Fork of the Skokomish is also close to Shelton, Hoodsport and Union, making it a great getaway while you are in the region.

Best Hike: Staircase Loop
Best Camping: Staircase Campground

3. Hamma Hamma

Locals joke that the Hamma Hamma area was so nice, it was named twice. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

This river is so nice, they named it twice. Actually the name Hamma Hamma comes from the name of a Twana Village that was named after the “Hab’Hab” reeds that grow in the area. The Hamma Hamma River drops 3,834 in 17 miles, making most hiking opportunities here extremely steep. Don’t let this stop you from exploring the river though. From the family-friendly Lena Lake Trail, to the always breathtaking Lake of the Angels Trail, the Hamma Hamma River valley has five incredible hikes for all levels. For those looking to explore from the car, at the end of the road along the Hamma Hamma River sits one of the many stunning waterfalls in the region. The Hamma Hamma River is close to Hoodsport, which has many amenities.

Best Hike: Lena Lake or Lake of the Angels
Best Camping: Hamma Hamma Campground

4. Duckabush

The Duckabush River is always a gorgeous site to explore. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

Chances are, you haven’t explored the Duckabush River. If that is indeed the case, you are missing out on one of the prettier regions of Washington State. Home to great camping, awesome waterfalls and access to some of the most remote hiking along Hood Canal, the Duckabush River is worth the side trip off of Highway 101. Falling 4,847 in 23 miles, the pretty river can be seen and explored year round. With elk often seen near Big Hump, and eagles lining this majestic river, you don’t have to hike to fall in love with the Duckabush. The Duckabush River is close to Brinnon, which offers a few amenities and camp supplies.

Best Hike: Big Hump, Ranger Hole and Murhut Falls
Best Camping: Collins Campground

5. Dosewallips

Enjoy the Olympic Mountains, and watch for elk and eagles at Dosewallips State Park. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

The Dosewallips River is the steepest river along the Hood Canal side of the Olympic Peninsula, dropping 6,155 over 27 miles. The river, pronounced Dose-wall-lips, was once easier to explore, but a 2002 washout along the road has made access harder for non-hikers. While the old road can be hiked, and leads to amazing areas like Mount Anderson, Dose Forks and Dosewallips Falls, the highlight is exploring the gorgeous trail system around Dosewallips State Park. From the park, views of the Olympic Mountains rise upstream, while elk and eagles rest in the foreground. The Dosewallips River is right next to the small town of Brinnon, which has a gas station and store for supplies.

Best Hike: Steam Donkey Trail or Dosewallips River Trail
Best Camping: Dosewallips State Park

6. Big Quilcene

Olympic Marmots are most often seen above 4,000 feet in areas near Hood Canal.

The Big Quilcene River is home to one of the Olympic Peninsula most iconic trails, though the river often gets overlooked. Dropping 5,433 feet in 18 miles, most know the Big Quilcene from the trail leading to Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain. However, the Big Quilcene is more than just one trail. It is fed by Tunnel Creek, and most of the Buckhorn Wilderness feeds the region, making it a great place for backcountry hiking and camping in true wild nature. Near the river is the city of Quilcene, which has numerous bars, restaurants and a few awesome places to spend the night. Close by is also the great lookout views of the Olympic Mountains, Seattle, and Mount Rainier, all from Mount Walker.

Best Hike: Marmot Pass, Falls View Falls
Best Camping: Falls View Campground

7. Little Quilcene

With fewer tourists during the winter months, Hood Canal becomes a peaceful retreat, not far from home.

Steep and short, the Little Quilcene river plummets 4,409 in 12 short miles. The main beauty and draw to the Little Quilcene River is the solitude and isolation you feel when exploring the river valley. You can hike the short and steep trail up to Mount Townsend, but most avoid this river, as it is not developed and difficult to get to. However, if you do head to the Little Quilcene River, take some time and explore the forest service roads. You’ll see deer, elk, grouse and maybe even black bear, all in a beautiful section of land along the Hood Canal.

Best Hike: Mount Townsend
Best Camping: Falls View Campground

Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, visit our complete event calendar.

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