On the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the wild and scenic river valleys hold seemingly endless and timeless forests full of rugged terrain. Possessing a treasure-trove of natural wonder and awe upriver from Hood Canal, the fjord of Washington State receives glacial-fed waters from the jagged summits. Full of adventure, beauty and solitude, the Hamma Hamma River Valley is one of the hidden gems of the Olympic Peninsula, chock full of life and outdoor recreation that rivals the majesty of nature found anywhere else in the country. The Hamma Hamma is the home of an endangered salmon run in the river, while bear, cougar, mountain goats and marmots roam the hills and rocky peaks of this stunning terrain. To see the Hamma Hamma is to see a slice of land with unsubdued backcountry glory. The Hamma Hamma is one of many rivers that are included in The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
Few outside of the Olympic Peninsula know the name Hamma Hamma; but for those who live, love and explore the Olympics, the Hamma Hamma is synonymous with excitement, adventure and pure natural bliss. Tumbling down nearly 5,000 feet in 15 miles, the Hamma Hamma encapsulates the eastern slope of the Olympic Mountains perfectly. Starting from Murdock and Mildred Lakes, the waters drop over stunning waterfalls, through lush forests and tumbling over giant bloopers that line the banks. The deep valley is surrounded by rugged peaks that reflect perfectly off of the pristine waters of the numerous high alpine lakes. Cascading down to the river, dozens of streams and creeks create stunning seasonal waterfalls.
The highlight for many who first see the Hamma Hamma River comes in two uniquely different locations. The Hamma Hamma River is usually first seen along roadside stops near the Lena Lake Trail parking area. Here, stunning trees line the banks while the river roars downstream, lapping the sides of moss-covered boulders. Churning and bubbling, stretches of the Hamma Hamma are perfect for adventurous kayakers hoping to see the stunning sights along this proposed Wild and Scenic River. Like most rivers on the proposal, the paddling is almost as intense as the beauty found on either side of the river.
While the lower stretches are slower and more scenic, the upper reaches of the Hamma Hamma are truly wild. At the end of the Forest Service Road, near the trailhead for Mildred Lakes, the stunning upper Hamma Hamma Falls plunges down 75 feet over two pitches. While the view from the bridge is decent, those with an adventurous spirit have bushwhacked a primitive trail to a few viewpoints where the falls show their true beauty. Surrounded by trees, the falls have eroded the rock, forming this picturesque waterfall. The falls have gotten attention among the more extreme kayakers, quickly becoming a plunge worthy of regional bragging rights. Don’t worry if you have no desire to ride down the falls, the views both up and down river from the bridge that spans the top of the waterfall are priceless and breathtaking.
For hikers and backpackers, the Hamma Hamma region of the Olympics is a recreation enthusiast’s playground. Five jaw-dropping trails await those willing to gain a little elevation. The Hamma Hamma River Valley is like many river valleys on the eastern slope of the Olympic Mountains: steep, wild and beautiful. There are very few hikes along the Hamma Hamma that are flat; most trade in the gentle grade found on the western side of Olympic for trails that burn the quads. The easiest trail to a spectacular destination along the Hamma Hamma is the popular and gorgeous Lena Lake Trail. Climbing from near the river, this incredible trail works its way up through a beautiful forest before reaching a wooden bridge and rocky section that will leave you in awe. From here, the trail climbs past a giant boulder before eventually reaching the picturesque Lena Lake. Perfect for lunch, a camping trip or even further adventures, Lena Lake is the perfect introduction to the landscape in the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
Past Lena Lake, off the same trail, two options for hikers, backpackers and climbers await in the Brothers Wilderness and Olympic National Park. On the north side of the lake, a small trail weaves through a wilderness region that looks like a location from the Lord of the Rings movies. As green moss drapes over car-sized boulders, towering timber looms in every direction. Out here, in the shadow of the iconic mountain known as The Brothers, the majesty of Olympic Wilderness is impossible to miss. Over time, if Congress supports the proposed land in the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the entire Hamma Hamma River could look like this.
Not to be outdone, the other trail branching out from Lena Lake leads into Olympic National Park to Upper Lena Lake. Like a miniature version of the Many Glacier Region of Glacier National Park, Upper Lena Lake is stunning, beautiful and one of the many hidden gems of Olympic National Park. As Mount Bretherton and Mount Lena tower over the lake, marmots whistle and mountain goats roam the hills. Upper Lena Lake is a favorite for backpackers and is a perfect example of the beauty that is found in and above the Hamma Hamma River Valley.
At the end of the Forest Service road that skirts the Hamma Hamma River, the trailhead to Mildred Lakes can be reached. Mildred Lakes is a wild destination in the Olympics that is loved by fishing enthusiasts, day hikers and backpackers alike. The region, which sees very few visitors, is one of two locations that help create the Hamma Hamma River and is as remote as it is breathtaking. The hike is hard to follow, with the trail sometimes disappearing in spots. It is the place for solitude and quiet reflection along the Hamma Hamma River, and where the wild spirit of the mighty river is created.
The highlight for most along the Hamma Hamma River is found up the Carl Putvin Trail between the Lena Lake Trailhead and the Mildred Lakes Trailhead. Located up the often-overlooked trail in the lands included in the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the path is short, steep and incredible. As the trail rises up the Hamma Hamma River Valley, hikers and backpackers eventually enter the wilderness of Olympic National Forest. Climbing over headwalls that give off views of waterfalls and vistas, the path finally reaches the first of many incredible sights. Known as the Valley of Heaven, outdoor enthusiasts find themselves looking at the Olympic Mountains reflecting off the Pond of the False Prophet. Past here, the trail enters Olympic National Park, climbing one more steep hill to lead to one of the most stunning gems in Olympic National Park: Lake of the Angels is home to stunning views of Mount Skokomish, herds of mountain goats and whistling marmots all around the pristine alpine lake. This area encapsulates the Hamma Hamma River perfectly, giving a glimpse at the unique and wild beauty the entire region possesses. The Hamma Hamma, with gems like Lake of the Angels, is where many who explore have their souls eternally connected with the soothing and inspiring power of the Wild Olympics.
The Hamma Hamma is one of many rivers in the The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, reintroduced last year by U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer. The bill would permanently protect over 126,000 acres of new Wilderness areas in the Olympic National Forest, and 19 Olympic Peninsula rivers and their tributaries as Wild & Scenic Rivers – the first ever Wild & Scenic Rivers on the Peninsula. Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water, and enhance outdoor recreation, the Wild Olympics legislation has been endorsed by over 550 local businesses, sportsmen organizations, outdoor recreation groups, faith leaders, conservation groups and local elected officials; and more than 12,000 local residents have signed petitions in support. Sign the petition and help preserve these amazing lands.
This article was written by Douglas Scott. Through his numerous guidebooks, including the Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park and 52 Hikes Olympic Peninsula, the best trails and experiences in and around the Wild Olympics can be found. More information of Douglas and his work can be found at Outdoor-Society.com.