E-Biking the Dosewallips River Road

E-biking the Dosewallips River Road in Brinnon, WA on the Hood Canal and Olympic National Park to discover the scenery, wildlife, and history.

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E-bike alongside the Dosewallips River

Intro to E-Biking Dosewallips River Road

Methods of exploring the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula abound, but one favorite is via electric bike. E-bikes help explorers experience nature in greater detail than by car, while covering mileage quicker than on foot. However, you must be cognizant of trail conditions, allowances, and traveler etiquette before zooming down it! A road closed to vehicular traffic more than 20 years ago due to multiple landslides and river washouts, the Dosewallips (DOH-si-WAW-lips) River Road is an excellent trail for moderately experienced bikers due to the generally gentle grade of the old roadbed. Check out more detailed info about e-bike use in the Olympic National Park.

Mile 0.0
From Dosewallips State Park

Following the scenic curves of Highway 101 about 60 miles north of Olympia, the first signs for “Dosewallips” appear as you pass the state park and iconic steel truss bridge that rewards visitors with an unforgettable view up the Dosewallips River into the misty Olympic Mountains. Built by the Washington State Department of Highways in 1923 at a cost of $50,000, this bridge holds historic significance. It was the first practical application of standardized bridge construction in the state. Standardization resulted in a significant streamlining of funds and building time.

Looking downriver to where the river forms an estuary in the Hood Canal, as late as 2016 a nearly 200’-long barge loomed large on the bank. Used as a seafood processing plant before being abandoned in the 1970s, it leached chemicals that harmed forage fish and their predators up the food chain. Restoration consisted of the removal of 5500 cubic yards that blocked the estuary and 2700 tons of creosote-contaminated material before refilling will natural driftwood and native vegetation.

Mile 0.6
From Dosewallips State Park

The last stop for drinks, snacks, fuel, sweatshirts with Sasquatch designs, and restroom facilities (in Brinnon, that means a porta potty) is the Brinnon General Store on your right. Once you’ve had your fill, continue north to turn left just past the Brinnon Community Center (stop in here if you need maps or a Little Free Library) onto Dosewallips Road. With fewer than 1000 residents, the small town of Brinnon is known for beautiful scenery, the resident Roosevelt elk herd, and a history of salmon harvesting and logging.   

Mile 3.9
From Dosewallips State Park

Make time in your itinerary for a visit to Rocky Brook Falls- a quick (0.25 miles roundtrip), easy walk from the parking area on the road (no parking pass required, kid and dog friendly). Use caution to avoid private residential property and the small hydroelectric facility. At 200 feet, this horsetail waterfall is one of the tallest- and prettiest- on the Olympic Peninsula. As Southerners (like me!) may notice, since “brook” tends to be more prevalent in naming waterways east of the Mississippi (“creek” is more common on the West Coast), these falls were likely named by a fellow East Coaster.

Before you head up to the falls, check out the Fish Board and Historic Fish Counts posted by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife for clues about what types of salmon and trout you may see in the brook. While the falls flow year-round, wetter weather brings more volume and hotter weather brings more folks to enjoy swimming in the pool formed by the falls. I once even saw college kids hike in a ping pong table to play a game here!

Continuing onto the trailhead, you pass Elk Meadow Farms owned by Joe and Joy Baisch. As co-founders of Brinnon’s biggest fundraiser and festival- Shrimpfest (now expanded to FjordFest) in the early 1990s, proponents of hiking and lodging in the area, and continued supporters of the local school system, the Baischs have been central to the success of the Brinnon community. Check out this video interview of the Baischs by county commissioner Greg Brotherton for more history on the Dosewallips River Road and Elkhorn Campground.

Mile 7.5
From Dosewallips State Park

The paved road moves to gravel at a sign indicating 2 miles to Tunnel Creek Trail. This is a potholed, but manageable road. Prior to record flooding in January of 2002 that changed the route of the river and washed out nearly 300’ of road, travelers could access the Dosewallips Ranger Station via vehicle. A popular entry into the Olympic National Park, the Dosewallips River Road was the eastern gateway to the nearly impenetrable Olympic Mountains via one of the deepest canyons in the park.

The Wild Fish Conservancy, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Hood Canal Coordinating Council are spearheading efforts to restore salmon habitat along the river. While there was much debate about rebuilding the road, ultimately the cost to rebuild a road that would likely continue to sustain damage was unpalatable and many organizations did not support construction due to potential impact on native salmon, steelhead, and trout in the river.

Check out this article for more info about E-Bike Safety and Manners.

Mile 9.5
From Dosewallips State Park

Roadside (often congested) parking is available at the trailhead. No parking permit required, do not leave valuables in your vehicle. Leaving the small parking area with your bike, don’t be discouraged by the immediate gravelly stream bed before descending to the decommissioned road. You are likely to see many other visitors e-biking the Dosewallips River Road, but tuck a repair kit and basic survival items in your backpack just in case!

Use caution when rainy weather and snow melt could increase water levels of streams that cross the trail in a few places. The generally low elevation trail (520’ to 1540’) avoids heavy snowfall for much of the year, but this trail is most enjoyable June-November. Try to time your hike for the blooming rhododendrons in June! To your right (north) is the Buckhorn Wilderness, while the Brothers Wilderness borders the river to your left (south).

Mile 1.0
From Dosewallips Trailhead

Enjoy the smooth, easy first mile of the road before approaching the washout that closed the road. While you may be willing to drag your bike down the path along the river if the water is low enough (at the base of a large landslide), the more conservative route is to to ease your bike up the detour over the landslide (fork to the right). This path is wide and graded, with switchbacks that add about 100’ of elevation.

Sounds of the river and views of 5700’ Mount Jupiter surround this section of the trail. Past the washout and a wilderness register for backcountry camping, characteristics of the Olympic rainforest appear more prominently- a cool breeze blows over luxuriant mosses covering rocks and bigleaf maples line the nearby river. Horsetails, licorice ferns, mushrooms, and vanilla leaf compete for space on the damp forest floor. This is the perfect spot to (carefully) video yourself e-biking the Dosewallips River Road!

Mile 2.7
From Dosewallips Trailhead

After crossing Stony Brook, you will wander across a sign for the decommissioned US Forest Service Elkhorn Campground being gently consumed by the forest. While camping is now banned, the sunny campsites along the river and grazing elk make for an enchanting picnic spot. Wander around the campground to check out the eerie field of disassembled picnic tables and fire rings. Thankfully, a 1982 bid by the local Public Utility District to construct a 10.4-megawatt hydroelectric dam here was finally defeated in 1994. The Washington Department of Ecology won a Supreme Court Case in support of the Clean Water Act.

Mile 4.0
From Dosewallips Trailhead

After climbing nearly 750’ over the next mile, you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the Dosewallips River Valley. For nearly half a mile, much of the forest was cleared by the 2009 Constance fires. Lightning strikes during an unusually hot and dry summer started multiple fires that eventually burned approximately 1600 acres. Firefighters struggled on steep slopes in remote areas to battle what become known as the “Heatwave Complex.” Foggy forested ridges and snow-topped peaks pull travelers’ gazes up from the fire-roasted logs that cover the foreground.

Mile 4.9
From Dosewallips Trailhead

The roar of Constance Creek presages a beautiful old wooden bridge built in 1972. Just beyond, an old, orange gate indicates the boundary of the Olympic National Park. Parties with dogs should turn around here. If you like to torture yourself, take the trailhead hear for the climb to Lake Constance. The route soon returns to old-growth forest and stunning views of the river. Take a breather to wonder at the pillow basalt cliffs that line the right (north) side of the trail forebodingly. These cliffs were formed underwater 40-50 million years ago!

As one final treat before you reach the decommissioned ranger station at 6.5 miles, a steep hill is bordered by the spectacular Dosewallips Falls that cascade 100’ through a narrow canyon. Caution: do not stop vehicle on steep grade! As you huff and puff your way past old gabions (metal cages filled with rocks to add stability to roadbuilding crews), consider the construction of this road by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s in an attempt to connect a road across the mountains prior to the formation of Olympic National Park in 1938. However, this history now makes it perfect for e-biking the Dosewallips River Road!

Mile 6.5
From Dosewallips Trailhead

Breathe a sigh of relief as the trail evens out over the last mile before the campground. Campsites with food lockers spread along the river are spacious and shaded by old-growth Douglas firs, hemlock, and red cedars. It will be interesting to observe the slow habituation of the old ranger station and facilities as birds burrow their nests further and further into the eaves, winter storms knock trees through roofs, and moss creeps over every surface. Pro tip: overhanging roofs at the restrooms provide some rain protection for cooking. If you choose to camp further along the trail, ensure you follow Olympic National Park rules. Overnight permits and use of animal containers for food are required. Bike use on trails past the ranger station is prohibited.

Mile 7.5
From Dosewallips Trailhead

Apparently, at this juncture of two glacier-fed “brooks” that form the Dosewallips River is a gorgeous campground called “Dose Forks.” Next time I am e-biking the Dosewallips River Road, I will push a bit further to explore this area! Since bikes are not allowed past the ranger station, tuck it in the woods to before proceeding.

Important Notes

Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail only to the orange gate indicating entrance to the Olympic National Park. Bikes/e-bikes are allowed on the trail only to the decommissioned Dosewallips Ranger Station, but not beyond.

Most data connections will be lost shortly after leaving Highway 101- download directions beforehand.

From Highway 101, proceed 8.5 miles to roadside parking at the trailhead. No facilities.

Trailhead coordinates: 47.7413, -123.0474