Paddling the Duckabush Estuary

While it may often be overlooked by busy drivers on Highway 101, the Duckabush Estuary makes for a fantastic wildlife and scenic paddle.

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Background of the Duckabush River

Rushing down the Olympic Mountains to the Hood Canal, the Duckabush River calms to a gentle flow in the estuary. In the mid-1930s, a 12-foot-tall mound of dirt, fill, and concrete blocked off the four original channels of the Duckabush Estuary to create a base for Highway 101. A historic bridge with a unique construction type (concrete tied rainbow through arch) connects the main channel of the Duckabush River to with the Salish Sea. A quiet evening of paddling the Duckabush Estuary will give you a new appreciation for this site!

Practical Matters of Paddling the Duckabush

Plan to paddle here when the tide is at least halfway full- unless you want to walk much of the river! Then, keep the tidal schedule in mind so that you don’t get stuck in the mud at low tide on your return paddle.

Follow signs to the “Duckabush River Access” to park in the gravel lot. A Washington State Discover pass is required (get one here) and overnight parking is not allowed. Depending on how busy the site is, you can either follow the gravel road to the edge of the river to put in your watercraft or haul it from the parking lot. See the area of the red box in the picture below for river access.

Diagram of the Duckabush River access

Why Paddle Here?

It’s beautiful! At fuller tides, you will often see seals hauled out at the edge of estuary or hunting fish in the main channel. Read more about our local harbor seals here. Additionally, paddling is a low-impact way to enjoy the beauty of our natural world,.

What is an Estuary?

An estuary is where the freshwater at the mouth of a river meets the salt water of the ocean. Wetlands surround this incredibly productive meeting place where many plants and animals make their homes, raise their young, and hunt for dinner. Wetlands are also important for filtering water runoff and buffering nearby areas from floods.

In the Hood Canal, estuaries have long been a critical component of the life cycle of migrating salmon, seagoing trout, and char. Anadromous species are born in freshwater rivers, live out their life in the open ocean, and return to their place of birth to spawn and die. It is a sight to behold these powerful fish driven upriver by an instinctual force. While fish ladders help some salmon overcome human-built barriers to their native rivers, others are blocked by dams. In 2001, WDFW estimated there were nearly 20,000 obstructions to salmon freshwater habitat. Driven by Native American tribal court filings, the WDFW has been working to remove these barriers- resulting in projects like the Duckabush Estuary Restoration Project.

Save Our Bridge Graffiti

Visitors to this site may notice “Save Our Bridge (SOB)” graffiti on this beautiful old bridge. What’s that about? There is a project in the works to replace the current highway section (and bridge) over the Duckabush estuary. Several organizations are spearheading this project to restore the Duckabush estuary to aid the ecology of the region and safety of the road.

Primary partners in this project include:

Benefits of the Estuary Restoration Project