It's easy to just sit and watch a river, and the Hoh is my favorite
river to just sit and watch. I watch the water flow by and imagine
its meandering journey from its beginnings, deep within the
The Hoh River is born on the flanks of Mr. Olympus, the Olympic
Peninsula's highest peak and the heart of the Olympic National Park
[Washington]. There is a certain security with a river whose source
is in a protected area, such as a national park. The giant untouched
trees within the park's boundaries, some of the largest in the world,
are protected from the devastating clearcuts just outside that invisible
line. It's nice to know that at least the headwaters of such a beautiful
river are protected from the ravages of man.
The Hoh River is made up of three main branches. The North Fork,
which is fed by Mt. Tom Glacier, Tom and Clacier creeks, (Tom
Creek is often called the "Middle Fork" of the Hoh) and the
South fork, fed by Humes Glacier. The river is also joined
by several smaller streams as it travels its 50 or so miles to
the Pacific Ocean. For much of its journey the river flows
through the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the few temperate rain
forests in the world.
To see the upper reaches of the rain forest you must walk
there. From the end of the Upper Hoh Road, near the Rain
Forest Visitors Center, an often traveled and maintained trail
follows the river valley all the way to the flanks of Olympus,
some 18 miles distant. To say the scenery along the way
is spectacular is an understatement.
From the park boundary down to the mouth there are several
access points for anglers, both drifters and bank fishermen.
This is a very popular river and when it's in shape anglers
seem to come out of the woodwork to fish its bountiful waters.
The target species are mostly steelhead and salmon, which return
in respectable numbers, all things considered.
Just before emptying into the sea, the river travels through the
Hoh Indian Reservation, a small parcel of land near the mouth.
Long before the coming of the white man, natives relied heavily
on the Hoh's generous bounty for survival.
If this river could talk, what tales the Hoh would have about its
journey from start to finish. Over the past two years I have
spent a good deal of time on, in, and around the Hoh. I have
walked the distance to Mt. Olympus and have floated every
inch of navigable water, from inside the National Park
boundary to the mouth. I have seen the many faces of
the Hoh, from its gentle summer flow to the tempestuous
torrents of winter floods.
Each time I return to the river and wade out into a familiar
run, content overcomes my being. And when it's time to
leave there is a tug, a force tying to keep me there. The Hoh
River means many things to many people. For me, a prettier
river would be hard to find, and the thought of a wild Hoh
steelhead jumping with my fly in its mouth sends shivers
up my spine.
Hoh Rain Forest
There is something mystical, almost enchanting, about walking
around in a rain forest. You expect to see a hobbit scurry behind
a fern, or an elf tucking behind a tree. Standing in the rain forest
you feel very small. Humongous trees tower all around and the
surreal canopy of green mosses casts a glow on everything. An
aqua ribbon of water, the Hoh, winds down from Mt. Olympus
through the Hoh Rain Forest, one of three major rain forests on
the Olympic Peninsula.
Temperate rain forests look like a tropical jungle. The difference,
obviously, is the temperature. They are no less intriguing through,
with an intricate biological interwoven ecosystem.
Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir and western red cedar
all grow to incredible dimensions in the rain forest. Bigleaf and
vine maple are abundant, as are licorice fern, maindenhair fern,
trillium, oxalis, sword fern, blackberries and huckleberries.
The sitka spruce is unique to the temperate rain forests. They
thrive only in wet, foggy conditions along the coast. The needles
on the sitka spruce cannot regulate the amount of water loss
through them, so the coastal fog is integral to their survival.
You are virtually surrounded by life in the rain forest. Every
square inch of ground is covered, and plants and animals live
on top of each other. There is very keen competition for space.
All this is possible because of the mild climate and deluge of
moisture which averages about twelve feet each year. In addition,
conifer needles condense extra moisture from the air, adding as
much as thirty additional inches of water annually.
Besides the prolific tree and plant life of the rain forest, a
variety of wildlife also thrives. While in the Hoh Rain Forest
it is possible to view deer, black bear, eagles, cougar, bobcat,
otter and a host of smaller animals and birds if you happen to
be in the right spot at the right time.
But, of all the animals found in the rain forest, it is the Roosevelt
elk that is viewed most often by visitors, mostly from a distance
as they are very spooky by nature. This is the largest subspecies
of elk in North America. Some herds of Roosevelt elks stay in
the rain forest valleys year-round, while others migrate to the
Although it creates a soggy miserable affair for the unprepared
traveler, the abundant rain of the rain forest creates a biologic
profusion of life. The rain forests of the Olympics are the
greatest remaining true wilderness forest in the contiguous
Olympic Peninsula & National Park
It wasn't until 1885 that the interior of the Olympic Peninsula
was explored by Lt. Joseph P. O'Neil, who led the first
documented expedition. In 1889-90 an expedition led by
James Cristie made a north-south crossing of the peninsula
which took five and one-half months. In 1890 Lt. O'Neil
also returned and made an east-west crossing.
In 1897 President Grover Cleveland created the Olympic
Forest Reserve to prevent the forests of the peninsula from
destruction due to poor logging practices. What an insightful
man for the time. In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt
proclaimed a portion of that area a national monument.
Then in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a
bill establishing Olympic National Park.
Olympic Nation Park is unlike any other national park in the
country. There is no other park with such a diverse ecosystem.
The area contained within the park varies from rugged seacoast
to rain forest to sub-alpine and alpine regions. One cannot drive
through Olympic National Park. A few roads lead in a ways,
but all travel must be done on the myriad of trails and rivers
the park system offers.
As a general rule, every 500 feet you gain in elevation is similar
to traveling 100 miles north. Walking up the Hoh Valley and
climbing Mt. Olympus at 7,965 feet would be about the same
as driving from Washington state to the Arctic.
Although the Olympics are not particularly tall mountains for
the most part, they start at sea level, giving the appearance of
much taller peaks. Treeline is lower in the Olympics than in
the Cascades because of the heavy snowfall, especially on the
western slopes. Mt. Olympus, the highest Olympic peak,
receives over 200 inches of precipitation each year, most
of which falls as snow.
The eastern slopes of the Olympics are much drier, the western
slopes and peaks acting as a sponge to the moisture-rich air
masses that move in from the Pacific Ocean. In contrast to
the 200 inches of precipitation Mt. Olympus gets, less than
thirty miles away the town of Sequim on the northeast corner
of the peninsula gets only seventeen inches of annual precipitation,
as it lays in the rain shadow of the mountains.
Rivers drain all sides of the Olympics, but it is the western
flowing rivers that host the largest anadromous fish returns.
And it is the Hoh River that gets most of my attentions.
Park Boundary to Highway 101
Steelhead enter the Hoh River every month of the year. There
are enough fish scattered around the entire length of the river
most of the time that you can have successful fishing or at least
fish water containing steelhead, no matter which drift you choose
to take. Of course, after long periods with no rain and just after
a freshet, new fish will be heading upstream, and lower on the
river fishing might be better. However, most of the time there
is ample water flowing to keep the fish moving throughout
Floating is, without question, the best way to cover the water.
There are three established boat ramps on the Upper Hoh; the
first, a half-mile inside the park, the next ramp downstream is at
Morgan's Crossing, and the last ramp on the Upper Hoh is at the
Oxbow Campground. There are a few other spots along the
Upper Hoh Road where the river butts right up against the
highway and some floaters winch their drift boats in or out
at these points.
Even though floating is the best way to cover the water, there
are several places along the Upper Hoh where the bank and
wading angler have access to some prime steelhead runs. As
of this writing  there are good runs by all the boat ramps,
but this changes constantly with the everchanging currents and
channels. At several points you can park along the Upper Hoh
Road and gain access. There are also a few gravel/mud roads
that leave the highway which take you to the river's edge, giving
access to a fair amount of water.
For the most part, walking the bank and wading is pretty easy.
Most of the time you can simply walk the rocks along the edge
of the river, as the area is relatively flat. There is generally
enough room for backcasts since most of the good runs
can be accessed from gravel bars.
Entrance Station Boat Ramp to Morgan's Crossing
The six-mile float down from the entrance gate launch to Morgan's
Crossing has become my favorite drift. At least half of my trips
to the Hoh are spent on this water.
There are four or five excellent stretches of classic steelhead fly
water that you can easily spend the whole day working during
the course of this drift. These straight stretches of prime
holding water taper out gradually from rock bars and are
of gentle flow. The river bottom is covered with rocks of
varying size, making stretches ideal for the standard
down-and-across approach with either floating or sinking
There is only one stretch of water in the float from the park
to Morgan's that I would consider challenging to the drifter.
That piece of water is a couple miles above Morgan's
Crossing, just above Coons Bar, and is known as the
"Upper Hoh Canyon." There is a bit of maneuvering
that's needed to work around some of the boulders here.
Those with intermediate rowing skills should have no problem,
but it's always a good idea to get out and scout before your
first trip through.
One always needs to be cognizant of the fact that these
rivers of the Olympic Peninsula undergo constant change.
With every flood, channels change, log jams move, and
new hazards are born. As I write this, I can only warn
of what the river is like now. As you read this, things
could be completely different. My suggestion is, before
starting a float, talk with other drifters and ask about
river conditions. That's what I do.
Morgan's Crossing to Hoh Oxbow Campground
There is no difference in the water or the surroundings in
this float from Morgan's down to the Oxbow. Possibly
the water is a bit slower, with fewer side channels. There
are several of those "classic" steelhead drifts though and
we pull our boat over at the very first one.
As with the float from the boat ramp just inside the park
down to Morgan's Crossing, you should allow the better
part of a day here to do this seven-mile drift. You could
float straight through in just a couple hours, but to get out
and cover the water thoroughly you really need the day.
About the only technical difficulties the floater will have on
this stretch of river is the area around the oxbow. There is
some maneuvering to be done to avoid boulders and for lining
up with a couple of chutes. If in doubt, get out and scout
before committing yourself. Also, be aware of the ever-changing
log jams and river channels. You just can't predict what the
Hoh will do.
There are a couple of bends in the river that make contact
with the Upper Hoh Road in this section and offer bank
access to the wading anglers. One of the best access points
is through Willoughby Creek Campground, at river mile 20,
three and one-half miles in from Highway 101.
For those boatless anglers staying in the Oxbow Campground,
bank fishing the area around the oxbow can be a productive
way to spend an entire day. You can either drive or walk into
the oxbow and have at your disposal a large selection of
Highway 101 to the Mouth of the Hoh
The stretch of river right in front of the launch, continuing
downstream for a quarter-mile is prime holding water for both
salmon and steelhead. Most boats row upstream once launched
so they can cover the entire run.
The Lower Hoh River is favored by many fishermen. Obviously,
it gets fresh fish in from the ocean before the upper river. That
fact alone, attracts many anglers. Also, the Lower Hoh is a little
wider and a bit more gentle than the upper river - again, favorable
with many anglers.
There are two main launch and takeout points along the Lower
Hoh past the Oxbow launch. The first is at Cottonwood Camp,
about three miles below the Oxbow Campground, and accessed
by the Oil City road. This camp offers a large section of river
bar serving as a launch. This campground and river bar will
accommodate several campers.
The second access point is at Nolan Creek Bar, a couple miles
further downstream, but accessed from Highway 101. Nolan
Creek Bar is a large, boulder-strewn area where most of those
floating the Lower Hoh make their exit. It is also a great area
for the wading fisherman, with good bank access to about a
half-mile of great holding water.
South Fork of the Hoh
For those who value solitude in their fishing, the South Fork
of the Hoh is one of those steelhead streams that can offer just
that - solitude. Joining the main stem of the Hoh River just
outside the National Park boundary, the South Fork works
its way into a small stream in just a few miles as it grows
nearer its source.
This is the ideal small steelhead streams for the adventurous.
To fish it, you must walk and wade. It is too small for boats,
and there is no access anyway. But there is a good trail that
follows the river and those willing to walk and fish are in for
a real treat.
My personal experiences on the Hoh have given me my
personal favorites and I will share them with you here.
[For the FLIES for the Hoh River, click
But I can't emphasize enough that these are just my favorites,
and your personal favorites will probably work just as well
Since the Hoh is a glacial river and silted most of the year, I
tend to favor bright, flashy flies. Some of the new tying materials
much as Holographic Flash, SLF and Lite Brite, as well as old
standards like marabou and Mylar, are the materials I favor in
I would never say that catching steelhead on flies is an easy thing
to do. And I would never say that a large glacial river such as
the Hoh is the best river to attempt doing it. But if you put in
the time on any water it will eventually pay off. Certain times are
better than others, though, as concentrations of fish return in a
somewhat reliable fashion during the different seasons.
~ Steve Probasco
For a MAP of the Hoh River, click
For the FLIES for the Hoh River click
To ORDER Hoh River direct from the publisher, click
Credits: From the Hoh River, part of the Steelhead River
Journal series, published by Frank Amato Publications.
We greatly appreciate use permission.