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Olympic Peninsula, Wa

The Pysht: The Olympic Peninsula’s Forgotten River


The Pysht River

The Pysht River

Pronounced “Pished”, this region of the Olympic Peninsula seems to be quite a mystery among my peers and colleagues. While we all claim to be some sort of an expert, some areas get ignored. The Pysht (Sometimes spelled Physt) River is one of those areas. A 16 mile long river that flows from the Olympic Mountains directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Pysht is one of those places on the Olympic Peninsula that has experienced it all. Good, bad and ugly, the Pysht River is, on a small scale, the general story of the entire Olympic Peninsula.


The northwest side of the Olympic Peninsula is far removed from everyone. With the Makah calling the west of the region home, and the cities of Sequim and Port Angeles to the east, this murky, hard to navigate river is far from developed. The river, named by the Clallam Tribe, means “against the wind” or “against the current”, showing that the river, as far as human history is concerned, was navigable.


Navigating along the Pysht River, Olympic Peninsula

Navigating along the Pysht River, Olympic Peninsula

(First hand account of the Pysht Area Logging History: http://content.lib.washington.edu/cmpweb/exhibits/logging/index.html)


With snags, fallen trees, large rocks and tannin stained water, the water looks murky and full of minerals. Tannin, which comes from the Old High German word “Tanna” means oak or fir, when discussing trees, is a dark brownish red color, occasionally staining the river a rust color. While not common in ever river, it is common enough on the west coast of the United States to have a colloquialism about it. In the area, we refer to rivers like this as “Cedar Rivers” since the color of the water matches the inside of these amazingly great smelling trees. Fun fact about the word “Tannin”: this is where we get the word “Tan” from.

Logging along the Pysht, early 1900s

Logging along the Pysht, early 1900s


The theory about why the Pysht River is so full of debris and tannin comes from the logging boom of the early 1900s in the Pacific Northwest. The region where the Pysht River used to flow free and untouched, but when logging became a huge industry, the river was destroyed for logging purposes. What was once a meandering river flowing from its headwaters near Mount Ellis soon has been logged at least 8 times over the last 110 years. According to a the USFS, the majority of tress along the Pysht River are less than 30 years old and 98% of the watershed has been logged.


The result of poor dredging on the Pysht River

The result of poor dredging on the Pysht River

With logs being floated down and heavy rains causing dirt, debris and all sorts of natural pollution to clog the river had to be dredged numerous times. Today, the watershed is 98% commercially logged, still making it difficult to navigate. The estuary, once full of waterfowl, migrating salmon and sea life was used as the dumping point for the dredging, making the mouth of the Pysht River clogged and ugly. The river has also been diverted numerous times, thanks to highways, logging roads and agricultural development in the area.


An Old Trestle along the Pysht River, Olympic Peninsula

An Old Rail Trestle along the Pysht River, Olympic Peninsula

The Pysht River is still actually a very good river to go fishing on, especially fly and salmon fishing. With 9 different types of freshwater fish, including all 5 types of Pacific Salmon still running, it is less crowded than the nearby Hoko River, which is stocked yearly. The Coho Salmon run is supposedly almost gone, but numerous community attempts have been made to restore it to it’s historic numbers.

Come Fish on the Pysht River, Olympic Peninsula

Come Fish on the Pysht River, Olympic Peninsula


(Fishing information: http://fly-fishinginfo.com/PhystWashingtonFlyFishing)


It would be easy to dismiss the Pysht River as just another river in the Pacific Northwest that was destroyed by logging, agriculture and human growth, however, that is only half the story. The Pysht River may soon start being taken care of and cleaned up, thanks in part to the Elwha Dam removal. (Link: http://exotichikes.com/dammed-no-more-the-elwha-river-is-free-for-you-to-enjoy-on-amazing-day-hikes/ )  This river has the possibility to once again be majestic. Just like the forests on the Pacific Northwest, this region can rebound. We can stop years of neglect and devastation to the environment and maybe, just maybe have a strong, healthy salmon run for our children. The Pysht River is better today than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, now there are wildflowers along the banks and an occasional beaver being spotted. Elk, deer and the occasional black bear have returned and soon we will see the numbers for the 2013 Coho Salmon run. Hopefully these will be higher than last year and the area can start to be used by enthusists of all kinds.


Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls. Image from OlympicPeninsulaWaterfalltrails.com


The Pysht River is largely ignored by tourists and locals alike. However, it is briefly mentioned in a song (listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohYQUQQ9J2U ) sang by the great Cap’n Puget. Also, near the Pysht River is Beaver Creek Falls (Pictured above) which is an amazing waterfall you all must see!!

Link: http://www.olympicpeninsulawaterfalltrail.com/beaver-falls)


Directions- Go along Highway 101 to Sappho. Head North on Highway 113. Turn left on the gravel road south of the bridge to follow the river upstream. To follow the river downstream, take a right on Highway 112.


As always, thanks for reading!

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