Salmon Spawning Season is Coming to Olympic National Park!
Wild creatures of all kinds call Olympic National Park home, but the park's temporary residents may be the most impressive, with the annual salmon migration offering one of America's most exciting displays of wildlife.
Salmon spawning in Olympic
Five species of salmon live in the Pacific waters off the Washington coast, and all five enter the rivers of Olympic National Park to spawn. Different species spawn at different times, but the best time to see the salmon migration is in the fall, when several species – including Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon – flock to freshwater tributaries along the coast in staggering numbers.
The migration of these species had been hindered since the early 1900s when the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were built. Since 2001, the National Park Foundation has granted $13.1 million to reopen more than 70 miles of pristine spawning and rearing areas. As a result of the Elwha River restoration efforts, salmon populations are expected to swell from 3,000 to more than 300,000 as the river returns to its natural and free-flowing state.
If you're looking for places to witness the salmon's dramatic upstream journey, practically every river and good-sized stream in Olympic National Park will work, but the aptly named Salmon Cascades Overlook in the Sol Duc Valley offers one of the best vantage points. It is here that coho salmon must make the leap over the falls before heading to spawning grounds farther up the Sol Duc River.
Coho salmon are the most abundant and widespread salmon in Olympic National Park, spawning in rivers all over the peninsula. Chinook salmon, the largest of the Pacific salmon, spawn in both spring and late summer in the Hoh, Queets, and Quillayute rivers, among others. Bright red sockeye salmon arrive later, entering the Quinault and Ozette river systems in November and December.
Fishing for salmon
Many visitors arrive during salmon spawning season armed only with a camera, but for some, a rod and reel are must-bring items. Fishing for salmon in Olympic National Park is a challenge, but the fall season offers a chance to potentially catch and release some of the biggest fish of the year.
A number of rules are in place to protect the salmon, especially during spawning season. Certain areas may be closed to fishing while the salmon are spawning – the Salmon Cascades Overlook area on the Sol Duc River is a strictly no-fishing zone – while other spots may be catch-and-release only. Barbless hooks are generally a requirement to allow safe release of the fish, and live bait is prohibited in the park. Specific regulations vary from year to year, so please check the most current Olympic National Park Fishing Regulations before you go.
Whether you visit for an unforgettable fishing trip (we’ve got a few other ideas on prime fishing spots in national parks too) or are simply looking for the opportunity to see one of nature's greatest wildlife migrations, seeing salmon spawning in Olympic National Park is an experience not to be missed. The fall months offer some of the year's best opportunities to witness these incredible fish on the move!