Salmon Spawning Season is Coming to Olympic National Park!

Salmon jumping up Cascades Fall at Olympic National Park
– National Park Service

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

Pink salmon swimming in the Elwha River through Olympic National Park
National Park Service

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. 

Salmon jumping up Sol Duc Cascades at Olympic National Park

Sol Duc Cascades at Olympic National Park

National Park Service

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.

The overlook at Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park
Kevin Davis, Share the Experience 2015

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!


Have there been bear sightings during this time?
Hello, I am writing as a representative of the University of Washington's Environmental Policy group, Green Evans. In my role as Events Coordinator, I am hopeful of planning a trip for current Public Administration Masters students to get an in-person look at the incredible Elwha River restoration and salmon habitat recovery efforts. I would appreciate an opportunity to speak or email with someone who might be able to help me plan and set up accomodations for a group hoping to visit from Oct. 12-14. In addition to visiting the restoration site, I would like my peers to catch a glimpse of the incredible spawning salmon, and perhaps visit the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe salmon hatchery. I was lucky to serve an Americorps member with the Washington Conservation Corps in 2010-11 and participate in some of the plant propogation and preparations for the Elwha removal. It was an amazing experience and it gives me great pride to have participated. My hope is to share this with my peers, whose future careers in environmental policy will be shaped by such monumental movements. Thanks for your help! Micah Stanovsky

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