Exploring the Green River Gorge One Trail at a Time

Exploring the Green River Gorge is a challenge.  There are very few “official trails” and those lie at either end in the established Flaming Geyser and Kanaskat State Parks.  In between lies uncharted territory made up of fishermen, game, and local's trails that lead down to various locations along the river.  Even farther upstream before the dam there are few clues as to where to go.

Over the year’s I’ve hiked, swam, kayaked, rafted, and bush whacked through the gorge.  Even now, though, I discover new trails and rediscover the river from another perspective.

Last Monday I ventured out with research scientist, Michelle Wainstein and her intern, Amelia, to do some more exploring for signs of river otters.  This time I had two sites in mind to look for signs.  The first is actually above the Gorge near the Headworks road called the Kanaskat Natural Area.  It isn’t on any maps and the area is owned by King County for salmon habitat conservation.  

Looking down at the river from the road.

Looking down at the river from the road.


We parked at the end of a long dirt road and walked down past a gate.  The river lies below the road at the bottom of a rocky cliff. Then the road descends to an open area that used to have a house but it is now reclaimed land.  Sections of the property are fenced off to allow new native growth, that was planted, to take hold and the area includes riparian buffers of two streams, forest, and the undeveloped river shoreline. 

The old road branches with one continuing to one remaining house and the other dead ends at the most amazing river eddy.  A large rock outcrop captures the flow of the river to form a large deep eddy.  An adjacent small rocky beach is lined in drift wood and Daisies.  

Panorama of the big eddy.

Panorama of the big eddy.

Across the river is a long gravel and sand beach and favorite local's swimming spot.  Up river and down the views are of untamed river.  I listen to the sound of the shallow river flowing rhythmically downstream and morning bird song amid the forest cover.

I take the moment to catch the last of the morning light to photograph the river while Michelle and Amelia hike up stream in search of otter signs.  They disappear and I’m left alone with light, landscape, and moving water.  

I never get tired of exploring the Gorge and discovering the changing landscape around every bend in the river.  There are deep eddies perfect for swimming or fishing. Towering three hundred foot white sandstone cliffs with a flurry of swallows filling the sky.  Quiet deep emerald pools languidly flowing around water carved sandstone edges.  Wild water tumbling over boulder strewn drops.

We didn’t find any sign of otter at this site but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  We finished our exploration and headed out to the next site in search of otter sign.  On another trail with no trail markers or indications that it even exists.

To follow this journey visit:

More about River Otters

The area where we were exploring had lots of the kinds of things that would be important for otters.  A deep eddy which is good for fishing (for humans and otters).  There was an abundance of driftwood that had been swept into the eddy by higher waters.  There was a log jam at one end of the eddy that could serve as a den for an otter.  Also there was the rock ledges that they could easily slide into the water from their perch.  Also along the banks of the river there was lots of secluded areas of native plants to hide in.

Michelle and Amelia were venturing farther inland along one of the streams.  I learned that river otters can travel great distances up small streams and tributaries to find food.  Something that barely qualifies as a stream can be their trail to new territory and...fish.  They will even travel into more into urban areas and will sometimes travel half a mile inland to create a den.  On our way out we stopped where the stream ran through a culvert under the road and looked up and down stream for signs.

We were in a reclaimed area at the end of the road but otters can be found anywhere along the Green-Duwamish river and it’s tributaries.  I found this link to a book about living with wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.  Its important for us to learn to live with our wild neighbors especially as our region continues to grow and their habitat becomes more limited.  You can learn more about living with otters and other wildlife by reading “Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest” by Russell Link.

The Otter study and the Otter Spotter program is a project of Woodland Park Zoo's Living Northwest.  If you find any signs of river otters on Washington’s rivers visit the Otter Spotter and fill out the quick form on where and when you sighted the sign. 

For more info on River Otters visit:  http://www.bear-tracker.com/otterscat/