Few hikes perfectly encapsulate the spirit and feel of a region like Gladys Divide does for the Staircase region of Olympic National Park. Full of stunning views, breathtaking lakes, wilderness adventure and relative solitude in the midst of unrivaled natural beauty, the long trek to Gladys Divide is one of those trails you’ll yearn to hike, year after year.
Gladys Divide is roughly a 20 mile round trip hike from the Staircase parking lot in Olympic National Park. Typically not done as a day hike, Gladys Divide is a couple miles up from Flapjack Lakes above the North Fork of the Skokomish River. While most do this hike in two or three leisurely days, experienced and in-shape hikers can handle the elevation gain and mileage as a long day hike. With 4,000 feet gained in 10 miles, the steady climbing of this trail, paired with the distance, can leave those out of shape with weak legs or worse. While long and difficult, the experiences one has while hiking to Gladys Divide give a better insight to just what the human body is capable of accomplishing. Starting along the Skokomish River and ending near the start of the Hamma Hamma River, this trail gives you forests, waterfalls, lakes, valleys, snowcapped, rugged mountains and panoramic views that will make you drool. Except for August and September, Gladys Divide is rarely hiked, making this trail one of the best hikes out of the Staircase Region of Olympic National Park.
The first section of the trail is largely uneventful, as it is part of the Staircase Loop Trail. At 4 miles long, the wide, slowly climbing trail is easy for even the newest hikers. Following the North Fork of the Skokomish River, the trail meanders along an old road, passing stunning river views and tall trees. The road used to lead to the Flapjack Lakes Trailhead, until it was removed in the 1970s. Hardly a trace of the old road remains, aside from the gentle grade and lack of underbrush along the trail. Take note while hiking in the Beaver Fire section of the trail, as large boulders, which came crashing down in 1985, line parts of the trail. Once you reach a few fallen logs, next to what used to be a parking lot, the trail divides with well-marked signs.
Once you reach the fork in the trail, head up and start climbing up toward Flapjack Lakes. The trail starts out with switchbacks and eventually goes along a narrow trail with substantial drop offs to the side. While not dangerous, be mindful of each step, as a mistake here could cause serious injury. Crossing over the metal Madeline Creek Bridge, take in the wildness of the region and have a rest at a nice picnic spot on the other side of the canyon. With random sections of walkways placed over moss-covered, seasonal runoff areas, the trail feels quite peaceful. While steep for some, the majority of this section is a gentle climb. From the Donahue Creek Falls to Flapjack Lakes, the trail can seem quite steep to those unaccustomed to the elevation gain on Olympic National Park Trails. Do not worry though; you have almost reached Flapjack Lakes. Once you have reached the lakes, take some time to explore the twin lakes and the isthmus while taking in a fantastic views of the mountains above. Flapjack Lakes also has a pit toilet and plenty of camping for those interested in staying overnight.
The trail to Gladys Divide from Flapjack Lakes is considered primitive, which is somewhat true. While easier to follow in the snow-free summer months, the trail is not well-maintained and can be confusing for first-timers. The first 3 /4 of a mile weave through the forest, slowly gaining elevation while wrapping itself around a hill, away from the lakes. After the forest, the valley opens up to a magical wonderland that will take your breath away. In the summer, the valley floor is teeming with incredible displays of wildflowers, interspersed by huge boulders that have come tumbling down from the impressively-rugged mountains. As you continue to work your way up the valley, take a look behind you and enjoy the amazing panoramic views. There are few places in the Olympics that offer this terrain, so enjoy it, as you will soon be standing at Gladys Divide.
The view from Gladys Divide is tough to put into words and never looks as good in photographs as it does in person. With Mount Skokomish standing tall over the headwaters of the Hamma Hamma River, the river valley starts to open below, with elk and bear occasionally seen. Huge boulders sit on the Divide, offering hours of sitting and meditating on the greatness of wilderness in Olympic National Park and Forest. At around 10 miles of hiking to get here, your legs might be a bit tired from gaining 4,000 feet, but the views will refile your spirit. Rest up, but not for too long, as the trip back is just as long. For those who want more, you may want to climb Mount Gladys. By following the ridge to your left, as you look toward the Hamma Hamma, the summit of Mount Gladys can be reached by experienced hikers with ease.
Order the Olympic National Park Guidebook by Author Doug Scott. At 300+ pages, with over 78 detailed trail descriptions, hundreds of images of locations, descriptions to lodges, campgrounds and dining, as well as a city guide around the Olympic Peninsula, this guidebook will lead you on the greatest adventures Olympic National Park and Forest have to offer.
This is the Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula. The e-book is in full color, while the paperback is currently slated to be released in black and white to keep printing costs down. If you love Olympic National Park, or interested in exploring the nearly one million acres of wilderness, this guidebook will become a favorite.