The Seven Highlights of Hiking Olympic’s Staircase Loop Trail

There are hikes serious hikers are afraid to admit they enjoy.

Maybe it is ego, or maybe it is the expectation that each time they go out, they need to crush 15+ miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but talk with hikers tends to be about their most epic hike. Comparing where you have hiked helps establish a supposed hierarchy of experts, which I have no problem with. Imagine if you know someone and they are sharing with you these incredible peaks, difficult climbs and remote destinations you only daydreamed about visiting. Now imagine in the same breath you hear that last weekend, they only hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. You might raise an eyebrow.

Maybe both. 

It always comes as a shock, but those are the hikers who are truly experiencing nature for nature. Those are the ones who aren’t just about conquest and adventure, but individuals who fall in love with creeks, sections of forests or a series of rapids just a few short miles from the trailhead. Listening to them talk, you are in awe with how nature soothes their soul, and how they connect with every square inch of land they walk.

Sometimes we lose track that each region of Olympic National Park has an easy, amazing trail that would be the main attraction in any other National Park. Local hikers tend to take them for granted, and yet, we continue to find ourselves drawn to them, returning numerous times each year. For some, it is Hurricane Hill, for others it is the Hoh trails or Sol Duc Falls. For me, it is the Staircase Loop Trail.

The Staircase Loop Trail is the closest National Park trail for residents of Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, taking around an hour and a half for Tac and Oly. For Seattle residents, Staircase is two hours drive, making it the perfect getaway. In less time than it takes to binge watch a few episodes of your favorite show, you could be wandering through the forests of the Skokomish River, having an adventure on one of the most underrated, easy trails in Olympic National Park.

Staircase is more than just the Staircase Loop Trail. It gives access to some of the more remote and jaw-dropping destinations in Olympic National Park, and is yet another example of the diversity and beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. Whether you choose to hike to Home Sweet Home, Gladys Divide, Flapjack Lakes, Black and White Lakes or even traversing the entire park, hiking out of Staircase has you hiking the Staircase Loop Trail. The  Staircase Loop Trail is hiked time and time again, before amazing adventures in the Skokomish Wilderness, and there are five awesome reasons you should hike it too.  Just remember to leave no trace.

The Seven: Staircase Loop Trail, Olympic National Park

The giant cedar along the Staircase Loop Trail, Olympic National Park.
The giant cedar along the Staircase Loop Trail, Olympic National Park.

The Cedar

This trail knows why you are here, letting you start out your hike out with something awesome. Within the first 1.4 mile, hikers are rewarded with a giant fallen cedar. After crossing the paved bridge across the Skokomish River and taking a look upstream at the washout, the trail meanders through huge trees before reaching a small fork marked with a smaller sign. Follow the sign and experience the awe of old growth timber, even if it is fallen.

The rapids of the Skokomish River, Olympic National Park
The rapids of the Skokomish River, Olympic National Park

The Rapids

Past the fallen giant, the trail takes a direct course to the river, giving you your first glimpse up the wild Skokomish River. The old trail is blocked off, washed away many storms ago, exposing a steep drop directly to the waters below. From here the trail heads upriver, giving more views of the river, and a few locations to step off the trail and head closer to the water. If you do go off trail, please be safe and know the conditions. One slip and you put more than your own life in danger. The best river view is near the giant tree growing out of the rock, which is the next highlight.

The rock and the tree. Staircase, Olympic National Park
The rock and the tree. Staircase, Olympic National Park

The Rock and the Tree

One of the more iconic views along this section of trail is often passed over by those not taking their time and looking around. Approximately 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead, there will be a giant rock to your right side, with a small tree growing out from the top. Roots drape the rocks, spreading like an army of tentacles searching for soil. The entire thing is magnificent, and is stunning no matter what the season. As an added bonus, if you walk toward the river next to the rock, there is a pretty great view.

The Giant Rock. Staircase, Olympic National Park
The Giant Rock. Staircase, Olympic National Park

The Boulder 

After about a mile of total hiking, the trail once again splits, leading day hikers down a rocky path that will eventually lead back to the river. For now, it passes by a huge boulder that is out of place amount the trees and ferns.This makes for a great place to take a picture and sharply contrast against the greens of the forest and the gray of the giant rock. The boulder also means you are just about to the bridge. While you may see many people’s track around the rock, try to refrain from destroying the vegetation around it.

 

The Staircase Loop Bridge, Olympic National Park
The Staircase Loop Bridge, Olympic National Park

The Bridge

Added in 2013, the new Staircase Loop Bridge replaces the old bridge that washed away in the 1990s, and made the Staircase Loop fall out of favor with those looking for a loop hike. Today, the loop is once again complete, giving hikers a chance to cross this beautiful bridge. Built like a miniature Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the new cable bridge sits high above the Upper Skokomish River, offering a one of a kind view of the intense rapids and stunning river views. Picnic areas are on the opposite side, and in the summer access to the river can be found.

Crossing one of the many creeks along the old road section of the Staircase Loop Trail, Olympic National Park
Crossing one of the many creeks along the old road section of the Staircase Loop Trail, Olympic National Park

The Old Road

After crossing the bridge, the trail comes to an intersection. Turning left leads up river toward amazing backpacking destinations and the headwaters of the Skokomish River. Turning right leads back to the upper parking lot near the ranger station. After turning right to head back, the trail follows an old road taken out in the 1970s. The road used to lead to the Flapjack Lakes Trailhead, but today is only accessible for hikers. The path is easy to follow and gets you through nice meadows and across two creeks, one of which has an awesome wooden bridge. Take some time to look for mushrooms, elk, deer and the great views of the small creeks to your left.

The Great Bend of the Skokomish River, Olympic National Park
The Great Bend of the Skokomish River, Olympic National Park

The Bluff

Now closed to access to the public, the bluff is obvious from the trail. Once the “road” trail seems to disappear, the old road used to be to the right, which has long been washed away. From the bluff, views of the great bend of the Skokomish are visible, but be aware the area is dangerous and unstable. To get a better view of the washout, head back to the paved bridge below and follow a small trail through a picnic area on your right. It is quite an impressive view from any angle.

 

 

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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