You might have heard the news: The road to Olympic’s Staircase region has been closed since late November of 2017 due to a washout. While the region is still accessible by foot, the washed out road means that those hoping to camp in the campground or those not able to hike are out of luck. Staircase is one of Olympic’s hidden gems and is growing in popularity, reenergizing the small town of Hoodsport and giving Hood Canal a much needed economic boost, so reopening the road is extremely important.
UPDATE- 4/15/18 Reports of construction equipment blocking access to the washout have been given to TOS. We have yet to substantiate these reports. If true, park across the bridge and access Staircase along the Shady Lane Trail.
The road will reopen, but it might not be as soon as everyone would like. The road, which is part of the National Forest Service, will soon be studied in late March or April and a timeframe for repair will be announced, until then, we will share what we know. We called The National Forest Service’s Forest Engineer, who gave us some great info, which is shared later in this post.
In late November of 2017, heavy rains soaked an already saturated Olympic Peninsula. Around the region already famous for the rainforests, the precipitation wasn’t uncommon, but after a dry summer, the region wasn’t quite ready for it. On the 23rd of November, after 19 days of rain in the month, the moisture became too much for a small creek on the Southeastern corner of the peninsula, causing a landslide that destroyed a beautiful picnic area, as well as washing away the only road leading into Olympic National Park’s Staircase region. In the three days leading up to the landslide, the town of Shelton had received over six inches of rain, five of which came in the two days before the landslide. Staircase probably saw double, or even triple of that amount.
With so much rain falling, it all filled the creek beds, slow turning trickles of water into raging torrents that destroyed everything in the way. For the newly remodeled and beautiful Bear Gulch Picnic area, this spelled disaster. What was once a local favorite for kayak trips, swimming and basking in the beauty of Lake Cushman and the North Fork of the Skokomish River transformed into a chaotic mix of dirt, rocks, logs and destruction. The landslide carved deep channels into the road that leads into Olympic National Park and nearly ripped the restroom at the picnic area from it’s foundation.
The good news is that the National Forest Service plans to reopen the road into Staircase by summer, more than likely before Memorial Day. However, all of this depends on what they find when they go study the area. We were told Memorial Day seems like a reasonable target to open the road back up, so we will remain confident. This is not, as many have wildly speculated online, similar to the Dosewallips washout that was never repaired. Plans are to fix the road and there is no reason to not believe the news.
As far as the once loved Bear Gulch Picnic Area, that is a different story. The National Forest Service will be looking for funds and grants from the Government, and we are awaiting news if that that is successful. The funding will determine how much of the site will be rebuilt, if at all. These repairs, if approved and funded, would be completed in a few years, at best. Because this region is now closed, the National Forest Service has expressed some concern about crowding around Lake Cushman. The area was incredibly popular, so they are not sure where people will go instead. Congestion could be worse if no new parking area is built, and could lead to more incidents like Memorial Day of 2017 at the Big Rock at Lake Cushman.
It is important to remember that the entire Staircase region is still open to hiking and backpacking. You will be required to park near the bridge area and official entrance to Olympic National Park. There is a trail that has been created, leading through the washout area, which means you’ll have an extra 1.2 miles of walking before you reach the trailheads at Staircase. The Outdoor Society went out in early March of 2018 and hiked around, enjoying the stunning beauty of the region first hand. During the walk on the road, we saw elk and eagles, giving us an even greater appreciation for a stretch of road usually ignored in eagerness to get hiking. Be aware that will the entrance to the region along the Shady Lane Trail is strongly discouraged, as the foot bridge along this trail has been damaged.
The road will reopen soon.
Bear Gulch is probably gone for many years, if not forever.
You can still hike in Staircase, it will just be longer.
You should buy our guidebook and discover all the best hikes in Olympic.
Discover a Hike a Week through Doug Scott’s Olympic National Park Area Guidebook