hike: Olympic Peninsula – North Fork Skokomish River Trail
Three days exploring the SE/Hood Canal area on the Olympic Peninsula
I’ve been wanting to explore more of the rivers and rainforests on the Olympic Peninsula, so four friends and I rented a cabin on Hood Canal for a long weekend. The North Fork Skokomish River Trail was at the top of our to-hike list, and it was so beautiful that we decided to hike there two days in a row.
This trail is located in the Olympic National Park’s Staircase Region. A national park pass is needed to park at the trailhead, and while there is a self-pay station, it requires purchasing a $30 7-day pass with no options for daily passes. From Hoodsport, the drive to the trailhead takes about an hour. The parts of the road that are in the Olympic National Forest are full of potholes, then when you enter the national park, it’s smooth pavement. The pothole section is quite long and tedious, but do-able with most cars.
8 miles with 1,200 ft gain
After a false start on a forest road (thanks Google!), we started our hike on the Staircase Rapids Nature Trail in the early afternoon. This short one-mile trail parallels the North Fork Skokomish River, with multiple side trails leading to viewpoints next to the river.
The rainforest is lush and green with moss, lichens and ferns everywhere.
We crossed the suspension bridge over Staircase Rapids and turned onto the North Fork Skokomish River Trail with a plan to hike to Spike Camp, another 2.5 miles up the trail. I was hoping to scout for a spring backpacking trip here and wanted to see what the camp areas were like.
As we climbed higher on the trail, we were treated to views of the river valley. There were a couple of stream crossings, but only one was high enough to slow you down a little on the way across it. It was supposed to be a super rainy day, but luckily it only sprinkled on us a few times.
We started seeing snow beside the trail, and by the time we reached the junction with the Flapjack Lakes Trail, a few inches of snow covered the trail. Spike Camp was just ahead a short distance. We passed the sign for the privy before we saw the camp areas. It was definitely colder at this elevation.
After a quick stop for lunch, we headed back on the trail. We knew that we would be hiking part of the way out in the dark, and we had 3.5 miles to go. We stopped again for a view of the river valley.
We needed our headlamps for the last 1.5 miles of trail, and it was super dark when we reached the trailhead. All in all, it was a great day!
One of our friends had been sick and couldn’t join us on our first day of hiking, and we rushed through the most scenic section of trail since we were short on time, so we decided to go back and spend the day doing the short loop around Staircase Rapids. The weather was much clearer (although it did rain on us for a bit), but without the fog we could see snow covering the higher elevations around us.
Hiking on the Staircase Rapids Nature Trail again, but this time with a lot of stops at viewpoints next to the river.
We continued on trail, taking the Four Stream Trail for about half a mile before the trail was washed out in a floodplain area. Along the way, we stopped at Beaver Flat to explore next to the river.
Back on the Staircase loop, we crossed the suspension bridge and hiked the remaining mile to the trailhead.
The road to the Staircase trailhead follows the shoreline of Lake Cushman for miles and miles. When we reached a section of road directly next to the lake, the fog created an etheral feel and we were compelled to stop twice to take photos.
Hood Canal Oysters
Since we were staying at a cabin about 20 miles north of Hoodsport, we drove Highway 101 alongside scenic Hood Canal several times. On our first night, we stopped at a park pullout and explored a beach full of oyster beds at low tide. I’d never seen oyster beds before and found it facinating! In the tiny town of Hamma Hamma, there’s a restaurant that specializes in oysters. I’ll have to give it a try the next time I’m in this area.