A year-round destination, the Staircase region of Olympic National Park provides everything from a leisurely walk along the river to a multi-day wilderness adventure, and everything in between.
The Staircase Rapids Loop begins near the Staircase Ranger Atation crossing the North Fork Skykomish River onto a well-maintained and shady trail meandering through old-growth forest. A side trail leads to Big Cedar, a once stately sentinel that has since fallen and now provides an up close and personal look at the immense and extensive root systems of these ancient giants. The trail to Big Cedar and the river viewpoint are wheelchair accessible, although some assistance may be needed.
Towering firs shade the trail, which follows a series of drops over which water churns and tumbles into deep bluish-green pools.
As you continue along the gently graded trail, you’ll come upon the recently installed suspension bridge. The views from the bridge are stunning and there are several areas along the river to gaze up at this marvel of engineering, which finally returned this hike to a loop after a washout in the mid-1990s that destroyed the old bridge.
There is a campground with 50 tent/car sites and five walk-in sites available on a first come, first served basis, many of which have a view of and access to the river. The sites are large, offering a bit more space between you and your neighbors.
Cross the bridge and picnic or sit on the rocks. The trail continues along the other side of the river until you come to a dead-end where the trail and hillside has washed away. You’ll get an amazing view of the Staircase area once you’re done marveling at the power of nature and backtrack about 50 yards to follow the trail up through the woods and then back down to the parking area behind the ranger station.
Staircase is a great basecamp for other park adventures, too. Meander the Shady Lane trail that brings you to Lake Cushman in less than one mile, or take the Four Stream trail to Beaver Flat. Longer hiking and backpack options include the North Fork Skykomish trail, Wagonwheel Lake, or the strenuous yet stunning trek to Flapjack Lakes.
Good to know
4 miles round-trip
Green Trails Mt. Steel No. 167
NPS or America The Beautiful Pass is required. Dogs are not allowed on trails in Olympic National Park.
How to get there
From Highway 101 near Hoodsport, turn west onto Highway 119, Lake Cushman Road. At 9.3 miles, you’ll come to a T intersection with Forest Road 24. Turn left onto Forest Road 24, the first two miles of which are paved before giving way to a good gravel road. In about three miles you will come to the causeway/bridge (now closed) across Lake Cushman. Stay on Forest Road 24, following the signs to the Staircase Ranger Station and entrance to Olympic National Park. Parking is on the right.