Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Staircase: Step up into the Olympic National Park

Part of the Skokomish River

           Nestled on the Southeast side of the Olympic Peninsula, the Staircase entrance to the Olympic national park is a dreamland. Easily accessible from Seattle and Olympia, yet tucked away and hidden in the Shadows of Mt. Lincoln and behind Lake Cushman, Staircase reminds us of the rugged nature in which makes up the Olympic peninsula. With a myriad of trails and a well maintained campground, staircase is a great destination for serous hikers, climbers or weekend car campers.

Staircase Ranger Station
From Olympia, Staircase is just 53 miles, but thanks to county highways and dirt roads, it takes about an hour and a half to arrive. The drive is basic, yet, once you leave Shelton and drive toward Hoodsport, you can see eagles, seals and more along the Hood Canal. In fact, in early 2012, a Gray Whale was spotted from a dock in Hoodsport. Once in Hoodsport, take the left turn after the IGA store and follow all signs to the Olympic National Park and Lake Cushman. Follow the road until it comes to the end, giving you a choice to turn left or right. If you turn right, you can access the Olympic National Forest and Mt. Ellinor, but for this trip, turn left and weave your way along a well maintained dirt road to the Staircase Ranger Station.

Once you reach the parking lot and ranger station, a number of trails will be available for you to enjoy. On the right of the Ranger Station (when facing it) is a road that will lead you to the trail which you can try and get to Wagon Wheel Lake. Wagon Wheel Lake is only 5.6 miles round trip, but on the way to the lake you gain just under 4000ft in elevation. This is a rough trip in any weather condition and should only be done by hikers who are in shape and prepared for all weather conditions. It may be sunny or warmish at Staircase, but conditions at Wagon Wheel could be treacherous. Ask the rangers for conditions before you head up!

The place where the Bridge used to be
Nothing Devilish here
For a better trail, go left from the ranger’s station and cross the bridge. This trail allows you to head toward many other trails and destinations. For less experienced hikers, head down the trail on the left after the bridge and follow the river to a rocky alcove where a bridge used to cross to form a loop. From here, walk along the river, dip your feet in snow run off and enjoy the east side of the rainforest, complete with deer, elk, salamanders and banana slugs! This trail is great for families or just a quick hike for a day trip around the entire peninsula. I recommend hiking this half a loop, and if you want the bridge to rebuilt, write your congress person and ask for more funding for basic park infrastructure! Staircase Rapids is a great area, and while it has lost its luster since it was known as "The Devil’s Staircase”, it is still a great place to spend an afternoon with friends family members and loved ones.

 If you want more of a hike, you can stay on the main trail over the bridge and head toward the Flapjack lake trail and beyond. Flapjack Lakes is an 8 mile round trip hike from the Staircase ranger station, and again, has quite a steep climb once you get off the main trail. With almost 3000 ft elevation gain in 4 miles, be prepared for a little burning in your quads. The trail is well marked and well maintained, and is a great place to spend a day and maybe camp and enjoy a sunset. Again, be prepared for any weather condition and check with the rangers for all updates on conditions and wildlife updates.

This is the Fire that Killed the Mt. Lincoln Trail...The John Wilkes Booth of trails
One hike I recommend, but is no longer on any map, is the Mt. Lincoln trail. The Mt. Lincoln Trail once was a great, popular trail, but a fire in the “Beaver” area in 1985 destroyed the trail and the park service decided not to do any upkeep in the area. While it is not well marked, and the trail disappears in places, it is a fantastic place to go, explore the Olympic Mountains and be totally alone. Listen to the birds chirp, the wind whip through the hills and reconnect with your inner explorer, all thanks to a careless camper’s fire in 1985 and a decision to let the trail get overgrown.

Hiking to Flapjack Lake
One thing you need to know about this area is that, if you want, you can walk these trails for days, taking different routes to explore all the lakes and mountains in the Olympic National Park. While roads may not really be convenient for your trip to the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic national park, a system of trails will connect you to places few people venture out to each year. From Staircase, you can literally walk anywhere, even all the way to the ocean, along the trails of the Olympic National Park.

The Staircase area of the Olympic National Park isn’t flashy or crowded like the Hoh Rainforest or Hurricane Ridge, but it does have all the aspects of the Olympic Peninsula that we know and love. It has moss laden trees, cold rivers from melted snow, jagged peaks and clean, fresh air that when inhaled, makes you remember why we have and always will connect with nature on a spiritual level. Staircase is a place nearby that you can go, explore and fall in love with nature, all in an afternoon. For tours of the area, please call us at (360) 350-8938!

Yours truly on the trail out of Staircase

Happy Hiking and see you on the trails!
Douglas Scott

Fun Facts:
-          -  Lake Cushman, WA is the fastest growing community in Mason County
      - Skokomish or “fresh water people” is a alteration of  the Twana tribe’s words “s’kaw” ( fresh water) and “mish” (people) 
          - The ONP’s Staircase Rapids used to be called “The Devil’s Staircase” because passage along the river was extremely difficult in the 1890s
              -  Hoodsport Hamburger and Ice Cream has the best milkshakes after a summer day of hiking!

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