Views of precipitous slopes, deep jungled forests, and a cascading river delight both novice and experienced hiker alike along the North Skokomish River Trail. With a variety of options for either day hikes or long backpacking excursions there is something to be found for everyone seeking to explore the Olympics all with the convenience of being only a few hours drive from Seattle.
The North Fork Skokomish River Trail offers a variety of opportunities from a short out and back day hike to a multi-day backpacking experience into the heart of the Olympics.
Time To Complete
Summer and Fall
For hiking, the trail is best experienced during summer and early fall as those months offer drier conditions.
A National Park pass or paid fee is required for the hike. For a list of fee expenses it is best to consulate the Olympic National Park website as entrance fees vary (i.e. entering the park via car, motorcycle, bike, etc.)
Equipped with little more than hard tack, bacon, coffee, their livestock, and tools, LT O'Neil and his men were the first explorers to blaze a trail into the heart of the Olympics by way of the North Fork Skokomish River. Clearing a path through the thick and tangled undergrowth, LT O'Neil's 1890 expedition had limited luxury to lavish in the splendor of this picturesque area.
Nowadays, the seemingly impenetrable temperate forest and rugged country is pleasantly viewed from the convenience of an established trail, making it a memorable experience for any level of hiker. The diverse ecology, emerald waters, and lush canopy of Douglas firs and cedars are a rich reward preserved in this valley of the Olympic National Park.
What Makes It Great
Gazing through the misty forest at precipitous peaks being broken up by a foaming river with its maze of rapids and jade-cast pools, the North Fork Skokomish River Valley embodies all we could ask for in a pristine wilderness.
As the trail winds and follows the Skokomish, you are surrounded by a spectrum of bird tones amongst the tangled trees and ferns growing atop a cozy bed of mossy earth that comfort you along your hike. Black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk meander in the valley all along as bull trout can be seen drifting through the calmer patches of translucent river.
Like so many places in the Olympics, the brilliance of the North Skokomish River Valley is best taken in at a gentle pace. The primeval dense growth of the forest offers hidden sights that beckon pause and reflection as you hike and traverse through its corridors. Fallen logs nurse ecological communities of mushrooms and moss while seedlings reach towards the sky as rays of sunlight break through the canopy. Grabbing your camera to capture some close-up photography would be an ideal way to take in this leisurely growing spectacle.
For a shortened day hike, the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail is an easy 1.9 mile path with little to no elevation gain, above the cascading and surging rapids of the river. For a weekend-long experience consider trekking up to the First Divide Pass, thirteen miles one-way with roughly 3500 feet of elevation gain and considerably more remote campsites for better solitude. Yet, this valley provides a collection of hiking options beyond these two suggestions, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the trail maps and backcountry camp site information which are located on the Olympic National Park website for more ideas.
Who is Going to Love It
Whether during an overcast and misty day or a rare bright winter morning, the North Fork Skokomish River Valley offers transforming scenes that can be enjoyed by a simple day hike or multi-day camping trek. The trail system that leaves from the nearby Staircase Campground is an excellent opportunity to bring the family out for an easy hike on a summer day. And for those willing to shoulder their camping gear, there are remote campsites deeper into the valley that reward the hard effort with a peaceful niche in the forest. Photographers will also delight in capturing the eye-catching moments in this wilderness that unfold in diverse ways throughout the seasons.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Seattle, take I-5 south to Olympia and use exit 104 for US-101 North. Stay on US-101 N for 29 miles until you come up to the town of Hoodsport. Turn left onto WA-119 N and stay on it for 9.2 miles until the junction with NF Road 24 which will be a gravel road to the right. Turn left at this intersection and continue on WA-119N as it winds around Lake Cushman for roughly 6.5 miles. Four miles before the gated entrance the road will be gravel so be sure to check road conditions on the Olympic National Park website before leaving.
An entrance fee is required unless you have a valid Olympic National Park entrance receipt or one of the several National Park passes. During the winter, potable water is not available but there are no campground fees and pit toilets are open for use at the Staircase Campground. A backcountry permit is required if you will be doing any overnight backpacking/camping in the valley away from the Staircase Campground, and this is payable at the ranger station next to the parking lot or in the canister at the information board. And as always, be sure to check the Olympic National Park website before going on your adventure for any updates or notices.