Above the often over-looked Skokomish River Valley, in the quiet southeast corner of Olympic National Park, the Staircase region offers some of the best hikes in the state, all just a few hours’ drive from the traffic and pollution of Interstate 5. Away from the waters of the Hood Canal and a few miles upriver from the gorgeous Lake Cushman, Staircase sits along the North Fork of the Skokomish River, surrounded by towering mountains, huge cedars and gigantic firs. For many, this region is quickly dismissed, as it isn’t home to the rainforest, beaches, or amazing panoramas that Olympic is typically known for, but for those who take the time to explore Staircase, true wilderness beauty is discovered with every step (no pun intended).
Best known as the home to the Staircase Loop Trail, which recently received a new cable bridge, the hiking in this forested wonderland is home to some of the least explored trails, largely unclimbed mountains, and near-private lakes in Olympic National Park. There are many great destinations out of Staircase, but particular one hike offers everything you could want in just a 15-mile round trip.
Flapjack Lakes, which are twin lakes sitting almost 4,000 feet above sea level, offer one of the more memorable hikes and views along the Hood Canal region. Climbing 3,200 feet in 7.5 miles, the trek sounds simple enough. However, the first 4 miles of the trail have minimal elevation gain, with the majority of the climb, nearly 3,000 feet, occurring over the last 3.5 miles. The trail is well-maintained and popular for beginning overnight trips for families and groups of all ages and abilities, but the best way to see it is on one long day hike.
Starting at the Staircase Ranger Station, follow the trail on either side of the Skokomish River. One side of the trail will follow the river along a great path that features views of the rapids, tall trees, and mountains, while the other follows the old road to the trailhead. Both trails meet up after the cable bridge and continue for another 3 miles until you reach the Flapjack Lakes junction on the right-hand side. The trail immediately starts to climb, but not at an incredibly steep rate. Instead, after a few basic switchbacks, it follows a narrow path up a slope toward the lakes. Once you cross the rugged Madeline Creek Bridge at a little over 5 miles, the trail gets a bit steeper as you make your way to the next amazing site. At seven miles in, and after a bit of climbing on some occasionally slippery sections of an eroding trail, you reach Donahue Creek Falls, which tumbles down next to fallen timber and huge boulders right along the trail. This is an amazing spot to pose for a picture and sit on the log that spans the entire width of the waterfall. Don’t pose here for too long, as you are just half a mile away from gazing at Flapjack Lakes.
As the trail climbs the last few hundred feet next to Donahue Creek, the forest starts to fade away and soon you see the first signs for campsites and the privy at Flapjack Lakes. The lakes, separated by a tiny strip of land are like most of the high alpine lakes in Olympic National Park, clear, clean and gorgeous. As you walk to the strip of land, the lake on the left will give you grand views of Mount Cruiser. To the right, gaze back toward the Skokomish River Valley and look for eagles and osprey fishing in the lake. Black Bear are also known to frequent this region so make sure you are bear aware.
Camping is available at Flapjack Lakes, with reservations recommended during the busier summer months. However, the best time to hike to Flapjack isn’t in the heat of the summer. Instead, hike to Flapjack Lakes in late spring or after the first mountain snow. Seeing the mountains reflecting off the cool, clear water is a sight to be seen, forever cementing Flapjack Lakes as a favorite destination for a day hike or a night of watching the stars with zero light pollution.