Rivers in Olympic National Park are world famous. From the beauty of the rainforest flanking the glacial-fed Hoh River to the Elwha River running dam-free for the first time in a century, the stories and views along the waterways of Olympic are stunning and historical.
Yet, one little river, tucked away in the often-overlooked southeast corner of Olympic National Park is full of adventure, history, wonder, and gorgeous sights. The North Fork of the Skokomish River, located just above Lake Cushman at the Staircase entrance to the park, gives access to some of the best backpacking in the Pacific Northwest as well as options to criss-cross the entire trail system of the park.
Starting out at the Staircase Ranger Station, the trail up to Home Sweet Home camp just past First Divide is roughly 15 miles long one way, and gains 3,833 feet of elevation. There are six backcountry camping locations along the trail, making this ideal for those looking to power up it, or for those backpackers looking to take their time in the wilderness of Olympic National Park. While getting to Home Sweet Home is a bit more difficult than clicking your heels together three times, the trail and journey make it the perfect backpacking destination.
From the Ranger Station, the trail starts out along an old National Park road that was removed during the early 1970s. Today, the road is long gone, but the mostly flat grade remains, making the first 3.5 miles to Spike Camp an easy hike for backpackers of any level. The trail skirts the Skokomish River, giving views of the Staircase Rapids, the suspension bridge, and occasional glimpses of Cub, Copper, and Lightning Peaks. Along this section, each mile you go, the less people you will see. Once you have arrived at Spike Camp, you have three options. You can set up camp and relax, set up camp and run up the trail to Flapjack Lakes and Gladys Divide, or continue up the trail toward Big Log Camp.
From Spike Camp, the trail narrows a bit, occasionally working its way from the river along a mostly flat and fun little path. Plodding along through majestic forests and across bridges over small creeks, this section of the trail is yet another remote and magical spot in Olympic. Down the valley to the west, the Skokomish River gurgles, barely audible through the dense forests. After two miles of calm walking, the trail crosses Donahue Creek before eventually arriving at Big Log Camp. Big Log is a popular backcountry campground, and once again, you are left with three options: You can set up camp and rest, set up camp and hike up the steep trail to Black and White Lakes, or continue your march toward Camp Pleasant.
Just past Big Log Camp, the trail crosses the North Fork of the Skokomish River over a nice Box Canyon. On the west side of the bridge, the trail reaches an intersection allowing you to either head up to Six Ridge Trail, which leads to the Quinault Rainforest or up to First Divide and Home Sweet Home.
About 3/4 of a mile past the bridge, you will reach Camp Pleasant, a falsely-named camp that is better used as a picnic area than an overnight destination. Sure, the camp works, but it is the least scenic camping area along the trail. The area is also the spot of a long since abandoned mine, given the unfortunately racist name “Darky Mine,” as it was owned by a black man named Joseph W. Moss. Today, the entrance to the mine is hidden with only a small handful of locals knowing the exact location. While the history here is interesting, your best bet is to keep hiking past Camp Pleasant and head the 3.5 miles from Big Log to Nine Stream Camp.
Nine Stream is the exact opposite of Camp Pleasant, meaning it is the perfect spot to call it a night. Located along the Skokomish River, the views here are great and the constant babbling of the river puts your mind at ease after a long day of backpacking. Open, with towering Douglas firs all around, Nine Stream Camp is one of the favorites in the region, often used both as a day-use area for hikers and for those resting up to do some serious elevation gain after ten miles of hiking. The trail from Nine Stream up to Home Sweet Home gains 2,600 feet in 3 miles. So even if you are working your way up there that same day, take a bit of time, rest and enjoy the splendor of this camping area.
From Nine Stream, the trail heads up, sometimes at seemingly impossibly steep angles. This section of the trail is the stereotypical hill section of the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains, skirting ridgelines and working its way up toward the pass on ten small switchbacks through dense forests and occasional clearings. With glimpses down the entire river valley expanding behind you, take in the views when you can. It is in the rare clearings that your journey up the Skokomish River really becomes impressive. In the early morning hours, the valley below can be filled with fog, letting you feel like you are on top of the world. Don’t stop here for good, though. The views get even more impressive. Along the trail, you will pass Two Bear Camp, a great place to stop if you are exhausted. However, if you keep going up another 1,200 feet of elevation gain, all your hard work will be rewarded.
As you finally slow the steady elevation gain, the trail works its way past the trail to Mount Hopper and a gorgeous little pond that acts as the start of the North Fork of the Skokomish River. From here, there is just one more push up the hill before finally reaching First Divide.
At 4,288 feet above sea level, the views here are incredible in all directions. To the north, look down on Home Sweet Home and the Duckabush River Valley. To the south, the Skokomish River Valley is once again visible, with Mount Hopper looming large to the southeast. Take in this view for as long as you want. The trail to Home Sweet Home Camp is all downhill.
Approximately 1/2 mile from First Divide, Home Sweet Home Camp expands in an extremely pretty meadow above the Duckabush River. Popular for Stargazing, great for wildflowers, and occasionally the site of a few black bears, Home Sweet Home is a backpacking destination that's good for the soul. Here, in the remote wilderness of Olympic National Park, this camp offers a relaxing place to call home that is as welcoming as it is beautiful. For those lucky enough to reach this spot, there really is no place like Home Sweet Home.