Olympic National Park is composed of a varied set of environs, everything from verdant green rainforests to coastal beaches to jagged mountain peaks. The Staircase area of the park, in the southeastern corner, is one that I am quite familiar with having lived there for a month while working on a trail crew. Perhaps my residence there makes me biased, but I can attest that the Staircase area is one of the most beautiful areas of the park.
The Staircase Ranger Station is only a two hour drive from Seattle, quite reasonable when compared with the five hour journey to the coast. This wilderness is even closer for residents of Olympia. I love the two lane highway that winds along the Puget Sound then into the park, even though I do tend to get a bit carsick on the twister sections. After passing many swimming holes and diving rocks on the shores of Lake Cushman, I am always excited to see the petite Ranger Station at the end of the lake. Procuring overnight permits only takes a few minutes, then it’s time to put on my hiking boots and make some adjustments to my pack before starting up the trail.
The North Fork of the Skokomish trail parallels the Skokomish River as it tumbles down from melting snowfields. The first nine miles of the trail weave through groves of cedars and fields of ferns. Huckleberries and salmonberries line the trail making perfect snacks for hungry hikers. I hike past a few backcountry campsites and the junction to Flapjack Lakes and Black and White Lake. Flapjack Lakes is one of the most popular spots in the park for good reason with two emerald green mountain lakes separated only by a thin strip of land. In the past, I’ve backpacked a loop, climbing up the steep trail to Black and White Lakes then crossing over to Flapjack Lakes, but this trip I head straight, continuing up the North Fork trail.
Seven miles in, I set up camp at Camp Pleasant which is true to its name. Its location on the bank of the river is perfect for cooling down after a hot hike. The only downside to its proximity to water is that there is an abundance of mosquitoes but they are bearable. After a good night’s rest, I’m up and moving again, ready to gain 3000 feet in elevation up to First Divide. For this stretch of the journey I only carry a daypack since I will be spending another night at Camp Pleasant. A relatively flat two miles provide the necessary warm-up before steep switch backs that start past Nine-Stream Camp. Though the elevation gain gets me breathing, it is worth it once I reach the wildflower meadows in the subalpine zone. I see a rainbow of colors: red Indian paintbrushes, orange tiger lilies, yellow daisies, indigo lupines, and purple asters. As if this were not enough, I am greeted by views of rugged peaks and sharp ridgelines, their grey sides coated with swaths of green. The panorama is completed when I reach First Divide, the pass between the Skokomish valley to the east and the Duckabush valley to the west.
I soak in the views as I eat a late lunch and catch my breath but I am propelled back into action with the appearance of grey storm clouds on the horizon. The hike back to camp is much faster on the way down although I start to notice the sunburn I’ve been developing. Finally, exhausted, I reach my tent and happily consume dinner. The hike out the next day is uneventful, although the scenery is just as spectacular the second time.
I highly recommend this hike to anyone who has a love for wildflowers, huckleberries, mountains, or being outside in general. Even though I did not see any wildlife on this trip, in the past I’ve seen grouses, bears, and elk along the trail. If you’re looking for an adventure, hike the North Fork of the Skokomish!
– Sarah, SCA intern