The forests of the Olympic Peninsula are filled with fairytale settings and stunning waterfalls. The Staircase Rapids Loop was our first ever hike in Olympic National Park and it was absolutely stunning! This loop is fairly short and easy, making it a great activity for families or a quick addition to your itinerary if you have other hikes planned in the area. Okay, let’s get into the details of the hike!
Getting to the Staircase Rapids Trailhead
The Staircase Rapids Loop sits in the southeastern part of Olympic National Park. When you get to Hoodsport on the 101, take a left onto North Lake Cushman Road (the 119). Turn left near Big Creek Campground, staying on 119. This road soon turns to dirt and winds along the edge of Lake Cushman. There are some very big potholes on this road, so take it slow. We did see smaller sedans without much clearance making the drive. There are also some pretty viewpoints along the lake that you can stop at on your way in or out.
As you reach the north end of Lake Cushman, stay straight onto forest road 24. It becomes paved again as you enter the national forest. Note that this road often closes between November and May based on weather conditions. We went mid-April and the road was open and dry, but it’s best to check road conditions here before your trip.
NF-24 dead ends at the campground and Staircase Ranger Station where you can park in the day use area and start the hike. From Hoodsport to the ranger station, it is about 16 miles. The parking area can get quite crowded, but there are extra overflow parking spots not far away next to the ranger station.
A National Parks Pass is required to hike Staircase Rapids. It is best to purchase your pass online and print it beforehand. It is $30 for a private vehicle and this is good for seven days. An Olympic National Park annual pass is $55.
Alternatively, you can purchase an America the Beautiful annual national parks pass for $80. Ours had just expired, so we picked ours up along with a bear canister at the REI in Olympia the day before.
Hiking the Staircase Rapids Loop
Hike Type: Easy loop with minimal elevation gain
Distance: 2.1 miles round trip
Duration: 1-2 hours
Regulations: Pets and bicycles are not allowed on the trail. Drones are not permitted. You must obtain a wilderness permit to camp in the backcountry – you can pick one up at the ranger station.
Our hike to Staircase Rapids began fairly early as we were eager to explore Olympic National Park and had several other activities planned afterwards. From the parking area, we crossed the bridge spanning the river. You can go either way around this loop, but we saw some info recommending going clockwise, so that’s what we did.
Right from the start, the hike is stunning, winding through mossy old-growth forest. Even though it was a sunny day, it was dim and cool beneath the thick cover of vegetation. The trail is well maintained and pretty flat for the first half mile of the hike.
We wound along the river, by moss-covered rocks, and beneath enormous trees. It was fairly empty, which we enjoyed. After only a short time hiking, we arrived at the bridge. The sturdy bridge is a great place to stop to take in the view over the turquoise water with the trees and surrounding peaks towering around you. After hanging out here for a bit, we continued off the opposite end of the bridge.
Here, the Staircase Rapids trail continues to the right. However, we wandered left down the North Fork Skokomish Trail a ways to see a bit more of the area. After exploring that trail for a bit, we turned back and continued along the Staircase Rapids Loop. This part of the trail strays a little farther from the river but the forest scenery is still beautiful. We crossed a couple streams, one of which has a little wooden bridge with some large fallen trees sitting above it.
The hike ends just above the ranger station. We really enjoyed this hike with its minimal effort for pretty scenery!
What to Bring to Hike at Staircase Rapids
Permit: Display your park pass in your vehicle.
Water: A good thing to have on any hike, no matter the distance.
Waterproof Layers: This area of Washington is frequently rainy, so bring a rain jacket! This isn’t too long of a hike, so we don’t think rain pants are absolutely necessary, but they are good to have to stay dry on cooler days and if you plan to do other hikes that day.
Sturdy Shoes: Heavy-duty hiking boots are not necessary for this trail, but it can be a little muddy and slick when wet. Trees have also been known to fall over the trails in the area, and while this trail is very well-maintained, there is a slight chance you may have to do a little scrambling to get over one.
Camera: This is an incredibly picturesque area to capture.