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Staircase Rapids

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Stand in awe watching the swift-moving waters of the North Fork Skokomish River barrel and thunder over a series of cascades. A great hike anytime of year, Staircase Rapids is especially impressive during the spring runoff. Hikers of all ages will be delighted on this easy and captivating hike.

The trek to Staircase Rapids is a heck of a lot easier today than it was in 1890 when Lieutenant Joseph O'Neil, accompanied by a group of scientists, led an army expedition here. The O'Neil Party was intent on traversing the Olympic Peninsula. Lacking the wonderful trails that now grace the region, O'Neil and company cut a mule trail up the North Fork Skokomish River to help transport supplies to base camps along the way. Among the many findings that this expedition would report was a realization that this wild area deserved to be protected. In his trip report O'Neil wrote that the Olympic interior would serve admirably as a national park. Nice forward thinking, Lieutenant O'Neil-I salute you.

From the main parking area, cross the North Fork Skokomish on a solid bridge to begin this hike, which follows part of the original O'Neil Mule Trail. Immediately pass a side trail that leads left to the small hydro plant that powers the ranger station. About 0.1 mile beyond, pass another side trail. This path leads to what was once an incredibly large cedar. Today it leads to an incredibly large windfall. The old cedar yielded to a winter storm in the late 1990s.

A few more minutes of gentle hiking delivers you to the riverbank. As you begin marching up the valley, a series of roaring rapids and frothing falls awaits you. Follow the thundering river from one mesmerizing spot to another. At 0.8 mile is a junction. The trail right leads to a bridge that has been out since the mid-1990s. If the Park Service ever gets the funding to replace it, the bridge will once again provide a nice loop option. Meanwhile, ask Congress how they find billions of dollars for boondoggles but not a few thousand for trails.

Continue your hike up the river valley on the much quieter and less-used Four Stream Trail. Soon come to Beaver Flats, a nice spot to soak your feet in the refreshing river. Next, pass through a forest of silver and charred snags, thanks to a wildfire created by a careless camper in the late 1980s. New greenery is growing in, so the views of Mount Lincoln rising over the valley won't be around much longer.

Emerging back in mature forest, the trail follows alongside a much calmer river. At 2 miles the trail drops down to Four Stream, which for most of the year is too high, cold, and fast to ford. The trail doesn't go much farther anyway, making this a good spot to turn around.
Driving Directions:

From Shelton travel north on US 101 for 15 miles to Hoodsport. Turn left (west) onto State Route 119, proceeding 9.3 miles to a T intersection with Forest Road 24. Make a sharp left. In 1.7 miles the pavement ends. Continue on a good gravel road (FR 24) and in 3.7 miles come to a junction. Turn right and drive 1.2 miles to the Staircase Ranger Station. Trailhead parking is on your right, across from the campground. Water and privies available.

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 56 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Staircase Rapids — Apr 16, 2014 — Bob and Barb
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns
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We hiked 0.8 mile to the junction where you go right to cross the new bridge to do the 2 mile loop. ...
We hiked 0.8 mile to the junction where you go right to cross the new bridge to do the 2 mile loop. After walking on the bridge, we returned to this junction to hike the 1.2 miles to Four Stream. This is a very beautiful trail along the South side of the North Fork Skokomish River which takes you to Four Stream. Despite the 15 blowdowns which needed to be stepped over in varying degrees of difficulty, this was a very enjoyable trail through a forest of beautiful old growth trees with a lush green understory of moss covered rocks, stumps, and fallen logs. No one else was on this section of the trail. We had light rain all day which added to the beauty of the trail. Flowers seen were trillium, calypso orchids, yellow violets, and Indian plum. We saw 2 pair of harlequin ducks, mergansers, and American dippers.
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Staircase Rapids — Mar 22, 2014 — tajartlc
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns
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What a beautiful hike this was. Very pleasant hike(walk) along the river. Went up the spur on the so...
What a beautiful hike this was. Very pleasant hike(walk) along the river. Went up the spur on the south side and ate lunch on the river. The river down on the loop was awesome. Full of tumultuous rapids and the roar of the water a bit deafening in places. The new suspension bridge is really nice. Even tho the drive was long for the hike, it was worth it. And the drive itself is nice.
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Staircase Rapids — Mar 08, 2014 — jbrook222
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail
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This is a very beautiful hike along the river. It just happened to be pouring rain and we were not ...
This is a very beautiful hike along the river. It just happened to be pouring rain and we were not nearly prepared. There were huge puddles on the trail. Eventually I stopped even trying to walk around them as my feet were already soaking wet. It was still a lot of fun and well worth it to see the river roaring. It's a really mellow hike, although we just did the loop that goes over the bridge. I think there are other more extensive trails nearby.
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Staircase Rapids — Feb 14, 2014 — Solreal
Day hike
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The bridge at the 1/2 way mark of the 'Rapids Loop Trail' has been rebuilt....
The bridge at the 1/2 way mark of the 'Rapids Loop Trail' has been rebuilt.
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Staircase Rapids — Feb 01, 2014 — MikeOnAHike
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail
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Nice river hike. Lots of moss, ferns, some big trees, and frequent river views/access on the Stairc...
Nice river hike. Lots of moss, ferns, some big trees, and frequent river views/access on the Staircase side of the river. The other side of the river provided a nice contrast with larger trees, less moss, and less river access.

I went a little beyond the bridge on the Staircase side of the river, but I'm not sure if I made it to Four Stream. The description makes it sound like it would be difficult to ford, but the ford that I turned around at looked pretty easy, assuming that you had some extra foot wear and didn't mind the temperature of the water. The trail on the other side was obvious, but I can't say how far it went. Maps imply that it wouldn't go too far.

There were a couple of blowdowns, but nothing too bad. There was one section where a small waterfall was flowing over the trail. I was glad to have poles there because of the slippery uneven rock. I think that may have been beyond the bridge on the way to Four Stream, so you wouldn't need to do that section for the loop.
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Staircase.jpg
View of the Skokomish River and hills. (photo by Maria Gudaitis, July 2010)
Location
Staircase (#112)
Olympics -- East
Statistics
Roundtrip 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain 150 ft
Highest Point 950 ft
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Mt Steel No. 167
Custom Correct Mount Skokomish-Lake Cushman

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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