By Douglas Scott
A large, clear lake sits in the southeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, shimmering off the sunlight at the foot of the Olympic mountain range. Lake Cushman is over 8 miles long in length and offers 23 miles of shoreline. It is quickly becoming one of the more popular locations for numerous outdoor recreation activities.
Sitting in the foothills along the southern end of Hood Canal, just a few miles off Highway 101, Lake Cushman gives nature-seekers access to incredible panoramic views, miles of trails through wilderness, a chance to paddle on the deep blue waters, and some of the best camping around. No matter what you do while visiting this gem of a location in Mason County, Lake Cushman offers a lifetime worth of experiences, just a short drive from the I-5 corridor.
Lake Cushman, originally called E’lo’atby by the Twana, is an area full of interesting history, mythology and scenic beauty. The lake is a natural lake, but was made deeper in 1924 when Tacoma City Light built a dam along the south eastern end, giving it the shape it has today. The flooding of the lake covered old hotels and tourist infrastructure of the region, halting growth to the Lake Cushman community. Today, Lake Cushman is returning to its early days of tourism, welcoming visitors from around the world who hope to experience the beauty in our backyard.
The dam at the end of the lake may have destroyed the old hotels of yesteryear, but Lake Cushman still offers amazing camping experiences along its shores. One of the most popular places to camp is Skokomish Park at Lake Cushman. Formerly known as Lake Cushman State Park, Skokomish Park has over 100 campsites, 41,500 feet of shoreline and three boat launch ramps for those looking to explore the region from the water. The views here of the mountains and tree-capped hills are amazing, and catching a sunrise or a sunset from here can be a life-changing event.
For those looking to camp closer to wilderness, the Staircase Campground in Olympic National Park offers a great camping experience up the North Fork of the Skokomish River. Close to amazing trails to alpine lakes, rugged mountains and a spectacular loop complete with a cable bridge, camping at one of Staircase’s 47 campsites is a spectacular way to spend the night.
If you are just heading to the Lake Cushman region for the day, the region has a plethora of activities for all ages. From climbing Mount Ellinor, which offers one of the best panoramic views in the Pacific Northwest, standing at the lesser, but still beautiful summit of Mount Rose, or exploring miles of trails in the Staircase region of Olympic National Park, hiking near Lake Cushman gets you to unrivaled beauty quickly. From day hikes to incredible overnight backpacking experiences like the Duckabush-Skokomish Traverse and Gladys Divide, getting out into the wilderness around Lake Cushman makes for a must-experience destination for nature lovers.
Marcus Hampton, a resident of Lake Cushman and a local hiking expert, highly recommends taking a trip and exploring the region.
“The interior of the Olympic Mountains can be difficult to access without careful planning,” Marcus replied when asked why people should hike and discover the region. “However, the hills, mountains, and forests of the Lake Cushman area provide fairly accessible access to witness the very same sights, sounds, flora, and fauna.”
Staircase and Lake Cushman may offer a great chance to see true wilderness with just a few miles of hiking, but it also has another way to experience the area’s beauty. Blue Horizons Paddle Sports offers visitors to Lake Cushman with the unique opportunity to kayak and paddle around this gorgeous lake. Blue Horizons, owned and operated by Sarah Elizabeth, gives morning and sunset tours, letting visitors experience the beauty of Lake Cushman while paddling below the beautiful colors reflecting off the lake and the snow on the nearby mountains. Blue Horizons is also dog-friendly, meaning you can, and are encouraged to take your four-legged friend out on a kayak with you. With views of Mount Rose, Mount Ellinor, Mount Washington and one of the prettiest lakes on the Olympic Peninsula, kayaking on Lake Cushman is a truly Pacific Northwest event.
“At the edge of Olympic National Park, Lake Cushman offers a true wilderness feel close to home,” Sarah beamed while sharing her thoughts on Lake Cushman. “With crystal clear water, 23 miles of shoreline, mountain views and world-class hiking trails next door, it should be on the top of everyone’s list this season!”
Lake Cushman is an amazing place to explore for the first time or to rediscover each and every weekend. Driving around the lake, there are pull-offs to take in fantastic views of the mountains, rocks to jump off of into the cool waters of the lake, and access to miles of trails to some of the most incredible views in America.
Just a little over an hour drive from Olympia, all of this and more is awaiting your discovery at Lake Cushman. Plan a trip and fall in love with the Staircase and Lake Cushman region of the Olympic Peninsula, it will become a family favorite.