In the shadow of goat-filled, rugged mountains, along the shores of a deep and beautiful tree-lined lake, and through old-growth forests next to the north fork of the Skokomish River, the Staircase area of Olympic National Park is full of endless wilderness experiences, wonder and awe. This is the land of forgotten natural beauty, a corner of the Olympic Peninsula overlooked by the masses, inviting you to explore it this summer, just 90 minutes from downtown Olympia.
Climb Mount Ellinor
For many looking for a unique adventure in and around Olympic National Park, they head to the craggy peaks of Olympic, hoping to hike to the summit of the six peaks in Olympic National Park. The highlight and best known mountain to hike is Mount Ellinor, a nearly 6,000-foot peak that offers some of the best views in the Pacific Northwest, accessed along a well-maintained trail. Once the snow melts, the trek up Ellinor is steep but gives an unspoiled, panoramic view of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Baker, Mount Olympus, the Puget Sound, Lake Cushman, Hood Canal and the Olympic interior. Hiking here is a must-do for able-bodied visitors to the region, once the snow melts. (Check out this story about hiking along Hood Canal for more details.)
Paddle Lake Cushman
Long ago, before the Europeans made their home in the region, Quinault lore says that there was a monster that lurked in Lake Cushman. Today, the rumors of a monster have all been forgotten, replaced by sheer joy from the views found while paddling this remarkably scenic lake. Best seen with the guides at Blue Horizon’s paddle sports, kayaking on Lake Cushman is one of the best and most unique ways to explore the greater Staircase region. Flooded in 1926, the upper reaches of Lake Cushman rose above the old lake, letting paddlers explore above the stumps and trees, taking in views of gorgeous mountains and craggy summits. During sunrises and sunsets, paddling along the glassy lake is an amazing experience as the sky alternates between bright pinks and deep purples during the summer months. When you are finished paddling, you should head out to “Party Rock” and jump into the pristine waters of the lake.
Stroll the Staircase Loop
At just two miles in length, the Staircase Loop Trail in Olympic National Park is one of the most underrated family-friendly treks in the national park system. Working your way along the north fork of the Skokomish, seven highlights await you, including a stunning suspension bridge and towering trees along the rapids of the river. Perfect for a dip during the summer months, the river along with the region are a year-round destination of adventure and beauty. The hiking is fun and easy to follow, giving you a wilderness experience close to your car. Remember to show up early in the warm summer months to be guaranteed a parking spot.
Backpack to Flapjack Lakes and Discover Glady’s Divide
Few know that a miniature version of the Alps, known as Flapjack Lakes and Glady’s Divide, is a short backpacking trip away from the Staircase entrance of Olympic National Park. Flapjack Lakes, a twin set of lakes with views of rocky, remote peaks, is an eight-mile hike from the Staircase Trailhead, rising nearly 3,000 feet over the last four miles. Perfect for a base camp, this area’s true beauty is found two miles above the lake along the trail leading to Glady’s Divide. Full of stunning views, a few mountains to summit easily, boulder fields and a small valley reminiscent of the Sound of Music, Glady’s Divide and the region around are a must-explore destination.
Camp at Big Creek or Staircase
If backpacking is not your cup of tea, there are two campgrounds right in the heart of the beauty near Staircase, both begging for your visit. The first is found in Olympic National Park, right along the north fork of the Skokomish River. The Staircase campground is one of 15 campgrounds in Olympic, and it fills up quickly during weekends over the summer, thanks in large part to its proximity to wilderness exploration. Big Creek Campground is a great option in the region and is located in Olympic National Forest. Recently remodeled and providing access to great local hiking trails, this is an amazing option and location. If you don’t want to rough it, check out nearby (and affordable) Glen Ayr resort.
Refuel with Ice Cream or Dinner
After a day or weekend of adventures around Staircase, do not drive straight home. Instead, grab a cup of coffee, a few scoops of ice cream or a meal at the best place to eat in Hoodsport. The Hoodsport Coffee Company is your destination for ice cream, the best coffee in town and a cool place to relax and shop the local strip, right along Highway 101. If you are longing for a full meal, hit up Puerto de Angeles right on Hood Canal and Highway 101. Here, you will find amazingly tasty Mexican food, a friendly staff and a scenic setting to enjoy the last few minutes of your adventures around the Staircase region.