Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Olympic National Park - Staircase Rapids Hike

The weather sure has been spectacularly beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest over the past several weeks.  I've been itching to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of summertime in Washington, but we've been busy digging out of the sea of cardboard boxes and making frequent trips to Home Depot for home improvement projects.  (I really should buy stock in Home Depot.)

We finally achieved a sufficient level of comfort in being "settled in" to invite friends over for a barbecue a week ago Sunday.  Having reached that milestone, we finally took Saturday to head for the hills. 

During my first visit to Olympic National Park (ONP) back in June, I picked up the Falcon Guide to Best Easy Day Hikes Olympic National Park.  The first hike listed in the guide is Staircase Rapids.  It's listed as a 2 mile hike with only 200 feet of elevation gain, so I figured it would be a good hike to do with the boys.  Plus, it's only open in the summertime, so I wanted to give it a try. 

Now, in most national parks, the NPS website is pretty detailed and informative.  I've been a little disappointed with the ONP website.  ONP, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.  There are half a dozen or more different places in the park you can visit with different climates, ecosystems, trails, and things to do.  Each one of those places deserves a unique page and pamphlet, but they just have one web page, one map, one pamphlet for the whole park.  To wit, when we drove up to the Staircase Ranger Station, the Park Ranger handed us the exact same ONP pamphlet that I got up at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in June.  While it's nice to have a map of the ENTIRE park for general reference in choosing which part of the park to go visit, it would be useful to have more detailed information at each of the ranger stations or visitor centers.  There are certainly dozens of others of websites with photos and guides for visiting different spots in ONP, but with so many to choose from, it takes time to sort through and figure out which ones are worth a darn. 

Lake Cushman

To get to Staircase Rapids, you go to Hoodsport, WA, and there will be the standard brown roadsigns telling you where to turn to head up to Lake Cushman and the Staircase Ranger Station.  I was rather surprised that there were a few miles of dusty, bumpy dirt road along the way.

Once we got to the federal property line and the ONP sign though, the road was paved again.

Time stamp - departing the Ranger Station.

While there isn't a visitor's center per se, but the Ranger Station does have the standard National Park stamp and some books and small souvenirs for sale.  (Note:  They only take cash.) 

It used to be a loop-hike that would take you up one side of the Skokomish River, cross a bridge, then down the other side of the river back to the Ranger Station.  However, the bridge is washed out, so for now it's just an out-and-back along one side or the other. 

We crossed this bridge that is still intact right next to the ranger station and hiked up the west side of the river.

This baffled me.  There were no fewer than a half dozen "no pets" signs at the park entrance, in the parking lot, at the ranger station, and TWO signs here at the trailhead.  Yet, no sooner did we walk past these signs, a family passed us and headed up the trail with two dogs.  What the heck?

Another thing that surprised me was to see people walking back toward the Ranger Station in wet bathing suits and wrapped in towels like they had just gotten out of the water.  Sure enough, we got upstream aways and saw a spot where people were jumping off a large rock into a swirling pool of colgate-blue water.  I didn't go down to feel how cold it was, but I figure that water's gotta be frigid snow-runoff.

The still photos of the Staircase Rapids don't do it justice.  When you look at this photo, imagine a tremendously loud roaring noise as gajillions of gallons of water crash around these rocks and carve their way down the valley toward Lake Cushman.

The old-growth forest that the river cuts through is beautiful.

7-year old YB on top of the roots of the tree.

Overall, it was a very nice family hike.  I'm not sure it was quite good enough to justify the long drive out there, but I was very glad to get out of the house with my family and enjoy the beauty of ONP again before summer sneaks away.

Hike Stats:
Date: 30 July 2011
Start Time:  2:59 p.m.
Moving Time Elapsed:  49 min
Stopped Time Elapsed:  23 min
Finish Time:  4:11 p.m.
Miles:  2.8 miles
Elevation gain: 98 feet
Temp:  Forgot to write it down.  It was low-70's, and we were all in shorts and t-shirts.
Wind:  None.


cal said...

My wife an dI just camped there this week for a few days and loved it. The scenery and water was just awesome. And yes, you are absolutely correct to assume the water was cold, in fact it was frigid. I spent a bit of time wading in the river playing with my dogs and I would think that it was no higher than 45 degrees, but am guessing a little lower. The lake was also cold, but a hair warmer. I would love to go back and camp a few more days and hike the trails around there. Definitely worth the drive to stay a day or two.

Sam S. said...

Those are beautiful pictures, would love to hike in your neck of the woods. Might just have to try that water, so pretty, worth the momentary freeze.