staircase rapids loop in olympic national park

staircase rapids loop

Can you guys believe we’re into the final week of November? We’ve had a busy month as a family, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. I started my job at my new company the final week of October, so this week wraps my first full month with them. It’s been a bit exhausting – both mentally and physically – if I’m being entirely honest, and I’ve found myself feeling tapped out across the board. So, when I saw that there was a fully sunny day in the forecast for this past weekend, I knew we had to take advantage of it and hike the Staircase Rapids Loop in Olympic National Park.

Staircase Rapids Loop

For those unfamiliar, Staircase Rapids Loop is actually a pretty popular short and family-friendly hike in Lilliwaup, Washington. Located right near Lake Cushman, it’s a fairly flat, easily accessible trail that’s good for all skill levels and open all year-round. The Staircase Rapids Loop trail starts right at the Staircase Ranger Station on Lake Cushman, crosses a wide footbridge, then loops through the forest, up over a cable bridge, and ends back at the higher overflow parking lot.

Ryan actually commented that it wasn’t the best hike for a sunny day, and I have to say, he was probably a bit right. Let me explain. Sun in the PNW in the fall/winter months is a rarity, and the forests are dense, shrouded in mossy trees and thick foliage. Basically, the sun that shone on Saturday was almost entirely obscured by the thick canopy of trees. What did manage to filter through the trees, however, was absolutely stunning, and it made for some magical forest moments.

staircase rapids olympic national park

hiking staircase rapids

fall foliage hikes

olympic national forest

best bridge hikes wa

best mossy hikes

cable bridge staircase loop

exploring the bridge

hiking with friends

We made the decision when we started hiking with our kids this year that we didn’t want to stop hiking as the colder months drew near. Instead, we decided to focus on shorter distance, err on the side of snowshoes when necessary, and venture to places where they’d still be able to flex these newfound skills they’ve learned. Staircase Rapids Loop was just the ticket for us, and it was gorgeous. The cable bridge at the halfway point was an added treat because the views down the river are extraordinary, and snow-capped peaks loom high overhead. Even Mieke managed to walk a good half hour before being packed in the Deuter and subsequently falling asleep halfway through the hike.

Throughout our whole hike, Spencer kept exclaiming, “this is the best day ever!” Maribel and her girls (who come with us on a lot of our adventures) came, too, and watching the kids play in this fairy wonderland was so much fun. Porter found a branch that he proclaimed was his fishing pole, and he carried it the entire hike, only discarding it “for another kid to find later” at the very end of the hike. So, did we have fun? Absolutely, and we’ll be back! Ryan had hoped to cliff jump at Lake Cushman like I did this past summer, but the lake was extremely low, making a polar plunge a no-go. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to go back in the spring before we PCS!

Tips for Hiking Staircase Rapids Loop

Trail Length: 2.1 miles to complete the loop. We added a little extra wandering down to the water, and there are a few places where you can extend your hike, but we stuck to the minimum.

Level of Difficulty: Easy! This is great for all skill levels.

Cost: There is a fee to enter Olympic National Park grounds, but the pay station was closed. You can buy an annual America the Beautiful pass online, or get it for free in person for military.

Dogs: No. Dogs are not allowed on national park grounds. We did see some people with dogs, but we chose not to be those people.

Tips: If you’re venturing out to Staircase Rapids Loop, don’t go by Google or Apple Maps. They will lead you up towards Dry Creek and Copper Creek trail heads. Instead, either use the directions from AllTrails, or stop your navigation once you reach the end of Lake Cushman and the left turn over the bridge. Instead of turning like Google Maps says, continue straight for about 1.2 miles, and you’ll reach the lot for Staircase area.