The Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
If you’ve never been to hike this trail, there may be some confusion in the information & maps available about this trail. The area is part of the Olympic National Park and requires a $15 entry fee deposited into the drop box at the trail head or of course, a National Park Pass. On a busy day, you may be required to park a decent “hike” away in the overflow lot, so if you don’t know your license plate number by heart, I suggest memorizing it or at least taking a photo of it to minimize the number of trips back to the car. You’ll have to make at least one to put the paid slip on your dashboard. The park rangers there are no joke and take their jobs very seriously, as they should. Upon our arrival, there was a gaggle of teenage girls being cited for several park violations.
The map we’d originally referenced was a map of Mason County Hike & Walks Map and can be found on line. While the map is slightly outdated and a bit vague in some areas, it was considerably more helpful than the map provided at the park, which merely showed the trail as a single tiny dot on a map that shows the entire Olympic Peninsula. The Mason County map gives you the general gist of the trail. After you pay your entry fee, you cross the bridge to begin the loop. There are a few side trails to the left, but they all eventually dead end and will not lead anywhere. The Big Cedar branch is worth the sidetrack and will dead end at the base of an enormous fallen cedar tree with upended roots at least 15 feet into the air. Be sure to have a friend climb into the roots for scale when taking photos, it’s really the only way to convey its massive size. Once back on track, continue to follow the main trail. And here’s where we saw some confusion.
Apparently, years ago, the trail was a full loop which crossed the river at the mid-point and then followed the opposite side of the river back towards the parking lot. One year, the force of Mother Nature, or the flooding river, destroyed the bridge and wiped it out. The hike then just became a hike in-and-back trail. A few years ago, the park received the funding to build a completely new bridge thus recreating the loop. Unfortunately for the newbs, most of the literature still describes the hike as it was after the first bridge was wiped out but before the new one was built, including the Mason County Map. When we started the hike, we thought it was about a mile in and back. Truly, it’s a 4 mile loop. We encountered many hikers along the way that were also perplexed by outdated maps, confusing signs and length of the trail. We were able to help clear things up by chatting with fellow hikers and gazing at the map, but did not realized until we reached it that the bridge was not out, but there in all of its brand new glory.
The hike is labeled “easy”. And if you’re a regular hiker and are fit & in shape, it most likely is. However, do not be fooled into thinking that this hike is mostly flat or simple to traverse. The entire loop is mostly an incline. And there are some steep, rocky, wet areas to conquer. And while the three of us may have been a bit too out of shape for this hike, it was completely lovely and serene. The moss covered trees, sound of the rushing water and singing birds provide lush and picturesque surroundings throughout the entire hike. There are boulders the size of houses, trees that have outlived centuries of people, whirlpools, azure blue water and just a complete Pacific Northwest experience. Pack up your backpack with snacks, water, bug repellent and camera. Be sure to give yourself a few hours to make the loop and take everything in. Enjoy the hike!