The Staircase area of Olympic National Park is so underrated, with gorgeous views, and usually fewer crowds than other areas of the park! The Staircase Rapids Loop trail is a shorter trail, a little over 2 miles, with little elevation gain, so it’s an amazing hike for just about anyone. It offers amazing views of the river, the lush forest, and the greenery that Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is known for!
This guide is all about how to hike the Staircase Rapids Loop – I’ll tell you how to get there, what you can expect, tips for preparing, and everything you need to know!
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About the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
The Staircase Rapids Loop trail is great for beginner hikers, or anyone who wants a nice, peaceful trail with amazing views! Here’s what you need to go before you hit the trail.
Staircase Rapids Loop Trail Stats
Distance: 2.1 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 213 feet
Leave No Trace on the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
Anytime you’re outdoors, it’s essential that you practice Leave No Trace (LNT). LNT is a set of seven principles that help us understand our impact on the outdoors – because while we usually have good intentions, the environment is more fragile than we think, and one snap-second decision can cause damage to the environment that will take the earth years, even decades to repair.
Leave No Trace means enjoying the outdoors without disrupting nature, as much as it’s possible to do so. Here are the 7 principles of LNT, and how they apply when you hike the Staircase Rapids Loop trail!
- Plan ahead and prepare – read this guide, make sure you know have the right gear, and be prepared for any weather.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces – stay on the trail to avoid trampling grasses and plants!
- Dispose of waste properly – don’t leave trash, or anything else, behind. Pack it out!
- Leave what you find – I know it can be tempting to take a cool rock or leaf, but leave these things where they belong! Animals often use these, and if everyone takes one, the trail won’t be as pretty.
- Minimize campfire impacts – no campfires are allowed on the trail, but you can make campfires at the Staircase Rapids Campground
- Respect wildlife – avoid feeding or approaching birds or any other animals you might see.
- Be considerate of other visitors – yield to other hikers, and be respectful – no speakers or loud music.
The Best Time to Hike the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
The most popular time to hike this trail is in the summer, but I think the best time to hike it is spring, or fall! This trail is at lower elevation, so the snow will usually melt by mid spring, and doesn’t begin again until winter or late fall. There will be fewer people around, so while you’ll definitely need to be prepared for rain and it might be a little chillier, having the serene rapids to yourself is worth it!
Don’t Forget Your Pass!
Because the Staircase Rapids trail is located in Olympic National Park, you will need a pass to hike this trail. It costs $30 per car, but if you visit national parks often (or at least more than twice a year), I recommend getting an America the Beautiful Pass! It’s an annual pass that will get you into every national park in the country for an entire year, for just $80.
You can purchase either pass on your way into the park, or get an America the Beautiful pass online ahead of time!
Directions to the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
The get to the trailhead for the Staircase Rapids Loop, you’ll drive around Lake Cushman. Take Highway 101 to the Olympic Peninsula, and once you get to the town of Hoodsport (your last chance to stock up on snacks and get gas!), you’ll turn off onto the forest road. It’s paved for a while, then turns to a gravel road along the north shore of the lake – don’t worry, it’s doable in any car! There are a few potholes, so drive slow, but it’s nothing crazy. As you enter the Olympic National Park, the road is paved once again. Keep driving, and you’ll reach the parking lot. It’s in front of the Staircase Rapids campground and the ranger station!
Staircase Rapids Trail Parking Lot Coordinates: 47.516055, -123.331325
You’ll see a big bridge (with a gate across it – foot traffic only) right next to the parking lot, and this is where the trail begins!
Hiking the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
Once you’ve parked and you’re ready to start your hike, you can take this loop in either direction. I went clockwise, and I think this was a good choice – the most scenic part of the trail is in the beginning if you go clockwise, and when I went (April 2022), there were a lot of downed trees on this side, so getting them out of the way in the beginning was nice!
You’ll walk across the bridge, keep going straight, and you’ll see a sign for the beginning of the Staircase Rapids trail.
The trail is pretty flat, with a few little hills. You’ll start by walking through the gorgeous old growth forest, with moss hanging from the trees, lush ferns all around, and the trees surrounding you. The trail is nice and wide here!
In a little while, you’ll see a sign that says “Big Cedar” pointing to the left – I definitely recommend taking this little detour! It’s really short, and takes you to, well, a big Cedar.
A sign says that this fallen Cedar tree is 18 feet wide, and it was really cool to see – and fun to climb on :).
Continue on, and soon you’ll get a view of the rapids! Along the way, there are little waterfalls, overlooks where you can stop and sit next to the river, and gorgeous views. The trail gets narrower, and there were also a ton of downed trees when I went – it’s definitely good to have an offline map downloaded when you hike this one, because it’ll tell you where the trail is! You’ll need to climb over and under a few trees (unless it’s been cleared since I hiked it), but it’s fun!
There are some cute little wooden bridges along the way, and you’ll keep catching glimpses of Staircase Rapids. The sound of rushing water makes for a really serene nature walk, which was one of my favorite things about this hike!
About a mile in (halfway along the loop), you’ll come to the bridge, which takes you over the rapids. The river rushes below you, and if you hike in the summer time, there are some little pools to the side where you could stop for a dip! Either way, after you cross the bridge, you can come down to the river bank for a snack break and to take in the view.
After this, you can continue along the loop! You’ll walk away from the rapids now, but there is another little creek that you’ll see along the way. There are more forest views, and luckily, less trees on the trail now.
As you finish up the trail, you’ll exit onto a paved road – continue a little bit to the parking lot where you started, and you’re done!
Where to Stay Near the Staircase Rapids Loop
You can turn your hike into a little getaway, and stay somewhere close by! Here are my favorite options for places to stay close to this area of Olympic National Park.
Glamping, Cabins, & Yurts
For a unique place to stay during your trip, check out Hipcamp! It’s like Airbnb for campsites – and you can find yurts, cabins, glamping sites, and more.
You can even get $10 off your first booking here!
A Camper van
With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb – you can rent vans, RVs, and trailers from people who live nearby!
Find a Campsite
Whether you car camp, tent camp, or rent a tiny home on wheels, The Dyrt is the best way to find campsites! The Staircase campground is located right at the trailhead, but you can find other spots nearby. Just outside the national park, you’ll find Olympic National Forest – which means you can camp for free!
There are lots options for free camping near the trail – for tips on finding the best ones, check out this guide.
A Lakeside Cabin
Lake Cushman is right next to the Staircase area of Olympic National Park, which means there are tons of lakeside cabins you can rent!
What to Bring to Hike the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
When you hike the Staircase Rapids Loop, here’s what you’ll need to bring!
I recommend waterproof shoes for this hike – it rains often in Washington, and the trail gets muddy. Good traction, and being prepared for a rainy hike, is essential!
Rain boots are another great option for muddy or wet conditions, and are definitely the easiest to clean.
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PNW weather is known for being unpredictable, and it’s always best to wear layers when hiking.
A rain jacket is always a good idea when hiking in Washington, and the Marmot Minimalist Jacket is a great lightweight, waterproof option. For the cold, I love my Columbia puffy jacket – it’s lightweight, but keeps me warm! For added warmth and layering, a Patagonia fleece is always a good addition.
The hike isn’t too long, but a backpack is always a good idea to carry water and snacks.
When I’m bringing my camera gear, my favorite backpack is the Alex Strohl Mountain Light. It’s definitely the best camera bag out there for hiking with photo gear. If you don’t need storage for camera stuff, I recommend an Osprey Hikelite. If you aren’t bringing very much and just want a day bag, I love my Topo Designs Y-Pack for carrying everyday essentials!
Especially when you’re hiking or exploring outdoors, it’s important to stay hydrated! Single use water bottles are, of course, terrible for the environment, so avoid that and bring a reusable one!
For hiking, the CamelBak water reservoirs are convenient and easy – they can fit in your hiking backpack for water on the go. Nalgene water bottles are great for day to day, and if you want an insulated water bottle to keep your water cold and refreshing, Hydro Flasks are the best!
More Adventures Near the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
Have you hiked the Staircase Rapids Loop trail? Let me know in a comment below!
For more adventures nearby, check out these posts:
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